Ryan Novak

Empowering Educators to Use Turnitin to Support Student Learning

Ryan Novak, English Teacher
Kenston Public Schools


Ryan Novak, a Turnitin MVP All-Star honorable mention, shares his experience in getting colleagues within and beyond his district to use Turnitin in a way that positively supports student learning by making adjustments based on student performance to address deficiencies.

Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series, I’m Ray Huang. With me today is Ryan Novak, English Teacher at Kenston Local Schools and an MVP honorable mention for the Turnitin All-Stars award program.

Ryan, thanks for joining us. Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

R.N.: I teach at Kenston High School in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. This is my sixth year of teaching. I taught at another building for two years and then this is my fourth year at Kenston; and I’ve been using Turnitin since my first year as a teacher. I subbed for a year right out of college, but my first year as a full-time teacher. I’ve been using Turnitin ever since. Obviously the capacity and all the things you can do on it has changed a lot, but I’ve been using it at least as the plagiarism check and a way to submit to work electronically since I began teaching.

Kids often don’t like writing, because they don’t think they’re good at it—they get papers back with a bunch of red ink all over them, all the things they’re doing terribly wrong and everything like that—but it’s a real quick, super-easy way to show them all the things they’re doing well.
Ryan Novak, Kenston Public Schools

Turnitin: Oh so you’re like a Turnitin native almost.

R.N.: Exactly, yes. I don’t know a world without it.

Turnitin: And what are some of your favorite or most used features?

R.N.: Well, I really the love the bubble comments. I remember I used to use the comment features on Microsoft Word, and I was grading student work electronically, and it really wasn’t doing much in terms of saving time. Instead of writing the comments longhand, I was still typing them and doing a lot of things like that. So, I remember that I wished there was something where instead of just writing the same comments—you know, four or five times on the same paper and then three or four times on every other paper after that— wished there was a way I could just put it on there and not have to keep going through all this and explaining it.

I love the bubble comments. And, one of the things that I discovered I could do after using it for a while was I export the comments out to an Excel spreadsheet and then next to the student name, I know how many times I used each bubble comment, so that’s a great way where I can keep track—and it’s a quick, easy way if I’m asked by a parent or a special education teacher—about strengths and weaknesses. When I’m grading tons of student writing every day, it’s hard to kind of keep track of everyone’s skills and deficiencies and that sort of stuff. So now I can print that off, and now I have a really quick reference to figure out where kids are struggling or where they’re even showing improvement and that sort of stuff. So, I like the bubble comments a lot and use them pretty regularly.

Turnitin: It’s nice to be able to track that information and do some of your own analysis. Are you able to use your analysis to shape how you teach or what you need to focus on?

R.N.: Oh absolutely. When you’re grading, you see the trends--you see the common mistakes everybody’s making, and you start to get a feel for where the kids are. And especially—I teach primarily freshman, and I’ve been teaching it for six years—so I kind of know where and what freshman tend to do well and where they tend to struggle and what types of issues I had with their writing. But, it really does help to narrow down and look at specific students and really pull out where they are specifically weak because it may be a few weeks or a month between papers I grade or writing assignments--so it’s really nice to refresh my memory, “Alright this is where they were the last time” and then that’s something that I could look at and kind of go off of when I’m grading the next one.

Turnitin: What kind of things are you doing now to support the use of Turnitin?

R.N.: Actually, I was down in Columbus for the Ohio Technology Conference, and I did a session on grading student writing electronically that featured a lot of stuff that I do on Turnitin.com, so that was something where teachers from across the state were all present for that so it was pretty great to kind of share that information. I had a woman who was the technology director at a district around here and she had just purchased licenses for Turnitin.com. And she was really excited to be able to talk about specific things that could be done with the teachers who she bought the licenses for. So, they’re making sure they’re getting the bang for the buck.

Turnitin: What did your session cover specifically?

R.N.: The session that I led in Columbus--it was very similar to something I did a year ago here at Kenston, where we have a yearly professional development day that focuses specifically on technology and that sort of stuff. So I led a session with pretty much all of my colleagues—from the English Department from the high school we’re at, and then some English teachers at the middle school, and then I think there was even an elementary school teacher or two, and then some people from the Social Studies Department—so there was quite a variety of different teachers there. And, I kind of walked them through the process, shared all the features that were available. And, I know the teachers who have adopted using Turnitin.com--I’ve heard a lot of good things from them, they really seem to enjoy it.

And I think one of the things I know that they really want to do is really just get the iPad app to the point where they can really grade traditionally like they’re used to--writing the comments and that sort of stuff, but still do that electronically and still have that feedback online where it’s easily accessible. But other than that, I think they’ve really taken to it pretty well and just kind of we’re off and running. I mean, it’s pretty user-friendly, pretty self-explanatory, so once I kind of showed them how to create sets of bubble comments and how to highlight the text and all that sort of stuff, I think they kind of took it and ran with it. And I know at one point one of the teachers in Social Studies was asking me questions about it so I know even outside of the English Department some teachers have decided to incorporate it and use it in their assessment of writing too.

Turnitin: You mentioned the idea of your colleagues wanting to do more grading electronically. How does Turnitin fit within the current submission and grading ecosystem?

R.N.: And we made the transition, we’re now one of many schools in the area who’s a Google school, so a lot of the stuff we’re doing--we’re trying to do it electronically--and students are creating stuff using their Google Drive accounts. We just adopted it in the fall, and then you guys a couple of months later rolled out the way to submit from Google Drive directly through Turnitin.com which is great, it takes a lot of the hassle out. We don’t have to worry about what format they’re submitting documents, you know, if they’re using Open Office or some weird word processor or whatever. So, I think that’s something that I would definitely be thrilled to share with some other people in my district about, because I think the demand is there, and I think we could definitely get some good use out of it.

Turnitin: How do you use Turnitin to support student learning?

R.N.: One of the things that I mentioned in my presentation was this idea...well technology is great because you really want two things from it when you’re using it in the classroom. One is obviously to save yourself time. I mean, technology is there to save us time and make things more efficient, but also make sure that it helps the kids.

And I know one of the things personally that I fall victim to quite a bit is when I’m grading, it’s not my favorite thing to do to read very, very similar assignments over and over and then make the same comments over and over again. So, I think one of the things that’s available is a way to easily share the things that the kids are doing well with it as well. And, one of the things I shared with the people was this idea of kids often don’t like writing because they don’t think they’re good at it. They get papers back with a bunch of red ink all over them, all the things they’re doing terribly wrong and everything like that. And I think, “Here’s a really quick easy way where I don’t necessarily even have to make more comments.” I do put positive comments on there and that sort of stuff, but it’s a real quick, super-easy way to show them all the things they’re doing well, because all the kids, you know, there’s only a column or two that is red if there’s issues.

You know, 90% of the columns that come out are green, and it’s like look at all the things you are doing well. And I think any tool that you can use to encourage students in their writing and show them that they’re talented at it and they have a lot of strength, you know, is a great, great thing and that’s one of the things I think is the biggest benefits of Turnitin that I’ve learned after using it here for a few years now—it’s a great way to encourage students and kind of build up their confidence as writers, and I think that’s job number one as English teachers. So, I guess I applaud you guys and thank you guys for that.

Turnitin: Ryan, I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience.

R.N.: Alright cool! Great talking to you.

Turnitin: I’ve been speaking with Ryan Novak, English Teacher at Kenston Local Schools and an MVP honorable mention for the Turnitin All-Stars award program.