Phoenix Union High School District Expands Turnitin Use to Sixteen Schools

District-wide license supported by custom training program helps
instructors improve student evaluation across diverse population.


Phoenix Union High School District
Phoenix, Arizona
Public High School District
16 campuses
27,000 students
Customer since: 2013

StudentsPhoenix Union High School District embraces diversity as its hallmark: 94% of its 27,000 students are minority with a substantial refugee population that represents over 60 languages. Those from homes where English is not the primary language constitute over 50% of the population and nearly 23% do not have computers, smart phones, or access to the Internet at home.

One district school, North High School, first licensed Turnitin in 2007. Today, instructors at all 16 campuses have access to the cloud-based service for evaluating assignments submitted by students.

Phoenix Union, like most urban districts, has faced myriad issues in providing the “right” technology to support student learning. Recognizing their students will face stiff competition for college acceptance or jobs when they graduate high school, Phoenix Union places a strong emphasis on services that support student learning and success.

As is typical for secondary schools, the district’s English instructors were among the first to request Turnitin for checking the originality of students’ work. New instructors often came from schools that used Turnitin’s range of tools, including online grading and peer review, and their hiring triggered more requests for the service.

An additional consideration was the dual student enrollment program with Grand Canyon University. “Some students in the Grand Canyon program were already getting feedback from Turnitin for their assignments,” says Ann Murray, Language Arts Content Specialist. “We knew it was something we needed to provide to help our students and by 2013 were able to modify our other software purchases to free up the funds.” With strong support from Laura Telles, the district curriculum director, a team of teachers charged with reviewing and rating new products recommended Turnitin for district-wide use. The school board voted to license the service for all 16 schools in June 2013.

Adoption among instructors grew quickly, largely due to a well-organized train-the-trainer model supported by school principals who identified key personnel for each campus. “The trainers—our Turnitin gurus—participated in a series of live sessions customized and hosted by product experts at Turnitin,” says Murray. “They then went back and created a training plan for their school.” The approach established experts on each campus to quickly solve any issues, and encourage sharing and collaboration between the campuses.

Dawn Birch, a 9-year Turnitin power user and teacher/trainer says, “The initial training is so imperative to adoption of new technology because it helps bring teachers into the process. Working with them 1:1 or in small groups lets me show them how I do it. It breaks down the fear and gives teachers in various disciplines the freedom to experiment.”

Turnitin reports that more than 29,000 student papers were submitted between September and December 2013 with over 14,000 (48%) graded using the Turnitin online grading tool, GradeMark. Says Murray, “We’re encouraging and developing the use of Turnitin across the curriculum. Teachers are using the Common Core-aligned rubrics, making their own custom QuickMark sets, and conducting peer reviews in nearly every discipline.”

Instructors like Birch have students submit nearly every assignment to the service, including multiple drafts. “I use the originality checking feature to teach students about plagiarism, the QuickMarks to give fast feedback on draft assignments, the bubble comments for more customized feedback, and the rubrics to make sure students have met the assignment parameters,” says Birch. “And I love the fact that Turnitin for iPad allows me to grade wherever I want---relaxing at home, at the doctor’s office, even on vacation.”

Each time teachers gather at the professional development sessions regularly held by the district, “There’s always a session on Turnitin,” says Murray. “We want to continually expose them not only to new features and product releases, but to how their colleagues are creatively using technology to evaluate student work and give students the kind of impactful feedback that will improve performance.”

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