University of Calabar Finds that Turnitin Helps Improve Quality of Writing
Visibility on the international stage of academia hinges, in part, upon University faculty and students being published in respected journals and conference proceedings. For universities from developing countries, gaining such recognition is no easy feat. In 2014, the University of Calabar in Nigeria began an effort to help its faculty and graduate students bring their writing up to global standards for academic integrity and quality with the express intent that publishing efforts would be more successful. The University turned to Turnitin Feedback Studio as one resource their faculty could use to improve the quality of their writing.
Princewill Odum, who lectures in Remote Sensing and GIS, took a lead role in bringing Turnitin Feedback Studio to the campus because he felt it would help his colleagues and the University’s graduate students. Associates and students could use Feedback Studio to self-evaluate their writing and citation methods before submitting for internal assessment to be awarded higher degrees, or for acceptance by journals and conference evaluating committees. Receiving feedback from Feedback Studio early in the writing process would foster more original thinking and hopefully help improve clarity of expression. As quality of writing improved, he expected that successes in publishing and advanced degrees should also follow.
Students, Princewill said, quickly discovered that putting their papers through Feedback Studio in their draft stages gave them valuable—and correctable—feedback prior to the final submission. The same was true for faculty members who had lamented that some of their submissions to academic journals and conferences were being rejected for improper citation and substandard writing quality.
Incorrect citation and plagiarism is quite often unintentional. “Their papers were turned down for potential plagiarism, as I explained to them, but with Turnitin they are able to see or understand word for word. More of these jobs get to pass. I think it’s really helping the writing skills,” he said. No data exists to quantify how much plagiarism is intentional and how much is accidental, however it is a fair estimate that a substantial portion of incorrect or omitted citations are due simply to the fact that the author is unfamiliar with academic writing conventions.
“What is significant about University of Calabar’s efforts is that they are being proactive and using Turnitin as an educational tool to improve the quality of writing. Teaching how to cite intellectual property correctly is best done before or during the writing process, not at the end,” said Gill Rowell, education manager at the company. “When students and faculty are presented with an originality report and then register where they went wrong, it pushes them to think more clearly and to find new ways to synthesize and then re-share that information.”
Digital analysis of a papers by Turnitin Feedback Studio which looks for improper citation or attribution creates an immediate learning opportunity. Writers see their errors and make edits of their own initiative, rather than waiting days or weeks for an instructor to return their papers. Or in the case of submitting to academic journals, waiting months before a rejection letter is received, assuming one is sent at all.
“For our students, Turnitin is a gauge, a meter,” said Odum. “They use it to check if their work is something to be proud of…That gives them good joy to know that their work is of an international standard.”
There has been a noticeable improvement in writing quality. In the first six months of using Feedback Studio, the originality percentage for research documents and final theses increased from 64 to 92.5 percent.
The quality of submitted papers clearly showed improvement and Odum feels that recognition will naturally follow as this trend continues. Along the way, the learning process for faculty and students has been invaluable. “Before now, they [told us] ‘we sent our paper for publication and it was rejected.’ They didn’t really understand what they meant,” said Princewill. With Turnitin helping guide them to better writing, “there is wider acceptability of papers to publish in reputable journals than before. That’s commendable.”
Princewill was honored by Turnitin this year as the Global Innovation Award winner for his efforts to bring his University onto the world stage and help his colleagues and University students become better writers.