Janice Webb

Using Turnitin as an Information Literacy Tool for Today’s Digital Age Students

Janice Webb, Associate Librarian
Coleman University


With a large contingent of information-technology students who are not help-seeking and who have trouble with citations, Webb implemented an open-ended Turnitin dropbox for students to check their citations in a non-stress environment. Webb has also created instructional videos on plagiarism prevention and proper citation practices to meet students online and give them the tools to figure out their writing.

Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series! My name is Kenneth Balibalos. Joining me today is Janice Webb, Associate Librarian at Coleman University and an Academic Integrity Honorable Mention for the Turnitin All-Stars Award Program. Welcome Janice, thanks for joining us today.

Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

J.W.: Sure. My name is Janice Webb, and I’m from Coleman University in San Diego, California. I am the Associate Librarian here.

Turnitin: Could you talk about how you are using Turnitin to promote academic integrity, original writing, critical thinking and proper research citation practices?

One of the first things I put on [the library’s Moodle course] is a Turnitin dropbox, which is an open-ended, multi-part Turnitin assignment that doesn't submit to the Turnitin repository. Writing has improved because of this Turnitin tool. Also, students who need help can see me for face-to-face instruction on proper citation or view a set of four instructional videos on plagiarism prevention that I've created to meet our students online.
Janice Webb, Coleman University

J.W.: To begin with, I want to explain that I was one of the first advocates at Coleman University to get Turnitin here for our students. We only have one writing class in the entire program for the associate degree and that’s an Intro to Writing class. Our students were having a lot of trouble with their writing and the citation in general, so I thought it would be a good idea to implement Turnitin here at the school.

We have a large group of international students [which was where I originally rolled out the Turnitin dropbox], because a lot of them culturally don’t understand plagiarism, because in their culture, it’s okay. In fact, it is encouraged to cite your professor word for word. It makes the professor feel better. So, they needed to understand here that that’s not okay.

So, I got a course on Moodle, and one of the first things I put on there was a Turnitin dropbox, which is open-ended and doesn’t submit to the student database repository. This way, students could submit their assignments to the dropbox and basically check their own work before they submitted it for a grade. It was designed to be a non-stress environment for the students.

Turnitin: What factors drove you to create this course in a low-pressure environment?

J.W.: I’m in the library, and I have a feeling that this is a service environment rather than a classroom. I know I’m an educator, first and foremost, but I think that my goal is also to provide a service to the students. So, I was trying to approach it from a service standpoint as opposed to something that is punitive. In the classroom, if they plagiarize, their instructors apply the academic honesty policy pretty much across the board, and it’s a no tolerance policy, whereas in the library I have an opportunity to leave that open so that the students can learn from their mistakes. And if they have questions, they can come to me and ask me.

I also wanted to provide a 24x7 service, and I’m not available here 24/7. At our school, we have a large contingent of students who are not help-seeking. So, I created some webcasts that they could view when I’m not here to explain in-text citations, paraphrasing, summarizing, and the originality check so that they can understand that if they make a mistake it’s okay to make the mistake, as long as they go on and they view videos and learn from their mistake and make corrections the next time around.

Turnitin: What has student feedback been like and what have you seen from your non help-seeking students?

J.W.: So I hear from their instructors that the students’ writing has improved because of this Turnitin tool that is available in the library. Instructors refer students to it. Student Services refers students to it. That’s where the “Plagiarism Camp” name came from (Student Services), because they have students come up on charges of academic honesty and on their first charge they’re sent to Plagiarism Camp, which is basically those videos. They need to watch the videos and pass the quizzes before they can be allowed back in the class.

Turnitin: What type of themes do you touch upon in your videos?

J.W.: Yeah, there’s one on “indicator words,” because I think there’s a problem students have with their writing around letting the reader know that they’re about to cite somebody. So there’s one specifically about how to lead in to your citation. There’s another that’s just on in-text citations themselves. There’s one on quotations and how to cite them appropriately, one on paraphrasing and one on summarizing.

Turnitin: A follow up question to that is: why is it important to create those instructional videos? Why is academic integrity and original writing so important?

J.W.: Well, I am a holder of intellectual property myself, so I personally care because I don’t want students to take my work and not give me credit for it. But that being said, I also care as a professional. I’m a member of ALA, and I am a professional librarian and that is one of our tenets--to protect intellectual property. The reason I provided it as a service--where it was a 24 x 7 service--is because our students aren’t help seeking, and I don’t think that that’s unique to Coleman.

When I was a kid I sought help, but I think that they’re thinking that they already know stuff’s available on the internet, and they think that that is knowledge. They equate those things with knowledge. So because they equate the appearance of facts on the internet or not even facts necessarily, but the appearance of information on the internet as knowledge, they don’t think libraries are necessary in the first place. And so that is why I created the Turnitin dropbox, it’s a way to say hey, “We’re here,” and to show that it’s a library service, so that they understand that libraries are important.

Turnitin: In general, do you have any thoughts about what Turnitin has done in terms of being able to promote academic integrity or original writing?

J.W.: I think what it gives us--not just myself but other instructors as well--is a springboard for a discussion about academic integrity. Because you’re actually given a visual to show the students, and I actually used one in one of my PowerPoint presentations, an actual visual of the similarity report so I could explain to them, step by step. When I see this as an instructor, this is what I see, and it’s showing me that you copied word for word from so and so. So let’s talk about that, like why did you feel that you needed to do that, and do you realize that when you do that you should enclose it in quotation marks and put an in-text citation at the end to give them credit?

And then we start talking about the whole process of writing, as opposed to just this big nebulous “plagiarism” word that a lot of people don’t understand. I don’t think it’s just students. And in fact, I know it’s not because there’s been recent news, hasn’t there, about people that you would think would know better, like people in government and so forth, who should know better, but for some reason they plagiarized as well.

Turnitin: As a last question, what would you say to other instructors or librarians and who are thinking about developing a library service tool or those instructional videos to meet students with where they are?

J.W.: I would say that it’s important to treat each case individually. The instructor is the one at the front lines. So, the instructor needs to understand where that student is coming from before they make a judgment about whether or not the student intentionally or unintentionally plagiarized.

As far as the webcasts are concerned, I don’t think webcasts are necessarily the only tool available. They can do other forms of providing that information. The problem we have as librarians is we get to do what’s called “one-offs.” We get to see the students’ once. And then we never see them again. So, how do they get the information in that one session? There’s a lot of information to cover. How do we make sure we cover it all in one session? The webcasts are a good workaround for that.

Turnitin: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. I’ve been talking to Janice Webb, Associate Librarian at Coleman University.