Author: Andrew Robb

Using Audio Feedback

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JohnPearsonJohn Pearson, a lecturer in Technical Theatre at our Brampton Road Campus, is about to publish a paper in the Higher Education Practitioner Research Journal, in which he outlines the advantages of using audio to deliver timely, accessible and engaging feedback to his students.

His students stated that they had listened to the recording more than once and absorbed what had been said, rather than skim read down to the grade, as they would have done with feedback provided as text. Their perception was that more time and effort had been invested in the process and were aware their tutor had produced an individually tailored response.

An interesting outcome was that students expressed they would have less of an issue approaching the tutor to discuss their work, as the audio had already begun the conversation, building a sense of community and potentially enhancing future achievement.

We look forward to sharing his paper with you in the future, as we believe this method of delivery, although not suiting all assessments, is nevertheless a great example of good practice that deserves dissemination to a wider audience.

Feedback Delivery

The initial student assessment was a peer presentation with no electronic submission required. Where submissions are required to be made through Turnitin, the current version does not support the tutor upload of an additional feedback file as is the case with a normal Blackboard assignment.  This, potentially, could allow the edited audio to be attached directly to the submission. How then do students receive their feedback?

John created a Turnitin non-submission assignment as a vehicle for returning the audio files in mp3 format.  He had to submit these individually, as bulk upload using a zip file is not available for files of this type.

The majority of his students use mobile devices to access materials and although there were some issues in playing the audio files on these devices, students experienced no such problems on PCs within the University or at home.

Future improvements to interface

Around August, we will be upgrading the Turnitin grading and feedback portal to a new interface called Feedback Studio. This new interface supports the use of hyperlinks within individual feedback comments which can then be saved as Quickmarks, if required, saving time in the future.

Potentially, tutors could use these to feed forward links to specific helpful materials on Referencing or Academic Writing for example.

As with the current Turnitin interface, Grademark’s general comments area makes it possible to record an audio message with a maximum duration of 3 minutes.  Unfortunately editing functionality is unavailable, and for some the whole message might need to be recorded in one go without error.

It is fairly common for tutors to think this needs to be voice perfect but the odd hesitation or stutter happens in every conversation and can be perceived as being more natural.

For tutors requiring longer and editable recordings, other software such as Audacity (Open Source) are readily available and on some University machines, Adobe Audition (proprietary) may be installed.

Once the file has been recorded, it should be saved into a specific ModuleName folder in mp3 format with the StudentName in the title within your One Drive or Share Point area.

Currently, these files would then be uploaded individually into the new Turnitin non submission assessment with each file associated to a specific student. The file naming convention suggested makes this a fairly straightforward procedure.

With the adoption of Feedback Studio, a share link can be created for each separate One Drive audio file. This can then be added into the student’s general comments area as a hyperlink. As this is now contained as feedback within the students’ original submission, there is no requirement to create another submission point making it a much simpler process going forward.

Other changes in how the interface is constructed means that when the student clicks on this link, the file will download and play on more devices. We have recently been testing this on some mobile phones, android tablets and iPads with excellent results.

A detailed technical document on this complete process will be available in the FAQ section in time for the proposed Feedback Studio release in August.


Audio feedback is an excellent way to connect with your students and if you would like to try it yourself – contact any of our Learning Technologists who will be happy to support you. I am sure you will find, like John, that your students will greatly appreciate your efforts.

Andy Robb

Turnitin UK User Summit – Newcastle 6th October 2016

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Attendance at this years Summit, gave the opportunity to share experiences with other academic institutions on how turnitin is being used to improve academic writing.

Concerns on the availability of turnitin, particularly at peak submission times, are being addressed by adopting  a much more robust “cloud based” database solution which offers greater security, speed and up-time.

There has been a significant increase in the number of support staff available to us here in the UK, many of them now based in Newcastle, an acknowledgement of the importance of the UK as the second largest market for their product.

