Founded in 1990, Pompeu Fabra University is a source of pride for Spain and Catalonia. It tops the U-Ranking list of Spanish universities, is among the top 300 universities in the world according to ShanghaiRanking and Times Higher Education rankings, and is one of the top 20 young universities. The school’s leaders attribute much of its success to being dually committed to internationally renowned research and quality teaching.
To ensure continued success and be true to its mission of being a “think tank” for the community, the university embarked on a process to develop a strategic plan that lasted several years. A study was commissioned to analyse best practices in higher education around the world, as were studies of the efficacy of internal practices. Armed with the results, representatives from across campus participated in working groups whose output and priorities produced a ten-year strategy. The concept highlights internationalisation, personalised education, innovation and agility. These are seen as integral to attracting top students and staff from around the world who are willing and able to work closely with the industry to solve global problems in a socially responsible way.
Need for Flexibility and first-class quality
Rosa Martí, administration manager for the center for Learning Innovation and Knowledge (better known as CLIK), explains that the Center is representative of the University’s commitment to working across disciplines to improve teaching and learning. Its staff looks for ways to optimise processes and push innovation in pedagogy. They saw a specific opportunity with Turnitin to improve the quality and integrity of student writing.
“Above all,” Martí says, “we value creativity and original work.” She adds that sometimes students need a bit of help developing this original work and learning how to meet expected standards before submitting their dissertation to graduate.
On the whole, UPF is quite international, with more than 12,000 students from 40 countries; 44% of its master’s and doctoral degree-seeking students are from outside Spain. As Martí points out, “thanks to Erasmus and other bilateral agreements, students are able to go to other countries for work experience.”
Cross-border collaboration presents tremendous opportunity. There are, however, additional factors to consider, such as social inclusion, language barriers, and cultural differences, which sometimes result in a skills gap that can lead to students resorting to academic dishonesty as a coping mechanism.
To be able to grow and sustain its popular international programme, as well as its excellent teaching and research, UPF needed tools and practices that could support a diverse student population, as well as reinforce academic skills flexibly and securely.
Turnitin for Teaching and Research
When the University started using Turnitin in 2012, several teams across the institution, including the library and the IT department, came together to work towards proper implementation of the solution and to encourage its adoption.
For Martí and her team, Turnitin met the needs and requirements of CLIK’s virtual learning environment, which is designed to be flexible enough to support a variety of teaching practices, including the use of MOOCs as well as multilingual and multimedia materials. As a result, the team wholeheartedly supported the implementation and adoption efforts and got involved to make sure Turnitin was part of the relevant processes.
They also work with a global classroom called Moodle Rooms, which has a lot of collaborative tools and free online courses in platforms like Future Learn. Martí commented, “We were looking for something to be used within Moodle, and after some research, we concluded that Turnitin was the best choice.”
Consequently, Turnitin has now been integrated into the virtual classroom via Moodle. Students submit papers online. Their work is checked for similarity against content on the web and in Turnitin’s robust database. If matches are found, students can easily see where a source might need to be added or a section rephrased. The idea is to teach them how to uphold academic integrity and motivate them to take ownership of their writing and ideas.
In addition to Turnitin’s ability to check research papers for originality and integrate with other tools, Martí says it offers useful features that support formative learning. “We know it’s a very complete tool. The correction and feedback options are good: It’s easy to add comments and send them back to the student.”
She adds that teachers also find it useful to be able to have many people working on the same paper. “It has a friendly, easy and interactive interface we didn’t find in other solutions.”
Positive outcomes for Teachers and Students
A few years ago, CLIK conducted some internal surveys to assess Turnitin’s effectiveness. The comments were positive, highlighting that 90% of the teachers said they thought Turnitin was a very good option to prevent plagiarism, with 40% noticing a visible drop in plagiarism. “In the past, students had to work by intuition, but now they can know for sure when changes are required,” she adds. “Our formative model is rigorous, as well as innovative and personalised. We want the students’ full potential to develop.”
Martí adds that the University has high standards for its research programmes with many highly ranked papers, and now they’re working to ensure that proper research methods are brought into the classroom. She says that they recognise how it easy it is for students to cut and paste, but thinks only about 1% plagiarise on purpose. “The others simply don’t know better.” Often, this is evidence of a skills gap and the need for further education and guidance on the conventions of scholarly practice, which Turnitin has helped to support. When Turnitin was introduced, students had a lot of questions. Now, however, Martí clarifies, “There’s no debate. They’ve learned it well.”
Integral to Success
In addition to UPF’s strategic plan, Martí says they have academic integrity regulations and a code of ethics. They are pioneers in this respect, as one of the first universities in Spain to incorporate a code that explicitly cites the importance of, as well as defines, academic integrity.
Martí explains, “I want it to be clear that we know academic integrity is important. We want to pass this on to our students and ask teachers to include the fact that all papers could be marked using Turnitin in their syllabus. We also provide training for new students to make sure they have good referencing and citation skills from the outset so they can develop good academic writing habits early on.”
Little by little, teachers and researchers are being brought together to work toward the same goals. The aim is to protect the integrity of knowledge sharing from the learning years through publication and contributions to research and industry.
Martí acknowledges that it’s not easy, but that it’s important to make progress. She concludes, “We try to rise above the walls of the institution. We go to other universities to learn, and that’s something that changes the University. We have to be permeable and part of society. We need to give value.”
Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) is a young institution that consistently receives high rankings and recognition for its innovative, integrated approach to higher education. It uses Turnitin Feedback Studio to improve the quality and integrity of student writing and to tighten the connections between teaching and research.