Jessica Thur

Digital Literacy Scaffolding with Turnitin

Jessica Thur, English Teacher
Dutch Fork High School


Jessica Thur uses Turnitin to authenticate original work and provide feedback on research practices and for beginning a conversation on academic honesty, original work, critical thinking, and information literacy. Thur also works closely with media specialists--teaching core research competencies with diverse and creative scaffolding strategies in order to help students more critically evaluate sources that they use.

Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series! My name is Kenneth Balibalos. Joining me today is Jessica Thur, an English teacher at Dutch Fork High School and an Academic Integrity Honorable Mention for the Turnitin All-Stars Award Program. Welcome Jessica, thanks for joining us today.

Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

J.T.: Yes. My name is Jessica Thur. I'm an English teacher at Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, South Carolina.

I think a lot of kids accept things that they read online without considering if they're valid or if there could be more information or if this information is biased. It is a very real world skill. They need to be able to discern what is real or what's not or how two ideas can help build on one another. It'll help them as they go into their junior and senior years, then college, and in life.
Jessica Thur, Dutch Fork High School

Turnitin: How have you used Turnitin to promote academic integrity and what has that done for you as well as for your students?

J.T.: We started using Turnitin with the originality report, because we were having problems with students copying from other students and nothing to authenticate who did what work. And so we started by posting some assignments there, and when I have an issue with a child's originality report, I show them the links of how it pops up and ask them to explain to me how their work is so similar to somebody else's, and yet it's their work. That gets us into the conversation of who really did the work.

Turnitin: Your colleague mentioned in your nomination that she awarded you with a "Plagiarism Police" certificate. Could you explain the details of that and why you were recognized?

J.T.: The Turnitin website is monitored by our media center, and Jennifer Collins is a media specialist, and they're trying to encourage teachers to use Turnitin, because we have had a lot of cheating, especially as our school has become more tech savvy. We gave iPads to all the kids this year, and so there's so many ways for them to get information. One of the things we've talked a lot about is if it's okay to use information, how to use it correctly, and how to encourage other teachers to use it. The media center was commending those teachers using it. So last year, I believe I had the highest usage of Turnitin. That's how I got that award.

Turnitin: Can you talk about the process in which you promote original writing, proper research citation practices, and information literacy skills? Why is that process so important?

J.T.: One of the English standards is research, so I talk a lot to my kids about how I want them to understand how they apply that to other classes they're taking now and how they're required in future professions to do so. So, when I plan a research assignment, I go to either Jennifer Collins or Evelyn Newman, our other media specialist, and I talk about what we're trying to do and what particular programs work best for that, as well as what kids need to work on. For example, earlier this year we worked on an annotated bibliography to just have kids explain resources and what was included in them. I was trying to get them to differentiate between what was in one source compared to another. That worked okay. But to add another element to that in a research assignment we're going to do in a few weeks, I decided to have the kids rank the sources and tell me which one was the most helpful for them in the project. I wouldn’t know some of the websites they go to, or even some of the digital literacy skills to go to, if I wasn’t working with my media specialists.

Turnitin: In terms of scaffolding instruction, how do you help your students understand what proper research looks like?

J.T.: The course this year that I'm working on is an English 3H course, which is a world literature course. Initially, I started by looking at the English standards and a particular piece of literature, and then we look to see how we can apply that in the real world. Earlier in the year, we were trying to look at how we can use literary criticism, and so we started by doing some extra groups with the kids where they had to find out about a topic, and then evaluate that information and share it with the class.

The next step was for them to go and actually do some research in the library on their own on a topic. So they took a different text for reading, and they researched that topic. They were looking at literary criticism of that time, and they were explaining how the literary criticism helped them out in understanding the text that we were doing. So, they were synthesizing what we were doing with the literature and evaluating how good the work was. They definitely had to look for multiple sources, but that way we can have a conversation of which source was best. And we also looked at print and non-print sources, because a lot of information is still good that's in print.

Now our next step will be to research a topic in science and ethics, but now they'll have to talk about both sides of the argument rather than just one, and then they'll explain which side of the argument they like. We've gone from just kind of paraphrasing what they can find to evaluating and explaining how it's helping them understand something, looking at the argument, the counter argument, and then pulling all the ideas together.

Turnitin: In terms of being able to discern what is the best source, how do you drive home the point that they need to think critically about the sources that they're using?

J.T.: Typically, they're given a list of questions. My media specialist has a list of questions at the beginning of what makes a source a reputable source. From there, the students evaluate what they need. And then at that point, they're going to write within their annotated bibliography why they think one source is better than another. They're going to have five sources total, and they're ranking them one to five. I want them to be able to synthesize different texts. That is sometimes where we get some issues with originality, in who said what first and where do I cite, but in order to synthesize text, they have to look at more than one text. They have to paraphrase it. They can't just copy and paste, which is sometimes an issue, especially since it's available. They have to use different sources together, figure out the best source, and then explain why that's a good source, so evaluating material as well.

And one of the conversations that we have prior to doing it is we talk about Wikipedia and how even owners of Wikipedia have said this is a jumping-off point and not meant to be the basis for your research. We talk about what makes a good source. So if a student were to post something from that or Yahoo! Answers or something similar to that, then I would have a line in GradeMark that said "not a valid source." Therefore, that would indicate to them that they need to look elsewhere for their information. I guess in terms of citing, on the rubric there's a place for citations, and so if they cite it incorrectly, I would put "incorrect citation," or I might put "comma missing."

Turnitin: And through that type of feedback--is that something that is a starting point for that future discussion for future assignments or in-class workshops?

J.T.: I think one of the more powerful things that they were teaching me a few years back was to have the kids try to post as a teacher. When we have time, I try to do that, where the kids have to comment on my comments, because otherwise they just look at the grade, and then a lot of them just move on. So I think if we coupled talking about why you've got that grade and what you can do for improvement, have the kids actually respond, that would really help them so that they can make some adjustments for future projects.

Turnitin: A lot of librarians and media specialists say they only have one-offs. They only have this one time to speak to students. What’s one thing you would say about your media specialists, and why is it important to work with them to promote original writing and academic integrity?

J.T.: Our media specialists are wonderful. They come to our English meetings, and they talk at different times of the year to different groups of kids. I don't think my research assignments would be as good without them. I see some things from an individual standpoint, but then they see the same kids come in working with another teacher, and so they sometimes have more insight on what the kids can do or need to do. I'm working with them in a more isolated manner. The collaboration has been wonderful. Even as we evaluate databases, they're able to focus us on more specific databases, and we even talk about the originality of that--which ones have been checked and which ones haven’t been checked and approved, and how that impacts research.

Turnitin: Why is it so important for them to grasp what you're teaching them?

J.T.: I think a lot of kids accept things that they read online without really considering if they're valid or if there could be more information. Some information may be biased, and therefore things are omitted. I think that it’s a very real world skill-- whether it's for their profession or just their personal life--to be able to discern what's real, what's not, or how two ideas can help build on one another. By showing that progression, it'll help them as they go into their junior and senior year classes in high school, in college, and then hopefully in life.

Turnitin: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. I’ve been talking to Jessica Thur, English teacher at Dutch Fork High School.