Thursday, November 9, 2017

Teaching Academic Honesty: SafeAssign Plagiarism Checker in Blackboard

Teaching students the importance of ethics and academic honesty is an important part of what we must teach students when we work with them. One topic in this universe of academic ethics is a focus on giving credit to others when citing somebody's ideas, work, or writing in our own work.

While there are many tools you can use to check for plagiarism, in our district we use Blackboard as a platform. One wonderful feature built into Blackboard is the SafeAssign plagiarism checker.

Teach Academic Honesty; Don't Just Punish Dishonesty!

Let me first say this: no automated plagiarism checking tool is perfect. With just a few tweaks and changes to text, a savvy student can outwit a computer algorithm if they want to do so. For this reason, I encourage teachers to trust your teaching instinct first. After teaching writing for many years, I can tell you -- if it looks, feels, and sounds like the work a student submitted is not in the style your student typically writes in, have that tough conversation.

Additionally, I will caution against using the results of ANY plagiarism checking tool as "evidence" for investigating the "crime" of plagiarism. Stealing others ideas without giving proper credit is inappropriate, offensive, unethical, and dishonest. That is at the root of plagiarism, and that is a big deal.  However, using a plagiarism checker as our foolproof personal plagiarism detection service to catch students who are passing other's ideas off as their own is the start of the work with students, not the end! We must teach and re-teach these critical skills to students to help them avoid making this mistake in the future when the stakes may be much higher (loss of a scholarship, expulsion from college, fired from a job, lawsuit for patent infringement, etc.). Consequences for students who submit plagiarized work are appropriate, but just make sure you have considered the teaching aspect in helping students better understand and navigate academic honesty.

Using Safe Assign in Blackboard

SafeAssign is a tool we have available to teachers as a result of using Blackboard in our district. It is a built in service that looks at submitted work and compares the work against a library of online and academic resources to determine the originality of the work.

To use SafeAssign, you must use Blackboard. Here are the steps for utilizing SafeAssign in a Blackboard Assignment. If you prefer a video tutorial, a Setting Up a SafeAssign Assignment video is available.

Step 1: Create an Assignment

While in Edit mode in Blackboard, you will need to create an Assignment that students will submit the work to for SafeAssign to check.  In the "Build Bar" click "Assessments" and then select "Assignment" from the list.

Step 2: Select SafeAssign

Provide an assignment name and description as you built the assignment in Blackboard.  Within the assignment options, scroll down to the "Submission Details" tab and click it to open.  Select "Check submissions for plagiarism using SafeAssign" to turn on the SafeAssign plagiarism checker. You can also determine if students should see the SafeAssign report or not within these options.

Step 3: Assign Points to Assignment

Blackboard has its own grade book. You do not have to use it to utilize SafeAssign. However, to create an assignment in Blackboard you will need to assign points to each assignment. Any point value will do, but scroll up into the Assignment window you are editing and be sure to include a value in the Points Possible field.

Step 5: Click Submit

Once you click Submit, your assignment is ready for students to begin posting their work for SafeAssign to check the authenticity of their work.

Student Submissions to SafeAssign Assignments

SafeAssign is not designed to check work in Google Docs. The best format for students to submit their work for SafeAssign checking is in Word format. 

Fear not! This conversion from Google Docs to Word is super easy for students in the Docs app on iPad.  This video demonstrates how students will make a Word format copy of their paper to submit to the Blackboard Assignment.

Once a student has shifted their Google Doc to a Word format, it's time to submit the work to the Assignment in Blackboard. This video tutorial below will show the basics of submitting our newly converted file (stored in Google Drive) to an assignment in SafeAssign.

While it may seem as if there are many directions to follow to make this process work, in reality, the student directions are very straight forward and direct. Once students have done this a few times they will become very comfortable with the steps needed to submit their work to a SafeAssign assignment in Blackboard.

Viewing SafeAssign "Reports" in Blackboard

Once a student has submitted their work to a SafeAssign assignment, SafeAssign will do the plagiarism checking for the teacher and student. SafeAssign generates an "originality report" that highlights the content it suspects has been copied from another source and provides a link to the other source. SafeAssign works in percentages, suggesting how much of a paper is original content from the student, and how much is copied from other sources. Remember, if a student properly cites their work, it is not plagiarism. However, even if they properly cite the source, if 40% or more of a paper is directly copied from other sources, that is still a critical conversation to have with the student about the originality of their work and the depth of their thought and research.

