Plagiarism Education Week (21-25 April 2014)

2014 April 9
by Judith

Plagiarism Education Week is happening again this year from 21st to 25th April.

The theme is “From Copying to Critical Thinking” and is covered in a series of free webcasts.

Turnitin says:

“Plagiarism Education Week returns for its second annual virtual conference from April 21-25. Join us for a week of free, daily webcasts devoted to sharing ideas and best practices to teach educators and students how to move from copying to critical thinking. Certificates of Participation are provided, and we have a few special giveaways!”

More details and links to register for any of the webinars can be found at Plagiarism Education Week.


Assessment & Feedback using Tablet Devices

2014 March 31
by Julie

Assessment & Feedback EventOn Friday, 28 March 2014 I travelled to Loughborough and attended a session delivered by The Tablet Academy in association with Loughborough University, in the Rutland Building on campus.

The facilitator was Dave Foord who was a former lecturer in Sports from Loughborough University and who had set up and now runs The Tablet Academy (A6 Training & Consultancy Ltd).  We introduced each other and determined that we were all there to explore what could be achieved using tablet devices, to share current experiences and trends with a view to prepare our institutions for future students who already use these kinds of devices as part of their every day lives.

There were 8 attendees, 3 from HE, 1 from JISC and 2 from FE.  We were paired so that each of the four teams of two had a Learning Technologist plus a teacher and were given different devices within each team.  I was paired with an FE teacher who was using a Samsung Android device and I used an Apple iPad.  We were given simple activities to familiarise ourselves with the differences of the devices.

We then were given a choice of assessment & feedback activities as a guide and were asked to create our own assessment for another team – who would carry out the activities set using their devices – we would then receive their work so that we could review and provide feedback on.  We were at liberty to choose any apps to set the assessment to delivery to the other team, they could use any method/app to carry out the activity and deliver us their submission, and then we would choose a medium to deliver feedback.  Our created assessment activity was to provide a link to a video that explaining “fracking” and ask them to explain the pros and cons of fracking incorporating some sort of multimedia, but to also justify their sources.  The other team sent us an assessment activity which asked for a picture of a University building, to give some information about the building and asked us each to explain what we personally thought of the building.  Sounds simple enough but when we started we realised that although we knew different apps we struggled to find one that would work on both devices.  Similarly apps that we then chose – worked differently and in many cases caused even more problems.  Very interesting but very frustrating.

The day brought home to me that the idea of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) sounds good in principle but if you need to create activities for students, especially where assessment is involved, that you need to fully evaluate what you are asking them to do and how they would do it so that they can concentrate on the learning activity rather than the method of carrying it out.  This is where it becomes important for your institution to have a strategy in place with regards to where you specify any device can be used or where a specific device becomes part of the learning process.

The following is a link to a post on the BBC entitled “Textbooks replaced by iTunesU Downloads” added today talking about one school’s approach to digital devices where the head teacher said “An iPad on its own isn’t inspiring, it’s the way it’s used that’s inspiring.  Education should be a mixed economy, there should be technology, but it is only there to support what a living, breathing teacher is doing.”


Use of iPads at South Tyneside College

2014 March 31
by Julie

South Tyneside College - iTunesUOn Thursday, 27 February, Malcolm Murray and I visited Ralph Holland at South Tyneside College.  Ralph had recently presented at the Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference on how this FE College had gone from being a previous Blackboard User to a Moodle User and then to exploring how to use iPads with Course Manager tools to deliver materials to students via iBooks.

They had recently purchased a number of mini iPads and had them stored in lockable storage units within several central learning hubs. One small cohort of students had been given iPads to take off campus as an experiment to see if this posed any issues for the College. When a class was scheduled the students went and picked up a 16GB ‘Wifi Only’ Mini iPad from the storage unit.  Preloaded were designated Apps to provide additional functionality such as Socrative to allow voting system opportunities, iBooks to read course materials, Showbie to deliver assessment back to the teacher and to receive feedback on it etc.  Course specific apps were also purchased to complement the teaching on certain courses.

The teacher could use Apple’s ‘Air Drop’ system to quickly upload and share their iPad on 60″ TV screens controlled by Apple TV.  With a pin code the students were also allowed to share their screens with the rest of the class.

It was very interesting to see how South Tyneside College were looking to the future by providing specific devices to students.   As a solution for Durham, however, it would be difficult to upscale this up for the numbers of students we have but it was interesting to see how it could be used for distance learners etc or specific courses where students are off campus.  Also interesting to see how iPads could be used by lecturers in teaching rooms equipped with Apple TV and screens thus removing the need for Whiteboards.






