There is an interesting trend happening in education when it comes to faculty and students using the iPad as a part of the learning process. Companies that offer course management software solutions to school districts and universities are releasing iOS apps which have powerful features, but which are only available when you have their full service.
Turnitin is a perfect example of an app that only works when your school subscribes to a larger system and it means that if you don’t have access to that system then the Turnitin app is useless. In some ways it is the same as many of the apps on the Apple TV, which require a cable subscription to access on demand content.
Turnitin looks really great and provides access to grading tools that seemingly take full advantage of the iOS experience. You can mark up assignments with feedback for students, quickly access multiple assignments, add a grade without leaving the document, add voice comments, and so much more. It really looks great and I would use it if I didn’t have to work at a university that subscribes to the service.
My university just switched from Blackboard and eCollege to a system called Canvas. Canvas has a really nice app that allows me to manage my online content and interact with students. I never would have been able to use the app until it became available through my job, and I think there is a missed opportunity by companies like Canvas and Turnitin.
First, it’s important to understand a couple of the issues involved with running a course management system on a large scale. The data needs to be protected by a company that understands student information. External software needs to be hosted locally and attached to other student management systems for exchange of information. System often have a large scope involving tens of thousands of students and faculty and need to be able to hand those numbers. In other words, it might be hard for a small company to create something that is realistically going to work in those settings and that is one reason the large companies are still maintaining their market share.
However, I have to imagine there are some alternate solutions to sharing the amazing tools that are being created without forcing an entire organization to flip to a new service. Turnitin is claiming that they have reached 100,000 downloads. If they offered a light version of the app without requiring the full system (even if it was just a stand alone grading app) and encouraged educators to use it then think about the number of faculty that would begin to use and adopt it. Schools might even find themselves using Turnitin on a larger scale after faculty start asking for more features. 100,000 is not a small amount, but certainly it would skyrocket if they opened it up.