By Lana Dabboussy, San Diego State University

At the University of XYZ, Lebanon, plagiarism reached an all time high and the English department was complaining about having to constantly play detective. Professor Grant suggested using Turnitin, a plagiarism-detection software, as he had read a couple of success stories in the news. Nadeen, head of department, was thrilled to finally put an end to this problem, or so she thought.

Not long after this meeting, Nadeen purchased Turnitin for a substantial sum of money. She intended for everyone to be using it in the following spring. The main librarian, Nadia, was tasked with training the faculty members and generating their online accounts.

Although everyone was notified about the training session, many faculty members did not show up, either because they opposed Turnitin or simply because the training was scheduled at an inconvenient time. Faculty members were then reminded via email to ask for an account from the librarian.

Both Maureen and Nadia thought everything was working fine and dandy until the end of the spring semester when they ran into a snafu: gossip among faculty and students started running amok! Faculty were deriding it calling it “Turn it on”; some were using it reluctantly; and some pretended to use it. Worst of all, some had not requested an account from the librarian and nobody had noticed. Panic was spreading among the students: some feared being caught by the omniscient software and some were concerned about the violation of their intellectual property.

So before we take a deeper look at the problems they encountered during the rollout, let’s see the attitudes of different stakeholders concerning the product.

Attitudes of different Stakeholders about Turnitin:

These attitudes alone, if not changed, lead to problems when attempting to roll out a new system or technology. What if there was more cause for concern? Let’s look through the human performance technology lens and find out what else went wrong.

Faculty lacked technical skills

  • Faculty members were responsible for training their own students, but some teachers did not receive proper training and no one followed up on the training.
  • There was a discrepancy between technology levels of faculty members. Few were tech savvy but the majority struggled with computer technology.
  • Eventually, only a number of teachers were able to use it effectively.
  • Even those who were able to use it effectively faced difficulties as the interface changed at least once every semester without prior notice. And those who initially were struggling were completely discouraged by then.
  • Faculty had to initiate the contact with the librarian and go through a complicated process to set up their Turnitin accounts.

Lack of IT infrastructure

  • The university computers were old and processors were really slow.
  • The Internet connection was even slower and it took forever for pages to load. This was a prevalent problem both in computer labs and on the faculty’s personal computers.
  • Some part-time faculty did not have an Internet connection at home and were assigned an old computer at the office that was shared with at least 10 other faculty members.
  • Most students did not have personal computers or Internet access from home.
  • There was a lack of availability of computer labs (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays only).

Incomplete solution system

  • The librarian of the university had sole responsibility of the product implementation. She was responsible for configuring, maintaining, and training.
  • She scheduled a one-time training during lunchtime, which had very low turnout.
  • There was no agreement among faculty members on what percentage constituted plagiarism, and although it was left to the teacher’s own discretion, no guidelines were recommended.

HPT Magic
As an English instructor at the university, I questioned the rollout process, but I dismissed my concerns and adopted the “they must know better” approach. But now that I have my performance improvement hat on, these would be my suggestions for the rollout team.

  • Performance analysis. Before jumping headfirst, buying the software, and rolling it out, the English department should have conducted a performance analysis to evaluate whether online software is the appropriate solution in such a low-tech environment. Faculty members’ attitudes, their lack of technical skills, and the lack of appropriate IT infrastructure are all obstacles during the implementation.
  • New workspaces and technology. If the head of the department wants to move forward with this solution as an essential element of a technology revamping strategy, she should be willing to take the appropriate measures and redesign the workspace and supply faculty and students with the tools and technology that they need.
  • Expect and inspect. By purchasing Turnitin and asking the librarian to take care of the rest, the head of the English department assumed that everyone was going to jump on-board and willfully and successfully use the product. The head of the department never even mentioned the software in meetings or inquired how faculty members were using it. She should have periodically made it clear in departmental meetings that everyone was expected to use it, and use specific metrics to measure performance.
  • Clarity of expectations. This step is closely tied to the one above. Maureen should have provided clear-cut guidelines as to what was expected from faculty members when using Turnitin. She should have explained why it is important for the department to use it now and how it complements their previous attempts to prevent and catch plagiarism. Devising a checklist of indicators of success and sharing success stories with the software would have been appropriate in this scenario. Faculty also need to know who to turn to and where to access resources when they need help. Besides a clear description of what is expected of faculty members, there should equally be a clear description of what is expected of the librarian.
  • Availability of resources. As delineated in the problem section, faculty were thrown into the rollout without any support other than the one-time training session. Faculty had difficulty setting up their accounts, creating classes, recognizing their class ID, instructing their students how to upload a paper, and sometimes uploading papers for their students. None of these issues were tackled anywhere. More and more faculty members have been joining social networks. Why not harness their power and create a forum where all stakeholders can share resources? Job aids and checklists can be made available in the form of downloadable and printable resources for the less tech-savvy audience.
  • Tech-savvy faculty as coaches. The head of the department should have identified tech-savvy faculty members and assigned them as coaches to those who are frustrated by technology. Rather than just adding extra responsibilities, she should have provided incentives in the form of social recognition or paid release time. Forms of social recognition can be: features in the university paper, signs on the department’s notice board, and acknowledgement of their contributions in group meetings.

Rather than relying on “spray and pray” solutions, rollouts should be considered from a performance technology angle. If the English department from the University of XYZ implemented these suggestions, there would be less confusion between Maureen and Nadia, a higher percentage of Turnitin faculty usage, less apprehension on the students’ part, and perhaps a better chance of preventing plagiarism!

This work was done in partial fulfillment of requirements for Allison Rossett‘s performance technology class at SDSU.

References
Baldoni, J. (2009, August 18). Ask three questions to clarify expectations. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/baldoni/2009/08/three_questions_to_clarify.html.

Rossett, A. (Ed.). (2004). PIE: Performance improvement emporium. Retrieved from http://edweb.sdsu.edu/people/Arossett/pie/Interventions/coaching_1.htm.

Rossett, A. (2009). First things fast: A handbook for performance analysis, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Pfeiffer/Wiley.

Rossett, A. (2010, March). Metrics matters. Training & Development. Retrieved from http://edweb.sdsu.edu/people/arossett/ARbiblio.html.

Lana Dabboussy has been designing curricula and teaching English communication skills at the university level for over eight years. Lana was also selected as a Fulbright scholar in the FLTA program to serve as the Arabic as a Foreign Language instructor at a community college in the Boston area. Her educational credentials include a teaching diploma, a BA in English Language and Literature, and an MA in English Studies. She is currently pursuing an MA in Educational Technology at San Diego State University (SDSU) and is working as an assistant instructional designer for SDSU’s College of Education. She may be reached at www.lanadabboussy.com.