Monica Tolva

Using Turnitin’s SEER Rubric to Build Digital Literacy Practices

Monica Tolva, Librarian
Vernon Hills High School


Monica Tolva explains how using Turnitin and sharing Turnitin’s Source Educational Evaluation Rubric was instrumental in promoting a culture of academic integrity and digital literacy at her school.

Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series. I’m joined today by Monica Tolva, a Librarian at Vernon Hills High School. Welcome Monica, thanks for joining us today. Could you state what your role role is and what you are doing around digital literacy at your school?

M.T.: My name is Monica Tolva and I am the librarian at Vernon Hills High School. We’re a fairly small school. We have 1300 students, so I’m it. My role…I think what I’m trying to do among our staff is to make them aware of things they might not even know that we have access to in order to encourage students to do original work and to think deeply and not just shallowly find facts, which they think their teacher wants. This year we have literacy coaches within the school who are going among all the different content areas—not just English and reading anymore—but all the content areas to try to increase student’s effectiveness in gathering information and being able to pull out information from a graph or a chart or a word problem in Math. So, I feel like our writing output will increase over time, which makes Turnitin, even more important that we get everybody on-board and start using it.

I usually find myself saying, we would like to turn your paper into as a way for you to check yourself. ‘Did you correctly cite things? Did you paraphrase sufficiently or did you just change a couple of words and call it a day?’ Think of as your chance to come up with a better product.
Monica Tolva, Vernon Hills High School

Turnitin: So, how did you find out about the SEER Rubric and in what ways are you trying to incorporate that into some of the initiatives that you’re rolling out.

M.T.: Right. Well, I have to say that I found out about it just from a marketing email from your company. As soon as I got that rubric, I thought, “I’m going to use this.” And so, there was a junior or senior level class in our school. We call it college prep writing and the teacher had assigned them a persuasive essay on a social issue. She wanted not only “here’s a bunch of databases”, but also, kind of a talk about how are you going to navigate your way around the Internet, especially on these hot-button issues where you might easily wind up on the way left-side or way right-side without knowing where you are and so the (SEER) rubric was a great fit for that. They gave the kids some examples. The other thing I’m trying to focus on is the idea of crowd-sourced websites and that’s not appropriate and the rubric had a really good example of that too. I think that 123helpme or something is on the example rubric and that was perfect to show the kids to say, “This isn’t (original) content. This is just crowd-sourced or papers for sale.” So, that’s how I used it was with this junior-senior class and a couple weeks after that, I wound up doing a similar thing in a freshman honors English class. They were starting to research similar topics—social issues—in groups and the teacher wanted them to have some background in evaluating sources before we let them loose on the internet.

Turnitin: Yeah, could you talk a little bit more about that process? So, from your standpoint, you’re the one who provides resources or other tools to help instructors tackle the problem of digital literacy, is that correct?

M.T.: Yes. I do a lot of co-planning with teachers. So, they’ll come and say, “I have this assignment and what do you think we can do with this? This is the output that I want but now how do you see this working?” And so, I’ll suggest, “What if we have the kids do this. What if we spend the first 15 minutes of the period going over this and then we have them login and produce this thing that shows that they got what we were talking about. So, together we plan. Oftentimes, it’s at the introduction of the assignment. To be honest, mostly I find myself at the beginning of everything—not necessarily in the middle or the end of anything. But, just feeling like I’m helping the teacher to introduce the project in the right way. I think it’s just providing a foundation that you’re saying, “This is our expectation that this is how you’re going to do it. This is how you’re going to find good sources. This is how you’re going to cite them. This is going to be how we check you did it, but I probably—especially in front of a class—I would say it differently. I usually find myself saying, we would like to turn your paper into as a way for you to check yourself. Did you correctly cite things? Did you paraphrase sufficiently or did you just change a couple of words and call it a day?” So, I usually phrase it, trying to be in that positive way. Not... we’re here as police officers trying to catch you, but think of as your chance to come up with a better product. And I believe it’s true that many of our teachers…they let their kids upload multiple submissions for the one assignment and they encourage the kids to upload a rough draft and see how I am doing…the “oh man, I thought I summarized that webpage, but I guess I really didn’t because here it is flagged. I better go back and fix that” or as a way to say, “Look, I do have a direct quote from this article and there’s my in-text citation so I’m good.”

Turnitin: One of the last questions I had for you was what type of feedback have you received in using the SEER rubric in the classroom.

M.T.: I’ve gotten really positive feedback. I’ve seen teachers feel like the time that we spent on the rubric and just talking about being a conscious user of the Internet. They feel like that was a really important time, which is awesome for me because I get so little time in front of classes. Usually, they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do that. Is 5 minutes enough?” So, I appreciate the fact that I feel like they think it was well worth it.

Turnitin: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. I’ve been talking to Librarian, Monica Tolva, from Vernon Hills High School.