Education Tech Talk: Chris Harrick of Turnitin

Chris Harrick of TurnitinLast week at the 2012 Educause annual conference in Denver, mobile devices and online learning came up again and again in the presentations being made by CIOs and other higher ed tech leaders. While we were at the show, Education Dive spent a few minutes with Turnitin Vice President of Marketing Chris Harrick, and he made it clear that the world of plagiarism and cheating controls at both the K-12 and college levels is being impacted as well.

We spoke to Harrick as a part of our ongoing "Education Tech Talk" interview series, gathering firsthand accounts of tech trends and adaptations across education. Turnitin had an important year in 2012, most notably hitting their GradeMark tool's 20 millionth graded paper. Harrick told us a little about what that means, as well as why Turnitin recently introduced rubrics designed to align with Common Core State Standards. Here's what he had to say:

[Editor's note: This is the second interview in Education Dive's "Education Tech Talk" series. Be sure to check out our first installment, talking to the University of Richmond's Matthew Trevett-Smith about his school's iPad program.]

EDUCATION DIVE: What were the big differences between the first 10 million papers graded on Turnitin and the second 10 million? Has your business changed at all?

CHRIS HARRICK: I think there has been an acceptance of online grading as a tool that increases the quality of feedback to a student—it increases student engagement—as you get more kids who are digital natives who are more comfortable reviewing something online than trying to decipher an instructor's chicken scratch on paper. And then the big one that we see—especially in secondary—is time savings.

We surveyed about 350 instructors, and they reported saving up to a third of their time that they spent grading using GradeMark, because they can develop their own palette of marks that they can quickly drop. They have their own rubrics. They can really customize the grading experience, providing better feedback in less time.

When you say better feedback, what kinds of things do you see? How is their feedback better?

HARRICK: It's going to be more granular because they have those pre-built, out-of-the-box "QuickMarks" as we call them. That basically says if you drag "awkward" over and put it onto a sentence, it's going to explain what "awkward" is. You can mouse over and it says, "Awkward means this." That gives a lot more insight than "A-W-K-period" written all over the paper.

Or if it says, "run-on sentence," what is a run-on sentence, and how do you correct it? We have all these handbooks integrated within GradeMark that gives them better feedback.

And with the introduction of Common Core into those resources, why was now the time to integrate that?

HARRICK: Common Core has been adopted by 46 of the 50 states, I believe—it's our closest thing to a national standard in secondary. And most schools' funding and success is going to be tied to results around the Common Core over the next couple years. So our thought was that the sooner that we can provide rubrics to our instructor community around the Common Core, the more familiar and successful they'll be as it comes time for those adoptions.

The other thing that I'd point out, too, is that Common Core can be used in college as well.

How so?

HARRICK: Sixty percent of kids go through writing remediation when they get into college. And what are they going to be remediated on? It's going to be the same things that they were taught in high school.

Has the rise of online courses impacted your planning at all over the last year or so?

HARRICK: Yeah, it is. We're working actively with all the big online providers. I think you saw in the news that even at the MOOC level when there are non-accredited courses being offered, there are still problems around plagiarism—and certainly there's a problem around peer review and giving feedback to those 60,000 kids.

Are you seeing new challenges in that area to work with? What is that space like compared with traditional classrooms?

HARRICK: It's a little bit of a different model, because it's not the traditional classroom model in that instructor can go in and review each paper. But there are technologies and workflows that we can put in place that can help to address that. So it's super exciting.

I would say, too, that we're really well adapted to the online world around voice comments, for example. A lot of the classes are taught virtually, and there's no way to really connect with the student in the classroom. But if you actually can talk to them when you give them feedback on their paper, there's going to be a much better engagement in feedback there.

We hear a lot of students say that to their instructors—that "I'd really like to hear your voice, because that can really define what you mean, as opposed to just trying to read your writing."

What are you looking ahead to in 2013? Between now and a year from now, where do you see Turnitin? Do you expect to see growth in online learning continue?

HARRICK: I think it's only going to increase. There are still obviously questions about revenue models for these MOOC providers and things like that. But I think it'll find a way. For us, it's investing a lot in mobile technology—so basically following wherever instructors go. As instructors adopt iPads, we'll look to support tablet computing and mobile computing.

It's making sure that we adapt to these online models. It's making sure that we have support for mobile products that can be used.


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Filed Under: Higher Ed K12 Technology Online Learning
Top image credit: Flickr user tabounds