Turnitin User Group Meeting – 12th Feb

2014 February 17
Comments Off
by Malcolm

Last week I spent the day in Birmingham at a UK Turnitin Users’ Group meeting.  At these events the company likes to share its road map and talk about the new features they hope to release that year, but most of the delegates had something else on their mind – the poor performance of the system in December and January, with one of the outages lasting 8 hours. Just as bad was the poor communications whilst the service was unavailable.

Chris Caren (CEO) had flown in from the US. He was obviously well-briefed and began the session in a contrite manner. He offered his sincere apologies, recognising that Turnitin had clearly let us down. Much of the frustration felt by the audience regarding the poor performance at peak times was that we feel Turnitin hold all the information necessary to manage this. They know the submission deadlines and the size of the classes and have a wealth of historical data that should allow them to estimate likely and peak loads. Chris acknowledged this and said that the recent failures were because of people, not technology.  Turnitin (iParadigms) run two installations using the same core software, one in the US, the other in the UK. The US service has remained up and coped with loads more than ten times anything experienced in the UK. So the UK system should have coped. The problem was that someone (no longer working for the company) specified a database for the UK system that was too small and it ground to a halt under load.  He also recognised that their system monitoring and root cause analysis methods are not as good as they should be. Delays in identifying the problem and several false starts contributed to the eight hour outage. He was very clear, large outages like this must not be allowed to happen again. He did point out though that outages are a fact of life – even giants like Google do suffer the odd outage.

He talked a lot about changes they are planning to the infrastructure.  Currently everything is too inter-connected, meaning that changes may require alterations to the database, the servers, the software code and the user interface. This makes them difficult to test, risky and harder to roll back later.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that they have to do all this whilst supporting a large number of custom integrations with other systems – Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, PebblePad, iPad apps, etc. adding a series of legacy constraints.  They are planning to address this by re-engineering the system, reducing the number of ways systems can talk to it (the new default will be the standard LTI 2 protocol when it is finally agreed by the IMS) and using a wrapper around the system to try and abstract many of the functions. An immediate focus is to improve the way the data queues requests, so users are still able to submit work when the system is busy, even if it takes a while for the file to be processed at the back end. It all sounds sensible but it needs to be carefully managed both whilst it is being developed and then during the migration process. One change is the location of Turnitin’s product development team – it is now led by a UK-based member of staff (Will Murray) and they plan to increase communication with UK clients. That said, it was good to see that many of the changes planned for release on their road map came from suggestions raised in past UK Users Meetings.  They are also running a beta pilot for the new Blackboard integration (which Durham have already signed up for and are testing ).

The poor communications is also something they are working on, with plans to centralise details of issues and upcoming changes via their site and the uservoice site they use to help users prioritise new features and fixes. They will also increase the number of people who can receive emails from Turnitin about service issues – currently this is limited to one per institution.

Much of the road map presentation was speculative and some slides were marked as ‘confidential’ – I will share what I can later when I am sent the slides.

Over lunch there was a special listening session with Chris Caren, Will Murray and eight individuals (including me) representing the Heads of e-Learning Forum (HeLF). This came about after a letter we sent to Turnitin in January expressing our dissatisfaction with the current service. This is not the first time we have had to take this approach. HeLF members made it clear to Turnitin that as well as the issues just experienced, we feel that particularly because of its near monoply position, Turnitin has a moral, ethical and quality related obligation to work in a way that recognises the national responsibility and regulatory framework that UK universities and colleges have to work within. We feel strongly that the current performance and way changes have been pushed out with insufficient testing and communication is highly damaging to the reputation of both Turnitin and UK HEI and FEIs, particularly when some of these changes seem to contradict or require significant reworking of existing policies and practice. We also emphasized the negative emotional impact that any problems with online submission can have upon our students and the staff who manage and mark the work.  We reminded Turnitin that in some institutions failure to submit work on time can result in a mark of zero – this point hit home. Later Chris pledged to appoint UK account managers to come and listen to individual clients, understand they way we work and the impact of any potential changes upon our staff and students.  This dialogue is ongoing and a formal response from Turnitin to HeLF is expected in the next few days. UCISA is also pursuing this matter, but chose to do so separately from HeLF.

