Teresa Maybee

The “Socratic Method”: Having Students Understand Sources and Analyze Text with Turnitin

Teresa Maybee, English faculty, South University


In order to establish an open environment in which students can openly discuss issues of academic integrity and original writing, Maybee uses Turnitin’s Originality Report to discuss what the reports convey and its implications—what do the students see and what do the highlighted colors mean?

Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series! My name is Kenneth Balibalos. Joining me today is Teresa Maybee, English faculty at South University and an Academic Integrity Honorable Mention for the Turnitin All-Stars Award Program. Welcome Teresa, thanks for joining us today.

Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

T.M.: I am Teresa Maybee. I’m faculty in the general education department at South University. I teach all levels of English and literature from developmental English and composition through world and upper-level world in American literature classes.

Turnitin: How are you currently using Turnitin?

In the 21st century, we are now dealing with multitudes of underprepared students and students returning to college to change careers. Many of them have no idea how the computer works or what the ramifications of plagiarism are. Turnitin is an incredible aid for information literacy that helps students to answer the question ‘What is your source and where did it come from?
Teresa Maybee, South University

T.M.: We’re dealing now in the 21st Century with multitudes of underprepared students and students who are returning to college to change their career. Many of them have no idea how the computer works, what the ramifications are. Turnitin is an incredible aid for information literacy. I ask them, “What is your source and where did it come from?” On the same token, students are encouraged in classes to take notes, reading notes regardless of what they’re reading. And then they turn around and have a tendency to take their notes and put it into their paper, which is a problem. They might end up with a similarity index that is too high.

But on the same token, I teach them to read their similarity report for everything that is over 3% and to track the source back and see if that is something that they have looked at and to do this before their final submission.

Turnitin: I have a follow-up question to your point. So as students are able to kind of backtrack and look at their sources, what does that do for your students?

T.M.: Number one, it sometimes finds them other sources that they didn’t think of. Number two, it often shows the student that many other people have written about this, and their ideas might not be as original as they thought. In other words, if they see that 25 other students have written about a particular story in a particular way and used the same quotes that they have used, then my recommendation to them is perhaps they should think a little bit more critically and look a little bit deeper into a text. Often, it shows them that they’re doing the same thing that everyone else is doing regardless of whether it’s plagiarized or not.

Turnitin: How do you try to get them deeper into text and think more critically about what they are analyzing, their arguments, those things?

T.M.: Everything that students write is persuasive in one way or another, regardless of whether it’s literature or a simple compare/contrast composition. Students are persuading that their analysis, their point of view is correct. It’s motivating for students to realize that they come up with something that no one else has done. For example, we use let’s say a novel, a Kate Chopin novel, in a survey literature class. No one likes the novel of the turn of the century, but it’s in the canon now, everyone teaches it. And, I teach it in literature classes or a survey class. We talk about it. They come up with ideas, and they read the criticisms that are given to them in a lower-level class. And then, they come up with some ideas.

I’m a hard, but a fair instructor. I do everything I can to teach them not to plagiarize. Think a little bit further. Look at what’s out there and think about your own thoughts, and if you have gone a little bit too far and you’ve “over interneted,” Turnitin will tell you.

Turnitin: What has using Turnitin done for you and your instruction? Why is using it important?

T.M.: In the lower-level classes and in the literature class, I don’t allow them to paraphrase, quite frankly. That is one of my rules. If it is a research class, then they must quote their source directly. And it also reinforces with them that the quote must be exact. They can’t make it up as they go or remember it and then put a quote there. The rules are very strict. A quote is exact, and even if it has a typo in it, a quote is exact.

We go over Turnitin similarity indices in class, and it’s a form of dialogue--the instructions, that is. In other words, “What’s wrong here?” I give examples. I’ll use a model paper that’s been plagiarized, an anonymous paper that’s been plagiarized or not plagiarized and show the good, the bad and the ugly of Turnitin. It’s a tool. It’s a wonderful, wonderful resource. I try to explain to the students that Turnitin is not just for the instructor. Turnitin is a resource for them also.

Even for the ones who have been exposed to it, they think it’s only there to bust them. I try to take it a bit further with them, because they’re university adults now and I only have them in class twice a week, and the rest of the time it’s up to them. So please use the resources that are given to you, and Turnitin is one of my favorite tools.

Turnitin: What are some things and examples you bring up in your dialogue with students?

T.M.: I’ll bring up a Turnitin similarity index report and say, “What do you see?” I'm very Socratic in my instruction. I’ll say, “Well, what does the red mean? Why would it be like that? Why are there several sources that way?” I usually have a student standing at the computer, so that they can look further into the report and see where the sources come from. Often, the students will volunteer to have theirs put up. One person will have 29% similarity index. Another person will have 29% similarity index, but for completely different reasons.

Turnitin: Regarding the Socratic Method, what has student response been like to that type of instruction?

T.M.: Some know already. For some, it clicks instantly. For others, they need to ask the question, what does it mean. We do it as an interactive exercise in the classroom. If they don’t get the first example, we’ll give another example. “Why do you have a zero percent similarity index when you were required to add three direct quotes from the primary source?” That should always give them some sort of a percentage. Usually it means either a.) they did not quote or b.) they did not quote properly and Turnitin did not pick it up as such. One of the learning objectives essential for all of my classes is to be able to express themselves clearly in writing…their own writing.

Turnitin: Why is this opening up that dialogue--why is having that open forum so important to you as an instructor as well as for your students?

It’s important for me as an instructor, because it’s number one, it’s closure, it’s transparent. This is what is expected. This is what you can expect from me. This is what I expect from you. Yes, your work will be put into Turnitin, and it’s expected that it will be your own work. It’s a wonderful tool for me in that aspect, because I can certainly tell if it’s not someone’s work. I have had instances where I got a no similarity index but knew that it wasn’t a student’s work. Because of Turnitin, I no longer have to make that immediate value judgment.

Turnitin: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. I’ve been talking to Teresa Maybee, English faculty at South University.