Simulating the Writing Cycle Process in Chemistry with Turnitin
Lafayette Eaton, Adjunct Chemistry Faculty
St. John Fisher College
Lafayette Eaton is using Turnitin to simulate the writing cycle in his chemistry classes. By making the feedback process more social and placing greater emphasis on peer assessments, students can learn what it’s like to review writing samples, to comment on others' work, and to improve on their writing.
Turnitin: Welcome to the Turnitin Educator Spotlight Series! My name is Kenneth Balibalos. Joining me today is Lafayette Eaton, an Adjunct Chemistry Faculty at St. John Fisher College and a Grading & Feedback Honorable Mention for the Turnitin All-Stars Award Program. Welcome Lafayette, thanks for joining us today.
Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
L.E.: Yes, I'm Lafayette Eaton. I teach General Chemistry Laboratory at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. I’ve been using Turnitin for ten years--since we’ve had Turnitin here--so about nine or ten years.
Turnitin: What are some of the benefits of using this tool in your chemistry classes?
L.E.: I use the full Turnitin Suite in my class: GradeMark, PeerMark, and revisions to basically support the writing cycle. We have prewriting, drafting, revisions, and editing submitted into Turnitin because of the amount of paper involved in trying to transfer (those papers) back and forth. We were doing that because of the logistical challenges. So, Turnitin gave us an opportunity to do that--and you can give quality feedback with QuickMarks. If students want more information about a QuickMark comment on their paper, they click on the link. That's really helpful.
Turnitin: What specific comments or hyperlinks do you send them? What has been valuable from the feedback perspective?
L.E.: Well, trying to do significant figures has been valuable. Before I used to write on their papers, “Significant figures are wrong,” and left it up to the students to figure the comment out, because I couldn’t give a lesson on significant figures by writing it out by hand. And even when typing the comment, I’d just put a similar thing, “Significant figures, SF, minus one.” But now, I can put that in a QuickMark and add a link to a page that goes over the rules. Students can open the link, go over the rules, and then come back and look and see what the mistake was.
Also for formatting units correctly, same thing, I used to just write, “The units are incorrect.” You couldn't give feedback on what was wrong if the student hadn’t taken the actual initiative to come see you or do their own research. So again, with QuickMarks, I can make it easier for them to see and use the feedback right away. I can put in a link in the comment to point them to how to correctly show their units in a calculation. I can do this without having to fill the page up with that information either. So, I’m providing examples and hyperlinks in the QuickMarks. If they’re in the wrong voice, or if there is some of the other grammar things, for example, if they’re using a wrong article, I can put in links to how articles are used, or when to use indefinite articles, and when to use definite article. The information is right there to look at and gives more feedback access to the students.
Turnitin: What has student response been like now that they're getting this type of targeted feedback?
L.E.: PeerMark assignments, I think, are a big key to how the students have really improved their writing. We have the students use PeerMark to review other students’ papers. We do a formal review and go through how the students get the grade on their review. We found the reviews to be a little bit more robust when there was something behind it, like letting students know that they will be assessed on how well they write their reviews. We used to have the students write ten papers a semester, each. What we’ve done now is to cut back on that and use PeerMark. Now they write five papers, and they also review five. Because the review (process) is more intense, we don't expect them to do as much work. We don't make them write ten papers and do ten formal reviews.
With formal reviews, we see a quicker increase in the students getting to be better writers themselves. They see the mistakes. They're commenting on other students’ papers. They then take that information and use it when they write their own paper. They don't make the same mistakes, so students are turning around and writing better papers more quickly.
Turnitin: Why is Turnitin so important to use in your classes?
L.E.: It’s hard to say. The best part I like about Turnitin is all the features. I guess our goal is to simulate the actual writing process, because if you're writing grants or you write a paper for publication, you don't write it the night before and turn it in and then hope for the best.
We like the fact that you have PeerMark, because that’s what you do with your colleagues. We like GradeMark because that’s what you do now. You send electronic copies to your colleagues and they mark it. Through PeerMark, students get to do some electronic commenting. Also, we like the fact that students are doing two revisions, because that’s very common too. You always get your feedback back from your colleagues. You're simulating the true writing cycle: working with your colleague, being able to work with them and trust them on their feedback, and making it more social.
Most of the time you're getting feedback from other people, it’s a process. So, I guess the number one thing is that all the features that Turnitin has: PeerMark, GradeMark, and the revisions, allow you to do that simulation more efficiently. It makes it realistic to do it. You always could do it. With paper, it was just impossible to keep track of everything. You can get the whole cycle done in two weeks and have everybody’s feedback: your feedback to the students, and the students’ feedback to their peers. We were doing it in two weeks without any sort of stress on anyone.
Turnitin: What has student feedback been like?
L.E.: I think the key to writing is seeing good writing--how you, as a student, write and see other writing that’s done well and not done well. I also think you, as the instructor, get an opportunity to see what the take-aways are that have been helpful to them.
We like the PeerMark feature where you can put in guided questions. We use that feature, and so we have added questions. Based on the research that we’ve done and the literature, students don’t have the skill of marking other peoples’ work. They don't know how to do that necessarily, so we're teaching them how to do that as part of our program and we have guided questions: what to look for when you're looking at the review and the report. You have the questions on the PeerMark that you can scale. You can have open-ended questions when they type in a text. We use the scale questions, because it’s just easier for us because we are formally evaluating them. We find that feature very effective.
Turnitin: As a final question, could you summarize the benefits of Turnitin and what it has done for you as an instructor?
L.E.: PeerMark really helps students simulate the writing process. They get to review other students’ work and learn that skill. Not just learning how to write, students are learning how to review a writing sample. That’s a nice feedback cycle. As they review other students’ writing, they get better at writing and they also get better at reading other peoples’ writing. So, we're getting all this great learning out of the whole process. And students really appreciate the speed of feedback from GradeMark, and the quality of feedback. They can read it. They can understand it. They have extra hyperlinks. The speed and quality of feedback is really appreciated by the students.
We use Turnitin heavily here and so we really appreciate it—it’s one of my favorite programs. It’s changed how I teach. I felt like I was drowning before trying to help all the students with their writing, and now it just seems like I'm able to really help them become better writers. It’s not so punitive or such a painful process. It just becomes more of a learning process.
Turnitin: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. I’ve been talking to Lafayette Eaton, an Adjunct Chemistry Faculty at St. John Fisher College.