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SafeAssign and TurnItIn Tips

December 14, 2009

I’ve been using SafeAssign from Blackboard to upload students’ papers for the last few semesters. I’ve blogged before on my continuing woes with the plagiarism check, but I keep coming back to the software as a convenient way of collecting and collating papers. After running through many variations of the same issues, I’ve come up with a few tips for those having problems.

But first please note: I do not run IT at a university, and I am not here to fix your computer. If you have a question on how to implement software in your course, the best thing to do is talk to your university’s IT folk. These are just tips on how to help students, from one professor to another.

  1. First and foremost is the recognition on a professor’s part that though students aren’t particularly tech savvy. Just because students were raised with technology doesn’t mean they understand that technology. As such, don’t be surprised if students are unaware of things like file extensions, compatibility requirements or even what word processing software they are using.
  2. Make links to assignment submissions large, obvious and ubiquitous. Place a link in the sidebar, place it in an announcement on Blackboard; show them how to get to it in class (if you have a smartroom). Don’t assume that students will simply find where a paper has to be uploaded.
  3. SafeAssign states that it accepts .zip, .doc, .docx, .odt, .txt, .pdf, .rtf and .html. However, this is only partly true. Even in these formats, papers still must be saved with the appropriate extension (e.g. “paper1.doc” not simply “paper1”). Papers must be saved without spaces (e.g. “paper1.doc” not “paper 1.doc”). And, papers must be saved without extra periods (e.g. “paper1.doc” not “paper.one.doc”). Failure to comply with any of above has caused problems for my students.
  4. There are many additional reasons why student papers might not upload. Some addblock software can cause problems with Blackboard. Certain security settings can cause problems (e.g. cookie protocols). And perhaps the most infuriating: high traffic on university servers (like at the end of the semester). Some of these are the responsibility of students, but some are beyond their control.
  5. For all these reasons, it is important to give yourself as an instructor extra time if there are legitimate reasons why files have not uploaded properly. For example, I usually have papers due on Saturday nights before midnight. I then check on Sunday mornings to see if all the papers are present or accounted for. I then email all the students for whom I do not have a paper and have them please send it to me immediately. Most often, students are unaware that their upload did not “take.” Additionally, requesting this immediately avoids the excuse that their computer has since crashed and that they’ve lost all their work.

There you have it: some simple steps that help with uploading papers to SafeAssign. These tips will also help for TurnItIn as well.

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