With Educators Embracing iPads are App Developers Missing a Golden Opportunity?


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.


Canvas App

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.

About Sam: Teacher, writer, composer, and family man. Maker of delicious Halušky. Contact me via Twitter: @Sam_Denver

  • TurnitinIsAmazing

    Of course you could ask your school to subscribe… Canvas integrates to Turnitin

    • Sam

      I just found out that my school added it for this semester! But they only added access to the plagiarism features and not the grading features. The Canvas grading system has similar features to Turnitin except it is limited on their Speed Grading app.

  • Trey Buck

    One of the issues you missed in your explanation was student data ownership. If TII were to create a “light” app that instructors could use, and instructors required students to submit their information through the app, then the student has no choice but to send their data to a 3rd party service. If that wasn’t part of the student’s agreement/contract with the school, then the instructor has just violated the student’s rights to control their own data. That’s a bit cut-and-dry and there is certainly more nuance to most of the conversations around this topic, but the basic idea that schools need established (generally contractual) relationships with vendors that provide software and understand how that impacts their students still applies.

    Also, most instructors don’t like managing multiple systems, both in terms of duplication of effort and understanding which systems do what. Instructors want simplicity. A “light” app that doesnt fully integrate with their already-established courses/assignments means yet another interface to manage. Instructors must then also explain to students that they need to submit to another location, which is more overhead.

    • Sam

      You make some really important points. As someone who might have 2 different papers to grade from 40-50 students I certainly don’t like to switch between systems but there is a way to design an app which doesn’t require sending student work to a 3rd party. It could be sent directly to a university account and I could import it locally on my iPad. It is a pain, but for anyone who is forced to use Blackboard or eCollege they would appreciate a grading tool that doesn’t require just as much work.

      • Trey Buck

        Im not sure how the data wouldnt be sent to a third-party service, since TII is actually the one analyzing and comparing student works against one another. Its an inevitable part of this type of service.

        • Sam

          Perhaps the light version would just have the annotation/grading features and the originality/plagiarism features could be saved for the full version. It is possible to have a version which doesn’t share student data. I also think it might be possible to put information about the service in each individual course syllabus because that forms an agreement with the student.

          • Trey Buck

            But grading and annotation are not specifically related to plagiarism services, and I believe (though only my opinion) that these features should be inherent to the LMS, not for a plagiarism service to provide. If the concern is mobile grading, then let the LMS handle that, as opposed to a third-party.

            Course syllabi are still one-way; the student doesn’t have a choice on how their data is used and where it may be stored.

            Im not knocking the idea, just trying to tease apart the reasons why this type of service is hard to administer.

          • Sam

            I think I finally understand what we are both saying. We are discussing the iOS TII app which is much more of a grading tool and their plagiarism checker is just one part of it. Traditionally TII seems to have been a plagiarism service but the new app is so much more. A light version of the app could easily be a very powerful grading tool with full use of the iPad multitouch experience.

            The problem is that there really aren’t very many good LMS mobile grading systems. Blackboard (which I used for ten years) is a joke, eCollege doesn’t really have anything, and Canvas has an option but it doesn’t let me have any of the tools that the TII app has.

            FERPA, the governing set of rules which protect students, does not prevent educators from using such a system. FERPA prevents sharing medical records, social security numbers, and final grades. Their official policy is described in the following letter and states that as long as all identifying information is removed from the submitted papers that a plagiarism checking ystem can be used without permission of the student.


            Protecting student data is important but regulations are not designed to build a wall around students. For instance, I can ask students to share work on YouTube without violating any laws. Things need to be handled with care but there is a certain amount of flexibility.