All in all it was an interesting day, with plenty of food for thought on both sides.  A good summary is available on Tim Smale’s blog – see






Uploading papers to Turnitin using Internet Explorer on NPCS (Open Access) machines

2014 January 24
Comments Off
by Judith

At present there is a problem with the settings on Internet Explorer (the browser set on open access machines) which is preventing Turnitin working correctly.

Students are able to use View/Complete to access the assignment and click the submit button but then there is extra material visible on the screen and all the buttons are inactive.

Students are able to change a setting in Internet Explorer to make Turnitin work for their session but once they log out of the machine the setting will revert back to the original setting. This means the setting has to be changed every time you log onto the machine.

To do this open Internet Explorer and click Tools at the top of the screen.

From the drop down menu select Compatibility View settings.

Remove the tick from the box beside Display intranet sites in Compatibility View and click Close. (See video below for details of how the problem can be identified and the steps described here to take to put it right.)  You should now be able to upload your paper without any problem.

Click here to view the video: Changing IE compatabililty setting

If problems do still exist try using Firefox as the browser.  This can be accessed from the ‘Start’ menu, then ‘All Programs’ and then ‘Web Tools’. Click on the Firefox option and once it opens up a web browser, go to duo and try to submit your assignment.

We do not at this time have any students reporting problems uploading papers from their own machines.


New Briefings on Assessment and Feedback

2014 January 24
Comments Off
by Julie

Assessment and FeedbackThe Assessment and Feedback area of the JISC Design Studio gives access to existing and emergent work of interest on assessment and feedback. In this area, you can explore topics associated with assessment and feedback, find out what JISC currently know about enhancing assessment and feedback with technology and follow links to emerging themes and outputs from the Assessment and Feedback programme.

Jisc has published four new briefings around key themes which have emerged from the Assessment and Feedback programme:

See also the final synthesis report Supporting assessment and feedback practice with technology: from tinkering to transformation‘ (Oct 2013)

Each of the links below takes you to a hub page or jumping off point from where you can access further information and resources as these become available:

  • Programme - Overview of the Assessment and Feedback programme, it processes and projects
  • Topics - Areas of interest in assessment and feedback and their relationship with technology
  • Tools and Resources - Tools, systems and guidance to support transformative practice 



If you use an iPad to mark papers please read this important information

2014 January 20
Comments Off
by Judith

An instance of marking being lost using the iPad Turnitin mobile application has been reported.

It seems the application was unable to connect back to the server even though access to email and web sites was unaffected.

In an attempt to correct this the user changed the iPad settings which resulted in the marking stored on the iPad being deleted.

To avoid loss of data we suggest that you connect to the internet more regularly if possible.

Turnitin are aware of this issue and will place a warning within the app in the future but this may well take some weeks.


Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference: A Personal Summary

2014 January 13
Comments Off
by Elaine

This year’s conference theme was ‘Life of I’ focusing on personal and personalised learning. So as a nod to this theme, and acknowledging that just like learning every conference is personal, I’ve posted my own summary of the event.

After an introduction from Malcolm, with some now traditional dodgy puns and pictures riffing on the theme of tigers and boats,  Patrick Carmichael kicked things off in style with his discussion of video. In his keynote he explored the various affordances that this medium can offer. He presented both the positive and negative aspects of this technology in terms of enhancing the role of individuals involved yet simultaneously offering the possibility of diminishing their active involvement replacing this with a perceived presence rather than actual presence. He mentioned and explored a number of examples, ranged from providing dance students with the possibility of watching videos of their own performances to his mentioning of Knox’s (2013) exploration of the paradox of presence in MOOC models of education. This was a particularly interesting point considering the nature of the conference in that online facilitators or tutors are spending more time creating the learning objects and video production than in facilitating the course. In doing so they strangely create more opportunity not be present than to be present in the environment thereby having the effect of de-personalising the learning experience.

The next session that I attended was Sharon Flynn’s story on creating a staff community who were excited about Blackboard – with a title of ‘The Blackboard Festival: Creating A Sense Of Excitement And Enthusiasm For Staff Development Sessions’ how could I resist?! Sharon’s story was simple, providing staff development at times convenient  for lecturers in ways that were engaging and fun. Also calling it a festival didn’t seem to do any harm either, piggy backing on the excitement generated by others happening simultaneously in the area.

The first of my presentations was up next with Eleanor Loughlin. We looked at the use of blogs in an online environment to try and create informal spaces for trainee teachers.

