Monday, March 19, 2018

What is Turnitin?

Turnitin is a cloud-based program that provides a comprehensive solution for grading assignments, preventing plagiarism, and safeguarding an institution's reputation. For students, Turnitin provides personalized and timely feedback while identifying areas for individual growth and improvement. For faculty, Turnitin streamlines the grading and feedback loop through integration with Moodle. Turnitin keeps an institution's reputation top of mind by reducing unoriginal content and fostering confident writers.

Moodle ISU instructors can now add Turnitin to their course using the Add an Activity or Resource function. The ITRC has made getting started information available for both students and faculty at Feel free to also call the ITRC at 282-5880 or stop by the lab for more information and assistance with using this new tool.

The Pluses and Minuses of Turnitin According to One Faculty

In the article, "My Love-Hate Relationship with Turnitin", author Ry Marcattilio-McCracken (2015) candidly admits that he loves Turnitin. He states that it is "Painless, effective, and just as important, already there for me to use" and saves him significant time each term "Google-searching" student papers. Additionally, when he is forced to pursue an incident of academic dishonesty, Turnitin provides a tidy, official-looking report that "tends to convince students of the authority and weight behind the meeting'" he is having with them.

In spite of how much Marcattilio-McCracken (2015) "loves" Turnitin, he has reservations about the company's "fair-use" and profitability from the submission of student work. Marcattilio-McCracken ends his article with the admission that at some point he will have to decide which is more important: his time, or his overriding philosophical concerns about the company.

Turnitin's Privacy Pledge

"Integrity is at the heart of all we do; it defines us." --Chris Caren, CEO of Turnitin

TurnitIn's privacy policy covers the kind of data they collect, what they do with it, and how they protect any personal information that is provided by the student or instructor.

Turnitin Can be Used as a Writing Coach for Students

Turnitin recognized that there was a gap for student writing between what the instructor needed to see and what students needed to do and launched its Revision Assistant in 2017. This tool is designed to be a personal writing coach for each student. Instructors can assign writing prompts from a bank available in Turnitin and using a machine learning model, the system adapts to each new essay written by the student and scores it against a changing rubric (Ravipati, 2017). For more information about Turnitin's Revision Assistant read Ravipati's complete article, "Turnitin 'Revises' the Writing Process" and watch the Revision Assistant Walkthrough video (2:21).



Marcattilio-McCracken, R. (2015, Sep 08) My Love-Hate Relationship with Turnitin. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Ravipati, S. ( 2017, July 06). Turnitin 'Revises' the Writing Process. Campus Technology.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Allowing Mobile Devices in the Classroom - Are You For or Against?

In the August, 2016 blog post "Student Dependence on Technology - Interesting Facts" the following statistics about college students and technology were provided:
  • 73% of college students (sample size of 500) said that they cannot study without technology.
  • 38% of students cannot go more than 10 minutes without checking their email, tablet, laptop, or smartphone.
  • 70% of students use keyboards to take notes instead of pen and paper.
  • 91% of students used email to communicate with their instructor.
  • Digital textbooks cost approximately 40% less than printed textbooks.
With those statistics in mind, what is your stance on whether or not mobile devices and phones should be allowed in the classroom? In the article, "Laptops and Phones in the Classroom: Yea, Nay or a Third Way?" Kamenetz (2018) provided some of the pros and cons of this debate.

Arguments Against Allowing Personal Devices in the Classroom

The naysayers worry that phones are distracting to students in the classroom. One faculty stated, "If something on their desk or in their pocket dings, rings or vibrates--they will lose focus". In addition, there may be missed opportunities for social interaction if each student is sitting quietly and independently accessing their phone. Some students prefer to take notes on their laptop during class but research has found that note-taking by hand can lead to better recall than note-taking by typing.

Arguments For Allowing Personal Devices in the Classroom

Those who are open to the use of technology in the classroom also make some valid points. The first is that some students use their device to accommodate for special needs and requiring them to ask for permission to use it in class is an invasion of their privacy and singles them out from the other students. The second reason listed by Kamenetz (2018) is that personal devices can be used as a tool during class to look up difficult terms, participate in live polls, and work collaboratively on a project. For some students, their phone may be the most powerful computer they have access to. The third reason for allowing phones in the classroom is for emergency notifications from campus security - it is essential for those messages to be received immediately.

Regardless of your personal stance on allowing mobile devices in the classroom, the reality is that students do not want to put their devices away during class. Kamenetz (2018) suggested that faculty "fight technology with technology". 

