With more than one million instructors worldwide using the academic tool, Turnitin, Dr. Shannon Farris is recognized for promoting its use to improve student learning – which supports Saint Leo's core values.

When it comes to helping Saint Leo students achieve academic success, Dr. Shannon Farris' passion is equaled only by his endless energy and enthusiasm.

A veritable whirlwind of ideas, Dr. Farris is quick to dive into new approaches and initiatives that can provide critical academic support to online and on-ground – traditional and non-traditional – students alike.

That's why more than seven years ago, the assistant professor of psychology became an advocate of the fledgling educational tool, Turnitin.

As a result of his efforts, Farris recently was named a Turnitin MVP All-Stars finalist, recognizing him as one of the leading educators worldwide using Turnitin technology to promote academic success.

Farris was nominated for the award, in part, for creating eCOACH Online Learning*, a live interactive web conference series to help Saint Leo students become acquainted with tools they need to use in order to achieve success in college. Several webcasts, in particular, focuses on helping students and faculty learn how to more effectively use Turnitin as an academic success tool.

We talked with Farris about Turnitin, eCOACH, and more. Here's what he had to say.

What is Turnitin and how does it help students and faculty?

Dr. Farris: Turnitin started as an anti-plagiarism text-matching program for writing, but it has evolved into a program that helps students not only write better, but also design and present engaging presentations and images, and any other assignment that can be downloaded into Turnitin.

The program is as creative as the course's instructor, such as providing drafts, peer-reviews, revisions, rubrics, discussions, and grading for various assignments and subjects. And, yes, it truly helps students write more authentically, in the appropriate style for their field and understand the fundamentals of writing. For instructors, it offers a streamlined process to provide better, faster, richer and more specific feedback to students on any assignment so they can improve academically.

How does the use of Turnitin support Saint Leo's core values?

Dr. Farris: Two of Saint Leo's core values are integrity and excellence. Integrity in this sense means being honest, just, and consistent in word and deed in your work. Can a student successfully demonstrate who they really are or what they want to be in their work? The answer is yes.

Excellence includes helping students develop the character they need to become morally responsible leaders. But to do this they need to find and use their meaningful purpose in their lives.

To find meaningful purpose in one's life and then learn how to better use those qualities for the greater good is a lifetime journey. It doesn't matter if a student is a traditional or non-traditional, undergraduate or graduate; we are all on this journey.

For those students whom take this journey seriously, Turnitin can help as a tutor or an assistant for them to avoid the use of unoriginal content, cite correctly, and become better critical thinkers in their assignments and help to maintain their integrity in their work. As educators, we can use it to help students develop good ethics, which can lead to becoming morally responsible leaders.

How did you become an expert on Turnitin?

Dr. Farris: I first started using Turnitin as an adjunct professor at Saint Leo's Key West Education Center. I got involved in trying to understand the program and taught myself how to use it. I had a lot of questions and called other instructors I knew who used it, but was disappointed in their limited knowledge and use of Turnitin.  So, I looked for other ways to learn best practices by attending conferences and I even called Turnitin.

Once I saw everything Turnitin could do, I got hooked. Students got quicker feedback and had an easier time learning the American Psychological Association (APA) writing style they were using in my courses. Soon colleagues were asking me to help set up their classes in Turnitin, how to understand the Originality Report, speak to their students or departments and so forth.

I find it amusing when others refer to me as an "expert" on Turnitin. I still consider myself a perpetual learner in finding ways to connect with students on a meaningful level that promotes academic success. It just so happens that Turnitin has helped me do that at Saint Leo.

However, it wasn't long before Turnitin, along with instructors outside of Saint Leo, recognized that I could help instructors use Turnitin to connect with their students all across the country. In 2012, I served as the guest speaker of Turnitin's American Teacher Tour in five states. Since then, I've also given international webcasts to secondary and higher education instructors in 123 countries on how to use Turnitin effectively and best practices. Also later this year, I'll be presenting at a supplemental instruction international conference that will cover how tutors can use a student's Turnitin originality report to build rapport and increase their academic success.

