Use Turnitin to Boost Student Engagement

In the midst of today’s instantaneous and accessible online culture, instructors at San Diego State University
are challenged to engage students in the feedback process. Instructors use Turnitin to improve student engagement
as they front-load online feedback into rough drafts as opposed to focusing on the final draft in a more
traditional, grade-based approach.

San Diego State University
San Diego, CA
Public University
32,000 Students


Katie Hughes is a writing instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at San Diego State University which serves over 32,000 students. Having had the opportunity to teach courses from freshman developmental English classes to senior capstone courses, Hughes has personally seen the lack of student engagement in the feedback process. It’s a common frustration among many instructors, and she can empathize with instructors that are “unhappy that they write all these comments on paper while students just look at the grade.”

Though it is a reality that many students just care about the grade, instructors can better prepare their students by providing online feedback and by giving students targeted guidance early in the writing process. Hughes explains how Turnitin plays a role in bolstering student-writing outcomes and why its so effective.

The Accessibility of Technology

On the topic of technology and the online platforms, Hughes observes, “Students pay more attention to feedback when it’s online rather than a piece of paper.” She explains the difference by pointing out, “I think it is more intimate online with the intentionality of the online platform and your work sitting on your computer. It is a more focused experience looking at your paper online, as opposed to just having a physical copy lying on the desk. The thought is, ‘I’m going to look at my paper now.’”

Engaging Students in the Writing Process

On top of giving more online feedback, Hughes is emphasizing the rough draft revision process to improve student engagement. She recounts that this change is culmination of her past experiences stating, “So many people beat themselves up over all these comments they make on final drafts and hope ardently that their students are going to read it and learn from it and do better next time. It’s been proven over and over that all students want to know is the grade.”

With Turnitin’s online grading and commenting features, Hughes notices herself giving more feedback on rough drafts than she used to. "I didn’t previously give feedback on rough drafts, but having online tools motivated me to do it this way. It has become a better use of my time now.”

Hughes finds that using Turnitin to grade is simply easier, less time-intensive and less monotonous. “I don’t have to sit there and write the same thing constantly, and sometimes I can’t stand writing the same thing anymore. I customize QuickMarks because I have certain things that I say a million times. You click and drag it over, and it’s no problem.” More than that, Hughes customizes QuickMark comments that are tied to important learning outcomes--comments are less about punctuation and mechanics and more about giving quotes context, having support for a thesis, and denoting proper source attribution.


Improving student engagement and student outcomes happens as instructors front-load online feedback into rough drafts as opposed to focusing on the final draft in a more traditional, grade-based approach. Hughes realizes that, “With rough drafts, students still care about my comments because they can still improve their paper and their grade." Using Turnitin has empowered Hughes to give individualized attention to her students because when students come to individual conferences, they can revisit drafts extensively in their original format and with comments overlayed.

Giving feedback on rough drafts and using the online grading tool has been met with positive student feedback. “In my course evaluations from students, they express appreciation specifically for the online feedback on their drafts.” As such, Hughes can sidestep that common frustration of many instructors--that students don’t pay attention to feedback--and bolster student writing outcomes in the process.