Suggestions for "fighting technology with technology"

Kamenetz (2018) suggested the use of phone apps like Flipd that can be used to set a timer that locks out all of the phone's functions except for basic texts and phone calls. This provides a way for students to eliminate the distractions that come from push notifications from Facebook, Instagram, and other apps while still being able to receive emergency information. Some faculty are offering their students extra credit for installing the app and using it during class.

One of the hottest trends in teaching with technology is turning wi-fi ready, used smartphones into handheld computers. Secondary schools are taking donations of used phones and removing all apps except for ones that are useful in the classroom for video capture, imagery capture, and immersive virtual reality activities. See the article, "Virtual Reality Gives Cellphones a New Purpose in the Classroom" for more information on that trend. Students in higher education could be encouraged to use their personal device for these same type of activities.


With a little forward thinking and creativity, faculty in higher education can meet their students where they are at and provide positive opportunities for them to pull out and use their mobile devices. With that mindset, students will not only use their phones, tablets, and laptops to consume content, but to create it as well (Kamenetz, 2018).


Kamenetz, A. (2018, Jan 25). Laptops and phones in the classroom: Yea, nay or a third way? KQED Live.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Skills Instructors Need to Facilitate Online Group Work

The facilitation of group collaboration in an online course is one of the most challenging factors of teaching online. The skills required go beyond teaching and sharing one's area of expertise. "Specific strategies are needed to effectively implement online group projects. These include such things as how to help the students get to know one another, form groups, assign grades, explain group functions, use online tools to maximize interaction, and how to deal with non-participation of group members..." (Facilitation of Online Group Projects: Insights from Experienced Faculty Members, 2012).

Assigning Group Projects
The resource, Facilitation of Online Group Projects: Insights from Experienced Faculty Members  (2012) provides sound advice for educators starting out with group projects and recommends that faculty members ask themselves the following questions before undertaking group projects:
  • What is the desired learning objective?
  • Will the groups be assigned or will students choose their members?
  • How will students get to know each other and develop trust?
  • Will students receive direct experiences and assignments to help them learn group processes, or will they discover those during their projects?
  • How will students be graded?
Vital Skill #1 for Online Course Instructors: Creating a Social and Active Learning Community
Effective teamwork in any setting requires a level of trust among team members, including those in an online learning environment. In a virtual learning space such as Moodle, the implementation of activities and a sense of community in which students feel "safe" to be themselves and to be real is up to the course instructor to create, model and encourage (Rourke et al, 2001).

"It is always important to remember that in the online environment, we present ourselves in text. Because it is a flat medium, we need to make an extra effort to humanize the environment. In the face-to-face classroom, students have the opportunity to get to know one another as people--before or after class, during classroom discussions, and in other campus locations such as the student lounge. In the online environment, we need to create these opportunities more purposefully" (Palloff & Pratt, 2001, p. 32).

The creation of a short welcome video (no longer than two to three minutes) to post at the beginning of the online course that welcomes the students to the class, and tells the students about him or herself--both professionally and personally will set a positive, interactive tone for the course. This also makes the instructor appear to be approachable.

Vital Skill #2 for Online Course Instructors: Demonstrating Leadership
The online instructor is more than a subject matter expert, he or she is also a champion of student learning. Instructors should be a role model by modeling effective communication; showing presence by posting messages on the course site about the class's progress and participation; giving feedback on participation to individual students using email, chat, or a web conferencing tool; clearly outlining expectations for group collaboration and following up with students who are not meeting those expectations; and posting strategies for effective team work.

Vital Skill #3 for Online Course Instructors: Communication
Consistent and plentiful communication is central to helping students be successful. Feedback can be given in many different ways such as audio and video clips, synchronous communication tools such as Zoom, or on social media. Morrison (2014) acknowledges that the hardest part to using feedback modalities other than text is the initial learning curve associated with a new technology, but the rewards are great. The ITRC can be of great assistance in discovering and learning new communication tools.

