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Going beyond paper: Three crucial benefits of digital student workflows

Audrey Campbell
Audrey Campbell






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Advancements in education technology across the past 200+ years illustrate how innovation and necessity have influenced the classroom experience for both students and teachers.

Consider that in 1806, students in North America were practicing writing their letters with desktop sandboxes “because they were the most economically affordable form of technology available at the time” (Gutek, 1986, p. 62). Soon after, individual slate boards were introduced, followed by the classroom chalkboard; James Pillans, headmaster and geography teacher at the Old High School in Edinburgh, Scotland, is credited with inventing the first modern blackboard when he hung a large piece of slate on the classroom wall. However, as Shade (2001) explains, “When first introduced, the chalkboard went unused for many years until teachers realized that it could be used for whole group instruction. They had to change their thinking from individual slates to classroom slates” (p. 2).

Fast-forward to the 1900s when schools in parts of Europe and North America saw the introduction and widespread use of typewriters (1930s) and calculators (1970s). Australian schools saw the introduction of computers in the classroom in the early 1970s, ”typically resulting from the exposure of particular teachers to computing during their university studies.” In the 1980s, classrooms in England welcomed the Proton, the BBC Micro computer made by Acorn Computers of Cambridge, and finally, around the world, many students and educators had their first access to the internet in the 1990s.

All of these technological advancements promoted new ways of learning while also bringing with them distinct hurdles. The typewriter and calculator, adopted by industry, became an additional tool to enable faster learning–and at the same time, challenges to avoiding shortcuts. The internet, too, brought research resources to students’ fingertips, but at some cost; these challenges, while arguably similar to what technological advancements had always presented in a classroom, were now at a bigger scale.

These days, the occasional use of education technology is sufficient, manageable, and perhaps what is most economical for some. For others, technology is a prominent facet of their day-to-day activities. Up until 2020, a majority of global educators could play with technology according to their comfort and willingness. Suddenly, the pandemic forced students and educators online without a grace period and with quite a bit of pain. There was an immediate shift in thinking, in curriculum, and in the cognitive load of learning new systems in new environments.

Conversely, there was also opportunity: the chance to cross new bridges and meet the new needs of a global classroom online. “We have a unique opportunity to rethink the role of teachers–not just what technology can do for teachers or their current skill set, but how the experience of interacting with the technology motivates them and their students,” shares Tracy Wilichowski and Cristobal Cobo. “Technology is simply a tool but without appropriate integration, it will not result in effective learning.”

Here at Turnitin, we see an opportunity to integrate education technology meaningfully, to provide instructors with tools to uphold assessment with integrity and ensure accurate measurement of student learning. Enter the digital student workflow: a space where both students and educators can wholly experience the learning journey with the help of education technology soft- and hardware. From the onset of a course to the final exam, nearly every project and piece of feedback can be documented, collected, and organized in a digital space.

But how and why, exactly, will the modern educator go beyond paper? Just like the arrival of the chalkboard or the classroom desktop computer, there are very real advantages to embracing this change. Here are three crucial benefits to digital student workflows:

Provide consistent, formative feedback at scale. With student papers, assignments, and projects all organized in one digital space, it not only means feedback can be more personalized and easier to give, it also means time spent marking and grading can be consolidated, even for large student cohorts.

With Turnitin Feedback Studio (TFS), for example, educators have access to helpful feedback features like drag-and-drop QuickMarks, text and voice comments, and automatic grammar checking, offering personalized, formative feedback before their students’ final submission. Teachers can also look back at their most frequently-used QuickMarks, which may inform how they adjust or reteach certain lessons and help them to individualize support for student writers. Additionally, with this type of digital student workflow, there are no lost papers: instructors have every students’ assignment in one place–often with timestamps– and a record on the feedback given across a semester or term.

Draft Coach is a plug-in currently available for Google Docs and soon for Microsoft® Word, providing students feedback on grammar, similarity, and citations as they draft, so they can make informed revisions on their work prior to final submission. Educators then have fewer issues to review because students have corrected them in prior drafts using Draft Coach. Gradescope allows instructors to thoughtfully create, efficiently administer, and consistently grade assignments and exams across subject areas. With just a click, instructors can then send grades to all of their students in multiple classes, export them to their own gradebook, and analyze the per-question and per-rubric statistics available to them to better understand the efficacy of their test and even more importantly, the learning of their students.

Streamline the student and educator experience. If everything is online, educators have the advantage of streamlining the student experience from day one. Many Learning Management Systems (LMSs) like Moodle or Canvas, include customizable dashboards that allow teachers to control how students engage with assignments, exams, and grades. In fact, many LMSs –including Moodle and Canvas– integrate with Turnitin, which allows for seamless access to Turnitin tools that make teaching and learning in a digital environment even easier.

In Turnitin Feedback Studio, teachers can upload their roster, organize students by class, and assign projects with accompanying rubrics, all from their dashboard. And both TFS and Gradescope offer support for all assessment types (e.g. multiple choice, short- and long-answer, true or false) across multiple subject areas (e.g. English Language Arts, computer science, engineering, biology). There is also a Learning Analytics Dashboard inside of the External Tool (LTI) inbox, where teachers can gain valuable insights on how students engage with feedback within their assignments. Instead of stacks of papers for every class, the student digital workflow narrows it down, so everything that is needed to be successful on both the student and teacher end, are in one easy-to-use, organized space.

Ensure academic integrity and prevent unintended bias. Student digital workflows are an incredible opportunity to embrace personalized and efficient learning processes. But if these elements aren’t coupled with thoughtful, proactive academic integrity practices, a digital workflow may just miss the mark in being truly comprehensive. Technology resources can sometimes both enhance integrity and offer the temptation or medium for shortcut solutions, which undercut learning and can undermine the reputation of a student, instructor, or institution. Learning and working in remote or hybrid environments demands a commitment to academic integrity, where students and instructors are informed and knowledgeable around resources and best practices to ensure the highest quality, original work.

Turnitin Feedback Studio with Originality is a meaningful element of the digital student workflow because it combines the power of formative feedback with similarity checking and submission analytics. Instructors have insight from data points across assignments and courses to inform practical next steps, whether that means a conversation with a student on an incorrect citation or the reteaching of a paraphrasing or integrity concept. The Similarity report checks student work for text similarity against Turnitin’s comprehensive collection of internet, academic, and student paper content. The Insight Panel offers educators an overview of any notable flags found in a submission, including similarity, text manipulation, hidden text, or replaced characters.

The most meaningful element of the integrity workflow is the opportunity to enable pathways for internal review and standardization, whether by escalating cases for further investigation or ensuring the same rubrics are applied across team-teaching/Teaching Assistant (TA) courses. Removing unintended bias in the grading process is essential to ensure assessment with integrity on the educator’s side, with options in Feedback Studio and Gradescope for anonymous marking and dynamic rubrics.

In sum: end-to-end assessment with integrity can take place within the digital student workflow by utilizing Turnitin Feedback Studio, TFS with Originality, Draft Coach, and Gradescope. These tools help to provide educators with the tools they need to craft rubric-aligned assignments, offer personalized, formative feedback, grade consistently and effectively, and use detailed analytics to inform instruction and exam design.

And while the fully digital student workflow may feel like a new, perhaps even daunting step to take in the education space, very soon it will feel as normal and accessible as the classroom chalkboard. Because while new tools and advancing technology means, on the one hand, a shift for educators away from their known methods and established routines, it can offer–on the other–an optimized, efficient, and uniquely engaging learning environment.