Turnitin and Moodle

It feels like a long time ago when I first started to hack on a Turnitin Integration with Moodle – I was inspired to put something together after Turnitin released their Moodle Assignment Type which provided SSO into their site so that students didn’t have to go to the turnitin.com website login, and upload their files… I didn’t really like this much for a couple of reasons

  • it presented a different interface which did not use the Site’s Moodle Theme (although it kept the Moodle header in a frame at the top of the page)
  • All the files were stored on Turnitins servers, so if an institution cancelled their subscription to turnitin there was no easy way of retrieving and storing the submitted files against specific users/courses/assignment
  • It required manual editing of config files for account Id’s, secret keys, api addresses, emails etc.

So…. I started hacking on an integration that allowed teachers to use the standard Moodle modules – such as the advanced and single assignment types with an extra setting that allowed them to “enable” turnitin for “this” assignment. It’s taken a lot of constant refining (and there’s still more to go) but we now have a patch that works pretty well for 1.9 (and a 1.6 patch too!)

The development on this patch was initially done in my own time, but more recently has been funded by the University of Waikato, with Sussex University funding the 1.6 patch!

This past couple of weeks, Waikato have paid for some improvements to the error reporting – it now displays nicer error messages to the students and staff when a file has been submitted that Turnitin Cannot process – like errors around submitting images instead of text documents.

One of the issues with the integration is that it uses a single “global Teacher account” – every assignment/course/file is connected to that single “Teacher” in the Turnitin system. I did this initially as the turnitin system only allows 1 teacher to be assigned to a course, and as Moodle allows multiple teachers, we needed to share a common teacher account. But! – this means that if we were to login as that teacher on the turnitin.com site, we would have access to all assignments created by the Moodle integration. This isn’t suitable for people using the Turnitin Grademark tool, or to allow teachers easy access to the extended featureset available on the turnitin.com site. I’d like to modify this to use a single teacher account for each course inside moodle, to allow better access.

There are currently a couple of issues around the Turnitin API that the Turnitin dev team tell me they would like to fix!

  • There’s currently no easy way for a teacher to use the Turnitin grading interface (grademark has some fancy features which the Moodle gradebook doesn’t!) and then have those grades sent back into the Moodle Gradebook – The Turnitin guys tell me they’re keen to implement this (not sure on a timeframe) – it’s advantageous to them as people only using the Moodle integration may not want to pay for Grademark if it doesn’t integrate with Moodle.
  • The standard Turnitin interface allows a teacher to elect whether turnitin will store the submitted assignments in their main database for comparison against other submitted papers. This option isn’t available as part of the api, but it is an option that a lot of people I have talked to would like to have.

Another thing that bugs me a bit about the integration in it’s current form is the method used to munge e-mail addresses when institutions don’t want their students to be able to access the turnitin.com site directly. all this currently does is add some text to the start of their e-mail address which is fine if the students cannot alter their e-mail address and use an internal organisation address, but if they can use gmail/yahoo accounts then the “munge” introduces a range of issues.

I added the “munge” feature because the Integration creates valid assignments/courses on the turnitin.com site, and if a student went directly to the turnitin.com site and submitted an assignment, there would be no record of that submission in Moodle – which would potentially cause confusion for teachers! – so the munge was added to prevent that from being happen.

A “better way” to manage this would be for the Turnitin API to allow assignments to be created that do not allow manual submission from the turnitin.com site…… I must remember to ask the turnitin team about this……

My thanks goes out to all the people who are using the integration and helping others “trying” to use it in the moodle.org forums – I get a lot of e-mail these days, and am constantly chasing my tail trying to respond to it all, so that help is really appreciated!

We do need some funding to do a lot of this work (including the work to create a 2.0 version of the integration and put it in Moodle Core) – let me know if this is something you might be able to help fund!

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