Features and Benefits of Turnitin

by Rita Allison Kondrath, Ph.D.


After integrating Turnitin into my course, English 500: The Writing Process, this term, I’ve realized that it offers both students and faculty several benefits: it can help students to enhance the quality of their writing, and it can make grading more efficient for faculty. Even so, some of Moodle’s grading features—such as adding comments to a rubric—are not included within Turnitin. It’s useful to be familiar with the possibilities that Turnitin creates, as well as its limitations, in order to decide whether and to what extent to incorporate it into your courses.

Turnitin Benefits
Turnitin makes grading more efficient in a few ways: first, unlike Moodle, it eliminates the need to download and upload papers. Every step of the evaluation process—providing sentence-level comments, using a rubric (or not), and providing overall feedback on the document as a whole—occurs within Turnitin. It is linked to Moodle, so faculty use Moodle settings to configure the assignment, and grades upload automatically to the Moodle grade book. In addition, Turnitin gives instructors the option to provide overall feedback on the assignment in written format, or as a spoken recording.

Turnitin also enables faculty to use pre-designed “QuickMarks” to highlight common errors, and to easily customize their own. Some I’ve created for my English 500 courses include things like “Citation Needed,” “Analysis Needed,” and “Introduce Source,” to indicate when secondary source material should be more seamlessly integrated into an essay. Instructors also have the ability to assign a short explanation to each QuickMark, which will appear when students “hover over” it. Turnitin’s pre-designed QuickMarks likewise offer students a brief explanation of the error.

Comments and Rubrics

In addition to “QuickMarks” making grading more efficient for faculty, Turnitin’s “Associate Criterion” option makes receiving feedback more meaningful for students. If you’re using a rubric, Turnitin enables you to “Associate Criterion,” by selecting a criterion from a simple drop down box that corresponds to your rubric. This feature, included within the Comment box in which you provide sentence-level feedback, indicates to the student which specific criteria on your rubric the comment refers to. Creating this kind of correlation between the content of the essay and the rubric used to evaluate it gives students another means to understand where they’ve erred, what the error means, and to what extent the error impacts their overall score.

E-Rater and Originality Reports

Both faculty and students can utilize the ETS (Educational Testing Service) “E-Rater” and Originality reports. The former calls attention to errors in grammar and syntax, which enables instructors to focus their feedback on the content and structure of the essay; and the latter displays the likeness between material on the Internet and that within the essay, and allows instructors to easily access the sites to gauge the degree of infringement. Reports are generated within approximately 24 hours. Depending upon the assignment settings, students can submit essays to Turnitin, make revisions based upon these reports, and resubmit. However, be mindful of this setting if you tend to begin grading in advance of the deadline.

A Few Drawbacks
Alongside these features, Turnitin does have a few drawbacks. First, instructors can view only one essay at a time, making it cumbersome to examine a draft alongside the final version to appreciate the degree of revision. Second, unlike the Comment feature in Microsoft Word and other applications, Turnitin displays only a “conversation bubble” icon within the actual essay to indicate where an instructor has commented; therefore, the student must “hover over” that bubble in order to view feedback. Alternatively, students can display all feedback by selecting a separate comment panel. Either way, comments do not appear directly within the margins as in other applications. Finally, as previously mentioned, while instructors can create custom rubrics within Turnitin, they cannot add feedback within the rubrics themselves, as in Moodle.

While I have found Turnitin to be most useful in assignments that require the use of secondary source material, its applicability certainly extends well beyond these types of essays. If you have questions, or need help with this tool, go to the Turnitin resource page on the GSC IT Help site for additional information.