TAs: The Unsung Heroes Using Turnitin
Turnitin is used by 15,000 institutions across the globe. Typically, when we characterize individuals using Feedback Studio or Revision Assistant, we talk about educators and students. But, digging a little deeper into that educator category, we find that there is a group of unsung heroes using Turnitin’s solutions: Teaching Assistants. In celebration of National Teacher Week, we seized the opportunity to speak with three TAs from UCLA to shine a light on the important role they play in an undergraduate’s educational experiences.
1. Feedback FTW
At large institutions, TAs are ever-present figures in undergraduates’ educational careers, particularly in introductory courses. They are responsible for grading assignments and offer line-by-line corrections and suggestions. For large classes, having a tool like Feedback Studio to help streamline the feedback process is essential. Terrah Jones, a Ph.D. candidate in the UCLA Interdisciplinary Archeology Program, is grateful that the tool not only delivers feedback digitally but also spares her students the task of interpreting her “chicken scratch comments.”
2. Strength in Clusters
While some courses only last a quarter and provide limited opportunities for the TAs to get to know their students beyond grading assignments, UCLA offers a Freshman Cluster Program. These are year-long interdisciplinary courses that expose students to new subjects while teaching them the difference between the type of writing expected of them as a college student and the five-paragraph essays they wrote in high school.
Amy Karoll, who is working towards her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, is a seasoned TA and now works as a Research and Instructional Technology Consultant with the Center for Digital Humanities. She recognizes the integral role the Clusters play in building foundational writing skills: “What the Cluster is doing [for freshman] is really important. If a senior [in one of my classes] can’t write, I wonder ‘how did you get here?’ It’s hard to help [students] once they are near the end of their program.”
3. The Luxury of Time
One of the notable qualities of the Clusters program is that the students work with the same teaching team throughout the duration of the course. As a result, there is more opportunity for the TAs and professors to build relationships with the students, explore their unique writing challenges, and track their progress over time.
Scott Sunell, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology and a Freshman Clusters TA, says that as the courses go on, “students...know who to talk to. You can reach back in time to build on what they have done.” Feedback Studio allows TAs to easily refer to a students’ body of work or multiple drafts of an assignment. Terrah says, “I’ve kept track of papers on Turnitin [Feedback Studio], and it’s so much easier to look back on drafts and compare different portions of the paper that have been revised.”
4. Multiple TAs, One Mind
It’s common for classes to have more than one TA, which can mean multiple interpretations of the rubrics and multiple approaches to assessing students. Terrah Jones explains that faculty may not provide guidance for getting the TAs on the same page: “We take it upon ourselves to meet and standardize our grading practices.”
Feedback Studio’s features facilitate this process. Rubrics and QuickMarks can easily be shared across the teaching team so that all TAs are reviewing papers with a common feedback vocabulary. “We use QuickMarks all the time,” Terrah says. “What I’ve found very helpful with the pre-entered QuickMarks is that they define the comment [and] explain why paragraphs or sentences need to be reworded.”
TAs may be the first source of feedback that students receive on their writing at the college level. They play an essential role in scaling courses, and as digital natives themselves, using the latest educational technologies often comes more naturally to them than the professors. As students learn to navigate their higher education journey, TAs serve as mentors, grading and guiding them along the way.