Chris Boon shared his story on how he came to handle large video files for assessment and his use of e-stream. With diversifying of assessment this is something that many of us have come across and can prove to be a headache.  How to allow students to upload large files, and the problem of archival and storage as well as download for the assessor. His narrative and entertaining exploration of trial and error and configuration of e-stream until all parties were happy.

Graham Boxwell from Newcastle University shared his work of using the Newcastle owned eportfolio with students detailing uptake and how students were using this as part of their year abroad course to stay in touch and reflect upon their own learning experiences. These links and communication may have been informal before but providing them with an eportfolio that was university owned reduced the isolation associated with being away from a home institution and provided a tool for life long learning.

The second day brought with it a number of other presentations, starting off with a provocative keynote from Robin Goodfellow, exploring how the transition and focus of learning has gone from dialogue to design to data. What are the implications of this development; is this a positive wholly experience and what impact is this having upon our students’ learning. His argument that data is useful in making informed decisions but it takes much away from the personal experience and dialogue that initially informed our interaction with learners. In effect distancing ourselves from them as our interactions become increasingly negotiated through systems. He left us with a question as to how we can retain the personal and dialogic approach in the era of data driven education?

Sue Watling shared an exploration of the myth of the digital native that appeared to be the theme for the second day of the conference. She argued that in her experience those new teachers who should exhibit the assumed capabilities of digital natives sometimes fail to do so and competence should never be expected. Nick Pearce also argued along these lines, calling the digital native stance ‘unhelpful and unlikely’.  His presentation however focused on the experience of older learners as part of the Foundation Centre Programme, with the conclusions being that technology is multi-layered and presents different forms present difficulties to individuals. He posed the question of what we can do to better support students who struggle with technology, and that like Sue, age is not necessarily an indicator of capability.

Also from Durham Foundation Centre was Jinhua Mathias who explored her use of screen casts with Mathematics students and found educational objects online. She noted that foundation centre students present particular requirements; either in that they have been out of education for longer or are coming from differing educational backgrounds and may have been taught different mathematical methods and so require additional support. By exploring how she released these to her students at specific times she was able to provide tailored support when needed most.

I gave one of the final presentations of the conference, looking at what students were expecting of their experience at university regarding learning technology and shared some results of a number of focus groups I ran at the beginning of the year with students at induction.

All in all it was a busy conference with over 100 attendees this year, some interesting discussions and a mature and considered response to the use of technology in education. My personal reflections of this event are that we are seeing a more engaged and critical use of technology, overcoming technical problems and assumptions of competence and just like the theme we are attempting to focus learning back on the learner and their personal learning experience.


Bristol Online Survey Tool Support

2013 December 17
Comments Off
by Julie

Because of University of Bristol closure dates, support from the Bristol Online Surveys support desk will not be available for a period of two weeks over the Christmas break.

They will close at 5 p.m. on Friday 20th December, and will open again at 9 a.m. on Monday 6th January.

During this period, they will not be able to answer phone calls, or respond to emails but will pick up and respond to support requests from the morning of the 6th January.

The BOS service itself will be unaffected by the closure, and all surveys will remain open over the break.

Message from the BOS Team


An apology from Turnitin CEO Chris Caren

2013 December 12
Comments Off
by Judith

On 12 December Chris Caren CEO of Turnitin circulated the following letter to clients.

I wanted to give you an update on the Turnitin service disruption. Turnitin experienced two multi-hour service disruptions on Monday, December 9th and Tuesday, December 10th that impacted the ability of many U.K. customers to submit and access papers in Turnitin.

The service is functioning normally now and we are conducting an investigation into the root cause of the disruption. At this point, the issues appear to be around very heavy usage spikes – and as a result we have doubled the available system capacity. Additionally, Turnitin engineering and site operations teams in both the U.K. and U.S. are working around the clock to ensure the availability of the service.

If we encounter any further service disruptions, our customer support teams will notify you immediately. We will continue to convey real-time status updates via Twitter from @TurnitinStatus. In the coming week, I will provide you a full report on the root cause of these disruptions, and the processes we are putting in place to mitigate against a recurrence.   At this time I will also send a personal note to our entire UK user community

I want to personally apologize for this inconvenience. There is nothing we take more seriously than service availability for customers—we recognize that we are a mission-critical service. While we have been able to maintain average uptime above 99.9 percent for the Turnitin service over the last three years, a disruption during a peak submission and marking period is not something we take lightly.

If you have additional questions regarding this service disruption, please contact me directly at 1-510-764-7653. Once again, we apologize for these problems and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure they do not occur again.



Chris Caren