In this last video, you will see how a teacher checks the originality report generated by SafeAssign.  This is done in the Grade Center in Blackboard. While many SDW teachers may not be comfortable using the Grade Center, it is fairly easy to use and will be something teachers gain comfort with as they use it more regularly. 

Remember to Teach Academic Honesty

One last reminder on our responsibility as an educator when dealing with academic honesty and plagiarized content.

Checking a student's paper for plagiarized content should not be viewed as an equivalent to catching a criminal in the act of doing a crime. Academic dishonesty is serious and should be treated as such, but educators are responsible for teaching academic honesty and how to avoid plagiarism when we witness it. It is not enough to just punish students for engaging in plagiarism.

Additionally, make sure you are setting a proper example. Stealing the work of others without citing your source is never okay, and if educators wish to hold students to a high standard regarding academic honesty (and we must!), then we must hold ourselves to an equally high standard regarding our use of others resources. Fair use for educational purposes generally does not hold up as a "pass" for plagiarizing or stealing the work of others for use in your classroom. Be sure you are setting that example for students in your work with them and the resources you provide to them.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Using Photos to Edit a Photo on the iPad

Visual media is an important part of our lives in a world where cameras are literally everywhere.  As such, our expectations regarding the quality of visual media is much higher than it once was even a decade ago. While a large part of creating great images is taking great pictures, there is also a growing expectation that we are able to edit our photos to make them look even better.

The good news is that your iPad already has a very powerful image editor built in without having to install another app.  The image editing and markup tools are built into your Photos app (some of us still call this the Camera Roll where our photos are stored).

Editing Images with Photos

In the Photos app on your iPad, select an image you would like to alter.  When you do the image will go full screen on your iPad.

In the far upper right of your iPad screen you will see the "Edit Images" icon, which is pictured at left.

Users can do a lot of basic and even some more advanced edits of images in their iPads camera roll simply by using this Edit Images feature.  Let's take a look at a screenshot of what is possible within the Edit Images toolbar.

Pictured at left is a screenshot of the Image Edit toolbar.

From cropping and rotating to adding basic filters, and more, users can make a wide array of adjustments to their photos.

The good news is that these adjustments will result in a COPY of the original photo, not an edit of the original.

Markup Tool

Another powerful tool that shows up when you click the "..." icon at the bottom of the "Edit Image" toolbar is Markup.

Pictured at right are the options within the Markup toolbar. This tool allows users to add text, lines, arrows, and drawings as a layer over the top of an image. Again, this tool creates a COPY of the original image; it does not replace the original.

Even if students are doing work on a non-digital surface (whiteboard, piece of paper, visual art, 3d construction), students can take photos of these non-digital works and use the Markup and image edit tools to reflect and document key elements of their thinking as they completed the work.

Below is a short tutorial video showing how to use the image editing and Markup tools in Apple's Photos app.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Basically Transformative: Using Book Creator to Level Up Learning

I value depth.  For that reason, I am always wary of people who boast about all of the different tools they know how to use. Variety is great, but give me one tool with fifty different possible uses and I am thrilled.

One tool that we are fortunate to have available as a core app in our district is Book Creator.

This handy app is easy to learn, easy to use, and incredibly versatile. Let me show you how.

Tools in Book Creator

Opening a new book in Book Creator sets you on a journey to developing many diverse products. However, the tools to use are incredibly limited. Let's take a look. Here are the limits of the tools you can use to build in Book Creator.

So, as you see, we start by clicking on the "+" button in Book Creator.

The drop-down menu that appears shows you the tools available for content creation.

If you swing over on the bottom and click the "Shapes" button, you see some pre-made shapes that are available for your use in Book Creator.

Tapping on these shapes will drop them onto your Book Creator pages.

You should know that most items dropped onto a Book Creator page can be "edited" or changed in one of three ways.
2. Tap and long press on an object to show the "Edit" menu bar
  1. Dragged and re-shaped with handles
  2. Tap and long-press (1-2 seconds) to pull up edit menu bar 
  3. Use the "i" button at the top with the item selected.

