Category Archives: Writing

Safe Assign on Blackboard

I’ve posted before about technology and plagiarism. Well, for teachers at Oregon State University, a new Blackboard update has made it even easier to detect plagiarism. Our latest Blackboard upgrade came with “Safe Assign”. You will find this new feature under “Create Assessments”.


Students will submit papers through Safe Assign. Safe Assign then checks the internet and Safe Assign’s database of student papers. It will document what percentage of a student’s paper is unique. It won’t tell you if anything is plagiarized. (Ten percent of the paper could be from other sources, but that information may be correctly cited or simply common phrases.) Safe Assign will, however, help you track down any uncited sources in student papers. It can also show studsafe_assignents that they have some questionable areas before they submit their papers. This way students can learn to document their sources correctly without being penalized. Safe Assign will also stop students from sharing old papers with  friends as all papers run through Safe Assign are added to its database. I’ll be talking more about Safe Assign on Friday’s training, but this document from OSU’s Technology Across the Curriculum is a great resource. This is one of those pieces of technology that will help (and students) with very little time investment.


example_paper for training today from Read, Write, Think

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TESOL 2013 Handouts

2013-03-25_0942TESOL 2013

It was wonderful  to meet so many interesting and engaged teachers in Dallas. I was amazed at how well attended our sessions were. For those of you who couldn’t come or who couldn’t get a handout, the handout are available through TESOL. I provided the links below.


Making it Meaningful      If you would like a copy of the macros, please email me. The file type cannot be easily uploaded and shared.

Again, it was such a great experience, and I can’t wait to see everyone next year at TESOL 2014 in my home state of Oregon. Until then, feel free to contact me.

Plagiarism and Technology

Are you good at spotting plagiarism? I think, I’m pretty good. I can identify material that doesn’t have a student’s typical style or skill level, although I often rely on technology to find plagiarism. Our university doesn’t offer plagiarism software, so I used to google phrases to find their original source. Recently, I started using Plag Tracker, a free site.  You can copy and paste a paper into Plag Tracker, and it highlights parts that may have been plagiarized and links them to the original source.

When I first tried the site, I ran a student’s paper through that I thought was not plagiarized. Well, I was surprised to find that the student had in fact plagiarized a small part of his essay. He had taken a quote, the sentence introducing the quote and a nice summary of the quotes main points. He had cited the source of the quote, but not the other material. It was a relatively small mistake, and he might not have even known that what he did was plagiarism. I started to think that the site might help him reflect on his own writing and to identify and rework any instances of plagiarism.

On the other hand, it might help him learn to beat sites that identify plagiarism, like Plag Tracker. In fact, Quick Student has learned to beat these plagiarism trackers and let’s other students do the same for free. According to the Quick Student, here is how it works:

  • Smart Thesaurus Replacer – Replaces commonly used words with other common words. It uses a large database that is constantly growing and all words have been handpicked and checked for authenticity.
  • Adjective Adder- Adds common and vague adjectives onto specific words; for example “truck” might become “crimson truck” or “shiny truck”.
  • Big Word Replacer – Most students don’t use complex words like “Bombastic” or “Erudition”, this function replaces big words with simpler ones.
  • Common Word Replacer – Switches out common words to more specific ones; for example “orange” might become “clementine”.

I have to admit that sites, like Quick Student, worry me. They introduce little mistakes and throw off the plagiarism trackers. So, here is the question: Do you tell students what/if you use a plagiarism tracker? How do you educate students about plagiarism?

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Hyperlinked Feedback on Writing

I used to feel overwhelmed by writing classes. So when I was at conferences or perusing journals, I would focus on anything about writing instruction. Now, I love teaching writing, but still haven’t stopped searching out information about the latest trends in writing instruction. I posted in July about using track changes in Word and screencast feedback using Jing. Well, my latest pet project also deals with computer mediated writing feedback. I was reading “Technology and Corrective Feedback for L2 Writers: Principles, Practices, and Problems” by Ferris (2012, p. 15) which had an aside about using “macros to provide brief, generic explanations to common errors”. I honestly knew very little about macros and nothing about setting them up, but I was curious. After a little googling, I found out that with Macros you can create shortcuts for tasks you repeat often. They are actually pretty easy to record too (and if you are here at INTO OSU, I can help you make them or give you mine). They were exactly the tool I was looking for to create hyperlinked feedback.

Here are the macros I set:

Mistake Short-cut/Macro Symbol with link
Article CONTROL + A,R art
Capitalize CONTROL + C,A cap
Fragment CONTROL + F,R frag
Number CONTROL + N,U #
Possessive CONTROL + P,O poss
Punctuation CONTROL + P,U punc
Run-on CONTROL + R run-on
Spelling CONTROL + S,P sp
Subject/verb CONTROL + S,V s/v
Verb Tense CONTROL + VT vt
Word Form CONTROL + W,F wf
Word Order CONTROL + W,O wo

Now, I am using macros to link my coded errors corrections, like CAP, S/V, VT, to websites with explanations of the rule(s) and practice. It took some time to set-up, but I graded my first set of student papers today using the Macros and was so excited about it. They were easy to use and students get just-in-time help and practice. I don’t have any student feedback on them yet, but I hope they are as over the moon about it as I am.

Do you have any websites that you like for grammar explanations? What would you link your codes to?

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Visual Writing Prompts

I was surfing the web this week and came across the Writing Prompts tumblr page. Some the prompts would be difficult for our students, but here are two examples:

I liked that the writing prompts were so visually compelling, so I decided to create a few in a similar style for my TOEFL prep class using existing TOEFL prompts. Here is my PowerPoint with visual writing prompts.

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Tips for Technology Enhanced Writing Feedback

Collecting papers electronically:

  • Use the computer lab to do in-class writing, so you can have electronic papers.
  • Collect papers electronic either through assignments on blackboard or email. To keep the papers email organized, Byrne Brewerton uses his onid email exclusively for student papers or I create folders for the papers in Outlook.

Tips for using “Track Changes” in Word:

  • Turn track changes ON and write in simple error codes.
  • Add comments to give more information. (The shortcut to add comments is Option+Command+A)
  • Change the options for “Track Changes”, so the comments/revisions are in different colors. (Word>Preferences>Track Changes)
  • Use “Track Changes” > “Compare Documents” to see the changes students made on a paper from draft 1 to draft 2.

Use Jing, a free screencast software, to give video feedback on papers:

  • With Jing, you can make a short video of what is happening on your screen.
  • You can open a student’s paper and highlight section as you discuss their writing.
  • This video feedback can help with grammar, content and organization.
  • My presentation on screencast feedback is below:
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“Wiki Wiki Wiki – What? Assessing Online Collaboration”

This week at our TIG meeting. We read “Wiki Wiki Wiki – What? Assessing Online Collaboration” by Tharp (2010). We discussed grouping students, assessing group work and collaboration v. cooperation. Check the OSU library or use this link provided by the California Writing Project to read the article.

On November 17th at 4pm, we will have our next meeting about Voicethread and Jing.