Why did we move to a new Turnitin integration (summer 2019)?
Background - SaaS Migration
The Summer 2019 upgrade of Blackboard marks a significant shift in how the system works behind the scenes. We are now operating on what's called the SaaS version (Software as a Service) and this has many advantages amongst which is quicker upgrades, immediate application of any 'patches' that are needed from time to time, but importantly from the point of view of the user, a more reliable, efficient and faster system.
This is also the first step of our longer-term upgrade journey towards Blackboard’s newest version, ‘Blackboard Ultra’. Ultra has a different look and feel, and presents a refreshed view of this kind of technology as well as being adaptable and accessible on mobile devices as well as desktops. Along with many other Universities running Blackboard, we are making this move sequentially, academic year by academic year, and cautiously as we test each component and tool.
How does the new Integration work?
Certain additional tools (including Turnitin) which we have added to our Blackboard system, but are provided via a 'third party' are also shifting in how they connect with the underlying software. There is an international standard called LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability), which has now been adopted by most of the major companies such as Blackboard. LTI means that if you have logged in to your Blackboard account and you choose one of these additional tools then you are connected straight through to that service without having to log in again and with all the necessary information exchange and data security handled for you in a standard, secure and reliable manner.
In the past, each of these additional tools would have to have its own separate sets of 'plug ins' or 'building blocks' installed into Blackboard, the code having to be rewritten each time there were any upgrades or changes (to either system). This older method has a lot of risks associated with it, and so the industry-wide agreement to shift over to using the standardised LTI makes a lot of sense.
What does this mean to you as a Blackboard user (whether an 'instructor' or 'student')? Well, a bit more security that data is being well-handled, and that systems should be more reliable and less vulnerable to coding quirks or incomplete connections. In practice, you will notice when you connect to any of these additional tools, a little message coming up telling you that you are being connected to LTI tools, and then a slightly different (and in many cases, cleaner and clearer) interface.
Why did we turn off the old Turnitin?
The newer, LTI interface for this product has been on our Blackboard site since December and some academic staff in a number of schools/disciplines have been testing it out over that period, checking performance, capabilities, etc. We had initially been considering a gradual switch over from Turntin's old interface (the 'building block') to the new one, but a number of issues were raised which meant that we had to go ahead with it straight away. Chief amongst these, is that under Blackboard Ultra, no non-LTI systems will function.
In addition, we discovered a number of problems and risks associated with the old Building Block model for Turnitin and indeed with some of the ways in which some colleagues were using it. An example is a scenario in which it was possible for the Grade Centre results to be overwritten by accident if someone selected one of the Turnitin controls. Another arose when people were attaching feedback as separate documents to assessments submitted to Turnitin (instead of using Turnitin's actual tool for feedback) but managed through Blackboard.
In light of these risks and issues, and with the advice from Blackboard Support, we had no option but to complete the switch to LTI this summer to ensure that we are ready for the 'rollover' period in which the modules for the coming academic year are made available.