Providing Online Training and Tutoring for Faculty, Staff, and Students
Matthew Davidson, English Teacher and Department Chair
Pittsford Central School District
By helping educators across the curriculum to use Turnitin with shared common marks, Matthew Davidson enables teachers to build and scaffold learning among students.
Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight series, I’m Ray Huang. I’m speaking today with Matthew Davidson, English Teacher at Pittsford Central School District and an MVP honorable mention for the Turnitin All-Stars award program.
Matthew, tell us a little bit more about yourself and your district.
M.D.: I teach in Pittsford, New York, which is a suburb of Rochester. We are a two high school district; each high school with approximately 1,000 students. I am the Chair for the English Department at Sutherland High School in Pittsford, and this year I currently teach two sections of AP Language and Composition, two sections of English 10 Honors, and one section of English 11. I’ve been teaching now…this is my 20th year. I think I’ve been using Turnitin for about 7 years.
Turnitin: Give me a quick background on how you came across Turnitin.
M.D.: We were having some serious difficulties in the high school with instances of plagiarism. Sutherland High School is an extremely competitive school, and so many of our students are applying to some of the top colleges in the country and when you combine that kind of pressure with all of the different available outlets that the internet offers, it really became very difficult for us to monitor when students were doing work in an original fashion.
And so what I did is, I asked our IT department if I could pilot the program just to see how it worked, and I just dug in. And it worked really well for the sections I used it with. And my initial thinking was this was going to be primarily a plagiarism-checker, and I used it in that way at that time. But since then, I’ve become a user of all aspects of the service, and it’s become an integral part of what later on became a full policy shift in how our high school deals with issues of academic honesty. And Turnitin has really been a cornerstone of how we not only protect that policy, but also how we initiate it and roll it out to the students each year. So, that’s kind of the background.
Today, you know, I’m not only using it obviously with my all my classes, but I sort of have required for everyone in my department—I have ten English teachers—that all of them collect all papers on Turnitin.com.
Turnitin: How are you going about supporting Turnitin among faculty?
M.D.: I’ve begun teaching—through our teacher center, our professional development center—two classes on Turnitin. One is the introductory class, just helping people get their classes set up, helping them get their own accounts established, and talking to them and taking them through the process of collecting papers and keeping track of them in this sort of electronic repository. Then, I teach a more advanced class where I actually get into a lot of the different techniques for using GradeMark, for using PeerMark, and for using Discussion Boards. So, I guess that kind of takes us up today.
Turnitin: You’re the English Department head so you obviously have some pull within the department. Do you have faculty in other departments that use Turnitin?
M.D.: Yes we do, and that’s primarily from those courses that I offered through the teacher center that I was talking about. New York State, like many states, are now adopting the Common Core standards and what that means, among other things, is that teachers in areas other than English and Social Studies--which are the traditional paper kinds of classes--are now being expected to collect and give some degree of assessment to writing assignments. And so, you have teachers now who have spent their careers either teaching or preparing to teach students in areas that are not necessarily writing intensive, and they themselves need a primer on how to do that and what that means.
And it seems to me that Turnitin is almost a perfect solution, because through the creation of our own custom QuickMarks as well as rubrics, we can introduce to--say a series of science and math teachers--comments that are relevant to their field and not only will it then be applicable on, an actual basis, not a theoretical basis, but they can also be consistent across their disciplines as to how they’re looking at and grading writing. So in other words—one practical way of looking at it—I know I had one math teacher come talk to me about one of my QuickMarks that deals with faulty predication. And what she found is that through my comment and reading what the comment actually says as well as the way I use it, she was herself learning how to grade papers, because she hadn’t been ever, you know--it just wasn’t in her background to know such things. And so she finds that through using this program, she herself has become not only a better teacher of writing, but a practitioner of it as well.
And so it seems to me like this could really be used on an expanded level, but we’re just really just beginning that phase here. I mean we’ve been so consumed as teachers with APPR scores and what that all means--how to introduce Common Core into our curriculum--and the last thing we’ve really been dealing with is how to make those kinds of practical changes in the classroom that make this movement meaningful for the teachers as well as students. And Turnitin, I think, could really be at the forefront of that movement, but only if they know about how to use it, and so we’re really just beginning that process.
Turnitin: Yeah, I’ve spoken with many instructors myself over the years, who have told me that they were never really taught how to grade effectively—how to give proper feedback. They give feedback the way they were given feedback.
M.D.: Precisely, the whole field of measurement and evaluation is really one of those things you learn on the job, and unless you have the right kind of training or mentorship when you’re out there, it’s very difficult to grasp.
Turnitin: What are some of the benefits that you’ve experienced from Turnitin that perhaps you weren’t expecting?
M.D.: That’s right, and in fact, one of the things I do for people who take the class that I offer is--as part of the class--I send them all as an attachment to an email, I send them all of my QuickMarks and my rubric files that I’ve created so they can then, you know, they can do with it as they wish—you know, I’m not obviously mandating that they use them, but they’re accessible to all of us, then we start to have the same understanding of what some of the things we’re looking for. I mean, I have over 80 QuickMarks and that’s somewhat excessive I suppose, but that’s mostly because I teach AP Language, so I really peel apart every little nuance and detail of their writing, and so I need a lot of those QuickMarks and I find them useful.
But the truth is with a good core of well-designed QuickMarks and solid explanations, you can really help to create a consistency across the program both horizontally and vertically that’s invaluable when it comes to, I’d say, any size high school but certainly when you’re getting into high schools where you’re dealing with upwards of 1,000 to upwards of 2,000 to 3,000 students.
Turnitin: Now it seems to me that you guys have come quite a long way from your beginnings as using Turnitin as a way to check papers for potential plagiarism
M.D.: You know, what’s interesting about that is that I think that so many people are still thinking of it as really the originality checker. And I have to tell you that for me at this point, it’s really an afterthought. And that’s really the testament to the success of this service, because we still get instances of plagiarism. I mean, we’re not going to eliminate 100%, but it is, I would say our instances of plagiarism have gone down 75% since the advent of this program, coupled with the new policy that we put in place around academic honesty. But as a result of that, we’ve come to understand it now as simply a better way to give students valuable feedback
Turnitin: Well Matthew, thank you so much for chatting with me today.
M.D.: Well I appreciate the opportunity, and I appreciate the conversation. And whether I move onto the next round or not, it’s just been a real pleasure to use the program, to use the service, and I appreciate the chance.
Turnitin: I’ve been speaking with Matthew Davidson, English Teacher at Pittsford Central School District and an MVP honorable mention for the Turnitin All-Stars award program.