Vital Skill #4 for Online Course Instructors: Dealing with Conflict
No one likes conflict and most of us avoid it at all costs, but conflict is part of team work. "When a conflict surfaces, welcome it and view it as a sign that a group is developing" (Palloff & Pratt, 2001). It is helpful to give students resources on how teams work and emphasize that conflict and disagreement is a by-product of teamwork and shows that the group is growing and learning. Some strategies shared by online instructors for dealing with conflict:
  • Outline in the instructions, steps to resolve team conflict, ie. address the problem early on; contact and discuss with the team leader; and contact the course instructor as a last resort.
  • Include a regular mechanism for peer evaluation for group projects so that students can communicate with you about the group's functioning.
  • If needed, schedule a synchronous group meeting where you act as a moderator to help the team get back on track. This can be done in Zoom or Google hangouts.
Vital Skill #5 for Online Course Instructors: Monitoring Student Progress and Providing Feedback
The job of the instructor is to facilitate the group process behind the scenes by reviewing the individual group discussion forums to see who is participating, who is not, and following up as needed. It will also be helpful for the instructor to post feedback on the progress of the group assignment and respond to student concerns and questions promptly.

Opportunities for instructor feedback can be established through small benchmarks of assignment due dates that lead up to the final assignment submission. For example, the outline for the final project might be due on xxx, draft of final assignment due on xxx, etc. This strategy builds in opportunities for the instructor to provide feedback and support during the group process instead of waiting until the assignment has been submitted.

References and Resources

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Elements for the Facilitation of Online Group Work and Collaboration

Instructors and students often cringe at the idea of group work--especially in an online course. Instructors often think that it is impossible to take group activities that they used to do in the face-to-face class and incorporate them into an online format. However, through the help of an instructional technologist, many of these activities can be successfully implemented in an online course. Collaboration in virtual environments has become an essential skill in the 21st century and teaching students how to work effectively in online groups becomes just as critical to the learning experience as the benefit of the knowledge gained through the learning experience itself. Research supports the premise that students, in well designed learning environments experience meaningful learning, develop higher order thinking, and learn to evaluate and acknowledge multiple viewpoints of their peers (Morrison, 2014).

Though we know the benefits and acknowledge the value of group work, the question remains--how can faculty create an experience that facilitates this kind of learning in an online course?

Developing a Strong Learning Community
The traditional classroom provides students with the opportunity to work in groups in order to build trust and cohesiveness through verbal cues, facial expressions, and physical presence. In order to create a social presence and safe learning environment in an online class, certain elements should be considered. "Currently, online collaborative learning tends to focus on the cognitive process by emphasizing task-oriented communication, while assuming that the social dimension will occur automatically via communicative technologies (Kreijns et al., 2003). However, individuals will not willingly share their tentative ideas or critically challenge others' opinions unless they trust group members and feel a sense of belonging (Kreins et all, 2003; Rourke, 2000). Therefore, collaboration often remains shallow due to the lack of effective group support."

Elements of Effective Collaboration
  1. Social Presence: For students to be successful in an online learning environment, they should be given the opportunity to introduce themselves, make connections with their classmates, and establish themselves in the learning community. According to Morrison (2014), student anonymity in learning spaces is a barrier to establishing trust and the building of a learning community. Establishing presence can be facilitated through, 1) introductions at the beginning of the course, 2) synchronous lecture sessions in which students can chat on back channels such as Twitter, etc., 3) orientation activities at the beginning of the course, 4) a social media platform for the class outside of Moodle. It is also a good idea to wait until two weeks into the semester before assigning group work.
  2. Presence of a Leader: There are two aspects to this element. The leadership of the instructor in which he or she supports the group work, ie. dealing with group members who don't participate, helping to solve problems, and providing feedback to groups in the process. Second, the presence of a positive leader within the group is necessary. A student can be assigned by the instructor to be the leader of the group and that group leader acts as the liaison between the group and the instructor.
  3. Purpose and Clear Instructions: Outlining why students are completing a given learning activity is critical so that students don't perceive the activity as busy work. When they understand the purpose of the activity, students are more likely to engage and commit to a group project when it is aligned closely with the learning objectives. State the purpose clearly in the activity instructions, "the purpose of this activity is __________" and provide details such as due date, grading scheme, and group structure.
  4. Skill Development for Working in a Team: Students rarely possess the skill set required for effective group collaboration, sharing and/or discussions in online spaces. This makes it necessary for the instructor to provide skill development resources for group interaction such as specific guidelines for communicating (Netiquette rules, whether they can use emoticons, etc.); and steps to solve group problems, including an option that involves the instructor as a resource. Stepping in as a mediator may be necessary for the instructor at times, so that students can be walked through problem solving steps via a group meeting using synchronous tools such as Zoom or Ultra.
  5. Technology: Instructors may need to guide students to the best platforms for communicating synchronously and asynchronously. Students often cite technology as a barrier to group projects, so minimizing that barrier will be helpful.
Next month: Vital Skills Instructors Need to Facilitate Online Group Work

References and Resources
Morrison, D. (February 10, 2014). Five Elements that Promote Learner Collaboration and Group Work in Online Courses. Online Learning Insights.