How are eCOACH Online Learning and your Turnitin expertise connected?

Dr. Farris: After seeing students, of all ages, struggle with the basics of APA writing style, and creating and giving effective presentations, I piloted eCOACH Online Learning in 2010.

This program is a live, interactive webcast series that supports student academic success, retention, and faculty development across all disciplines and teaching locations. It also offers three levels of quality academic supportive sessions: Basic, Advanced, and Faculty that covers academic education, training, and supportive resources such as researching online, understanding journal articles, tools for writing papers effectively, presentations, best practices, guest speakers, tutoring, and much more.

To date, I've presented over 300 webcasts, which also include Turnitin specifically for students and faculty: (Basic) Using Turnitin & Other Online Resources; (Faculty Only) Turnitin Bytes; (Faculty Only) Turnitin's Originality Report: The Whole Kaboodle!

These webcasts are offered several times a year for Saint Leo students and faculty. The webcasts are also offered live, so I can interact with students or faculty, and they can ask questions during the presentations. These webcasts further my connection with Saint Leo university-wide and helps to increase my working knowledge with using Turnitin.

What successes have you seen as a result of eCOACH?

Dr. Farris: I initially piloted eCOACH with four basic webcasts, including one on Turnitin. It has evolved into more advanced webcasts and professional development for students, faculty, and staff. All students—including online students—can access the webcasts to support their academic success.

Because of the webcasts, other instructors have said it's given them back class time. They can spend more time on the subject matter, and less time reviewing the "basics" academic success tools and other fundamentals.

eCOACH also has expanded into tCOACH, which provides live online tutoring services. It's not enough to attend one of my eCOACH webcasts. Both students and faculty are going to have questions they wished they would have asked during the session. This is why I created tCOACH: to have a follow-up supportive service and give students, specifically, direct access to a tutor. Most campus locations don't have access to a tutor, but through eCOACH they do!

It has also been through eCOACH, the Learning Resource Center on University Campus recognized the need for tutoring at all Saint Leo locations. That gave birth to online subject tutoring where undergraduate and graduate student – including students in online programs – can access the university's tutoring services. Students can web conference with qualified professional or student tutors from anywhere.

I consider online subject tutoring one of eCOACH's greatest accomplishments. Students university-wide now have access and are using live supportive academic services that can help them achieve academic success. This has been one of my goals of eCOACH from the very beginning.

How does your background in psychology impact your work with eCOACH and Turnitin?

Dr. Farris: My background in psychology helped open my eyes to the learning process and what is needed to help students. As a psychologist, I learned that rapport, having meaningful connections and support systems are crucial to academic success and professional development.

For example, if instructors don't have an authentic and genuine connection with their students, what meaningful learning will occur? What affect will their teaching have on the students outside of the classroom?

Some of the most effective and greatest professors I know have a few things in common. They're genuinely passionate about the learning process, creative and outside-the-box thinkers, and always strive to have a meaningful connection with their students and colleagues. This is my mission as professor and as an educator. eCOACH Online Learning and using Turnitin helps me to fulfill this mission.

More specifically, often Saint Leo students and some instructors don't know where to look for resources and now we have a support system that helps both students and instructors at Saint Leo. It's a win-win for everyone in our community.

Being recognized as a leading educator worldwide using Turnitin and promoting academic success and additionally being nominated as a Turnitin MVP All-Stars finalist, is truly an awesome honor and humbling experience. I've been using Turnitin because it's effective and it truly works. So, it doesn't matter to me if I'm "the" finalist or not in this competition.  Through my use of Turnitin my students are learning more effectively and my colleagues are using and providing better feedback with students and connecting with their students in ways that I've never dreamed of – I've already won!

*While eCOACH is no longer available, online students can click here for more information regarding tutoring services that are available through the Center for Academic Vision and Excellence.


Listen to Turnitin's podcast with Dr. Farris, "Providing Online Training and Tutoring for Faculty, Staff, and Students."

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Tutoring Services for Online Students Get "Real"

Achieving Success Online|Research and Writing Services

13 Reasons To Contact Saint Leo's Online Services Librarian

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