In 2002, turnitin reported they had received 1 million submissions. By 2016 this has risen to 636 million.

As an institution, we have seen significant growth in the number of submissions to turnitin over the past six years much due to the adoption of online submission and feedback as part of the LTA Strategy and also the flexibility of the system in accepting different submission types.

Turnitin can now accept files of up to 40 Mb and where “text matching” is not relevant, of any type.  An example of this might be an audio file or photograph.

It is also possible to have a  “no submission”  assignment, where the portal is only being used to deliver feedback to the student on a performance or artifact for example.

Turnitin has many competitors, but their database of over 160 million articles makes them very much the market leader.

The latest developments in their web crawler allows them to dig deeper and faster into some of the more regularly visited sites (Wikipedia as an example).

They have described this new development as “Walker” to indicate the improved performance. Previously it took 17 days to crawl the complete Wikipedia website – it now takes 5 Hours.  They continue to work with publishers and product users to ensure their database remains current and relevant.

A new feature set is currently under development by Turnitin at the moment to improve the detection of “ghost writing”.

Last year was the first time that our University had seen a malpractice incident involving ghost writing and with the proliferation of web based companies offering these services, something that is sure to continue.

It is imperative that we remain alert to this and express a clear position to our students on malpractice and its penalties as well as providing support for academic writing.

Feedback Studio


Perhaps the most significant announcement during the summit was on Feedback Studio, the improved interface for marking student assignments. Some of you may have tried an earlier iPad only version.

Mark Ricksen, the product manager gave a demonstration of this much more friendly user interface. It follows on from the iPad version which was introduced last year and produces a much more readable text with increased functionality in terms of identifying issues within the students writing. This includes the ability to highlight text, comment using different colour pens for second marking and the ability to use hyperlinks to specific external student help resources.

Some of our lecturers are already using audio feedback which is  available in the Classic version that we are currently using. Its three minute maximum length is sometimes considered inadequate as is the current 5,000 character limit imposed on the general comments area.

I was able to discuss enhancements in this area with Mark including extending these limits and providing the ability to attach files to the students submission to give additional feedback using a proforma or perhaps a working solution to a problem.

Hopefully some of these requests will be adopted before we move to this new version over Summer.

For those who might prefer the existing version, returning to Turnitin Classic is a simple click away.

A demonstration of the new Feedback Studio is available with a walk-through followed by the opportunity of trying it yourself. This demo was created earlier this year and does not show some of the latest features.

The ability to hide the side bar, when the particular tool is not being used, makes it easier to read the main text of the document.  This version uses responsive web design based on the available viewing device and works very well across all screen sizes including Android based tablets.


Much greater emphasis was placed on the turnitin user community at this forum.  With contributions from staff at the University of Edinburgh, Newcastle University, University of Huddersfield and the University of East London a broad range of subjects were discussed.

Many of them have already made the move to Feedback Studio and it is the University of Edinburgh’s tool of choice for electronic management of assessment (EMA).

Earle Abrahamson from the University of East London demonstrated the use of feedback to support the academic development of their students, many from under represented backgrounds. The ability to create his own set of structured comments using hyperlinks to further support materials, has been instrumental in improving student writing.

Steve Bentley showed how gamification could be utilised as a tool to reduce student anxiety around plagiarism.

Alison Graham discussed the Newcastle University project to clarify marking criteria and ensure that feedback is linked more closely to rubrics. Students were given the opportunity to mark some written examples themselves based on  provided marking criteria. There was some evidence that this had boosted engagement and increased understanding of what was needed to achieve better grades.

Perhaps you would like to try rubrics in your next turnitin assignment.

Rubrics can be created directly within turnitin.  If you already have an electronic version of a marking grid, it can be edited using Excel and then simply imported into turnitin.   Please contact any of the learning technologists within AQD if you would like some support with this.

Andy Robb – Senior Learning Technologist