Williams, K.C.,  Cameron, B.A., Morgan, K. & C. Wade, (2012). Facilitation of Online Group Projects: Insights from Experienced Faculty. Paper presented at 28th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning

An, H., Kim, S., & Kim, B. (2008). Teacher perspectives on online collaborative learning: Factors perceived as facilitating and impeding successful online group work. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 8(1), 65-83.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Grading Student Participation in Online Discussions

Components of Effective Online Discussions (Review from previous posts)
Motivating students to participate in forum discussions is not an easy task. It requires strategic effort by the instructor while designing the course, and while the discussion is taking place. Below are core elements that will create and sustain dialogue in an online discussion.
  1. A well designed course that ties in to the course objectives and learning outcomes.
  2. Clear, concise guidelines and expectations for student participation.
  3. Well constructed topics and questions.
  4. A skilled facilitator or moderator.
  5. An assessment component for giving student feedback.
Should Forums Be Graded?
Some educators feel that grading a discussion forces students to participate and that students will only do what is necessary for the grade and not engage further. Other opponents suggest that with a prescribed set of questions the discussion becomes narrow with no opportunity for creativity. However, experience and research shows that grading participation is effective in promoting and encouraging meaningful discussion when the essential assessment elements are included.

Grading with a Rubric
One of the core elements of effective discussions are clear, concise, quantitative guidelines that students can follow. A standard rubric can be tweaked and customized to fit a course and used as a method for the evaluation of student discussion posts. The grading of discussions can be much easier with a tool such as a rubric available. For examples of grading rubrics, see the Resources posted at the bottom of the page.

Below is a preamble to the rubric that is suggested by Morrison (2012).

"The participation/contribution grade is based upon the content, depth, and quality of your contributions to the forum discussions using the standards found withing the grading rubric below. Contributions to weekly discussions represent xx points, which makes up xx% of your final grade. Participating consistently, with thoughtful answers early in the week, and responding to, and engaging in discussion with your peers will have positive effects on your overall grade."

Timing and Feedback
The timing of feedback is a determining factor on whether or not students participate. It is best to post grades within the week following the close of a discussion. If a student has not participated at all, he or she gets a "0" - which will usually prompt that student to participate the next week. Timely feedback allows students to assess his or her participation, and improve upon or continue with behaviors that support learning in the next week. Timing also builds momentum and aids in sustaining dialogue.

Besides assigning a grade to discussion postings, instructors on occasion may want to provide feedback to individual students. This could be in the form of one or two sentences of encouragement or the reason for a given grade. A more efficient method is a collective post or announcement at the end of the discussion period that summarizes the instructor's observations and provides comments and suggestions.

Online discussions have great potential to engage students and support meaningful learning that can lead to student understanding of the subject matter. The assessment component gives a sense of instructor presence. The receiving of grades or comments on discussion posts indicates that the instructor is reading the posts and cares enough to give feedback. Having a rubric and timely grading practices in place focuses the evaluation process and provides a structure that is more likely to lead to student learning.

References and Resources
Morrison, D. (June 28, 2012). The Methods and Means to Grading Student Participation in Online Discussions. Online Learning Insights.

Rubric for asynchronous Participation, by Barbara Frey

The TLT Group, A non-profit organization for performance and learning

Rubrics for Higher Education, click here

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Facilitating Robust Online Discussions

A discussion forum in an online class can be an effective learning tool if it is used effectively. There should be a goal or purpose for the discussion so that students know it is not just busy work. Morrison (2012) illustrates this with an analogy of playing a soccer game without goal posts. Players would be running up and down the field aimlessly with no goal, no purpose. This is similar to a discussion forum without focus or direction. Students are posting and trying to engage in the discussion aimlessly just to fulfill the posting requirement.

Creating Good Questions
The online discussion should be tied to the learning objectives or outcomes so that students understand the purpose for the discussion. It is also important that good questions are asked of the students. Questions must meet two criteria, be open-ended and prompt students to reflect an analyze; and lead students to construct and develop knowledge in support of the learning objectives.

Promotion of Controversial Discussions
The promotion of a discussion on a topic that may be controversial is a tactic that can be effective in supporting the development of critical thinking skills. Instructor attention and facilitation is needed more with this type of discussion, but the results may well be worth the extra effort. An instructor might use this method by selecting a recent "hot" news topic, and prompting students to take one "side" and explain his or her position. Students would then be instructed to respond to a classmate with an opposing viewpoint.