Transforming Learning with Book Creator

This is where this app shines for me.  Using the SAMR framework, let's explore Book Creator as an instructional tool.


If we simply used Book Creator to have students consolidate their thinking into a text-based format, maybe even including some images, we would be using Book Creator at a Substitution level. This means that the learning task has not changed in a significant way from what the students would have done with paper/pencil alone.

An example might be that a student builds a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning argument in Book Creator rather than on paper.  All they include is text, just as they would have without the use of technology.

And there is nothing inherently wrong with using Book Creator in this way. However, it begs the question -- "If you could do the same thing on paper, why aren't you just doing it on paper?"


Links to websites to support research, graphs with markup
using the pen tool, and audio feedback icon recorded by
the instructor take this page to the Augmentation level.
Augmentation is the level where the learning task stays the same for the student, but the technology is providing some benefits to the task.  Let's continue with our example of a Claims-Evidence-Reasoning argument in a Book Creator project.

In this example, students are now being asked to include more than just text to support their argument.  In this example, students are being asked to hyperlink their research resources in the Evidence section of the book so the audience can go out and explore the research themselves with the click of a button.  Additionally, students are required to incorporate images, graphs, and visual evidence to demonstrate support for their claim with new or clearer sources than text alone. This might include tables, research graphs, or side-by-side compare/contrast images.

Additionally, the teacher is using the audio recording feature on Book Creator to record her conversations with students as she moves about and discusses the project with students.  This offers the students a lasting recording of formative feedback that they can reflect upon as they continue working on their final Book Creator project.


Reaching Modification means that the teacher has structured the task differently to take full advantage of the benefits and opportunities that technology provides.  The learning task changes at the Modification level, encouraging greater depth of thinking and higher levels of questioning on Bloom's or Depth of Knowledge frameworks.

The same look as Augmentation, but the learning task has
changed. Students are now responsible for verbally explaining
their rationale/reasoning, deepening their level of understanding.
In this case, the teacher recognizes that the students may be able to develop a question, create a claim, and back it up with researched evidence.  The teacher decides, though, that the reasoning needs to move beyond reframing sentences into a written paragraph, and instead the student needs to develop a verbal "pitch" that explains the reasoning component of the assignment.  Instead of only writing a reasoning paragraph, the students must deliver a two minute audio speech where they explain their reasoning portion of the assignment. They cannot simply read the paragraph or paraphrase the paragraph. They will need to find (or create) a key graphic that best illustrates their reasoning and they need to explain their thinking and connections to an audience member in their own words.

This requires the student to synthesize their thinking, own their thinking, and explain their thinking to another using a different skill than writing alone. The task has shifted and the student is developing new skills simply by restructuring how the student will share their thinking.


Export a Book Creator project as Video and the pages become
slides in a video presentation while the audio recording serve
as a "voice over" of the video. This becomes a multimedia
presentation that is easy to share with any audience.
Redefinition is never the aim of technology use, but technology use makes Redefinition possible. At this level, teachers and students are able to do something in the classroom that was not otherwise possible!  Let's take the example of our Claims-Evidence-Reasoning book we've been developing.

At the Modification level, we decided that students would need to record their thinking using the Audio Record feature in Book Creator.  Now, we are going to take full advantage of that to share with our parents. 

We will have the students Export the Book Creator project as a movie and share that movie with the teacher.  The teacher will upload the content to YouTube and will assemble the final group projects for this C-E-R assignment into a YouTube playlist.  

This idea from Claire Jones, an educator in England,
demonstrates how a project made in Book Creator can
be shared with an authentic audience easily using televisions
typically used for announcements/slideshows during the
school day. This makes sharing of student ideas easy and efficient.
Finally, using the television next to the office which displays digital slides during the school day, instead student research, images, and voices will play throughout the next Parent/Teacher conference so that parents can hear the deep thinking the students are doing as they approach research and scientific thinking.

Students are sharing their thinking with an authentic audience and will need to put their best explanation forward if they want their thinking to make sense to their audience. We have Redefined what is possible through the use of technology.