Peer or Guest Moderators
The discussion moderator does not always have to be the course instructor. Other options include, class participants given the responsibility of peer moderating (with guidelines and established support skills); a teaching assistant; or a "guest" moderator/speaker such as a librarian or content expert.

Role of the Moderator
There is an art to moderating a discussion as the course instructor. Too much involvement where the conversation becomes instructor focused could make students reticent to participate. Students may also be fearful of making a "wrong" statement or feeling like they have nothing worthwhile to contribute. "The role of the moderator is to promote thinking, challenge learners to think, consider a problem or situation from alternative viewpoints and to develop new knowledge through thinking and constructing" (Morrison, 2012).

Examples of Questions that Promote Robust Discussions
  • That is an interesting point. What might someone who disagrees with you say to challenge your opinion?
  • Can you compare your response to xxx (other student post)? Are you both saying the same thing? Why or why not?
  • You make a good observation, can you give us some examples to support your view?
  • What are alternatives to the one you suggested? Are there other solutions/options?
  • What is your reasoning for this? Can you compare this with xxx post? What is different or similar to yours?
Course instructors have much to say and much to contribute and share with their students. With an effective course design, well crafted discussion questions and skilled moderation, online discussions will be active and robust where critical thinking skills flourish (Morrison, 2012).

References and Resources
Delaney, S. Beyond the Discussion Board: 10 Tips for Engaging Online Students.

Morrison, D. (June 25, 2012). How-to Facilitate Robust Online Discussions. Online Learning Insights.

Muilenburg, M. & Zane L. Berge. (2006). A framework for designing questions for online learning.

Seo, K.K. (2007). Utilizing peer moderating in online discussions: Addressing the controversy between teacher moderation and non-moderation. The American Journal of Distance Education, 21(1). p 21 -26.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Getting Students to Participate in Online Discussions

You have probably experienced the blank stares from students in the classroom when it is time to have a discussion. It can be a challenge to get students to interact with each other. Online discussion forums present more challenges due to its "virtual" space. Research conducted by Wang & Chen  (2008) suggests that online discussions often fall flat because they are shallow, superficial, and fail to engage students.

From a student's perspective, poorly designed forums can feel like busy work, a pointless exercise that they have to complete in order to get a decent grade. Is it really worth the effort to develop effective online discussions? The answer is yes--online class discussions are an essential tool in developing engagement and mostly importantly, cognitive presence which builds critical thinking skills (Morrison, 2012).

What can we do to create effective online discussions? The instructional design of the course, or how it is set-up is critical. Course discussions are most successful when they are embedded into the design of the course and are tied to the learning objectives or outcomes. Below are some key components to effective online discussions.

  1. A solid course design strategy where discussion forums support the learning objectives will help the students to see that they are a meaningful activity. The ITRC can provide assistance with designing this type of course. In addition, the Quality Matters Rubric provides a road map to effective course design.
  2. Clear and concise guidelines and expectations for the students are important. Be consistent with due dates and posting requirements. State how participation will affect the student's overall grade. In the instructions for the discussion forum include a sentence that states the purpose for the discussion, thus alleviating the feeling that it is pointless busy work. Morrison (2012) provides some additional tips for discussion guidelines.
  3. A skilled facilitator or moderator will make all the difference in the quality of the discussion. 
  4. Well constructed topics or questions are critical.
  5. An assessment component like a rubric should be used for giving students feedback on their posts.
There is much upfront effort required to set the stage for effective online discussions, even before the first discussion is opened, yet it is well worth the effort if it is done right. Online discussions have tremendous potential to promote critical thinking skills, force students to engage with the content, use higher order thinking skills, and construct new knowledge (Morrison, 2012). Numerous studies suggest it is the act of writing, thinking about and composing a text-based post that encourages students to engage their higher order thinking skills (Wang & Chen, 2008).

Morrison, D. (June 22, 2012). How to Get Students to Participate in Online Discussions. Online Learning Insights.

Wang Y. & Victor Der-Thang Chen (2008). Essential Elements in Designing Online Discussions to Promote Cognitive Presence, Journal of Asynchronous Communication. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 3-4 (12).

Wade, D. A., Bentley, J. P. H., & Waters, S. H. (2006). Twenty guidelines for successful threaded discussions: A learning environment approach. Distance Learning, 3(3), 1-8.