New Software to Help Students Improve Their Writing Skills Developed

Association of Educators
March 17, 2014 — 791 views  

Jeff Pench teaches English to a large group of seventh graders in Canton, Georgia. He knows that the best way for the students to improve their essay writing skills is to write more. But he has a class of 140 students. Ideally, he wants his students to write one essay a week, But if he gives them one essay a week, he would have to correct 20 essays a day so that he can return the essays in a week, in time for the next assignment. It is just not feasible.

So he started using an automated essay reading program - Pearson WriteToLearn which gives the students feedback on their essays before they submit it to him for correction. Tata-McGrawHill's Writing Roadmap is another such software.

He agrees that the software does not tell the students what they have to do, rather it only tell them where the problem may lie. With the software, he is able to manage one essay every week. He adds that the software is accurate but not perfect.

Learning and grading software gaining in popularity

Many academicians have started using tools like the one Jeff Pench uses to lighten their work and get more work done. With the Common Core State Standards pushing students to become better writers, automated essay correcting software based on artificial intelligence are making a killing. New assessments that test learning deeper and which are less dependent on multiple choice questions are also fueling the demand.

Critics say that these software actually perform only basic functions like counting words, grammar, sentence construction and plagiarism and cannot take the place of human readers. It has lead to some soul searching in the industry and researchers are looking for ways how they can improve the algorithm in such software and upgrade the technology.

Open source AI learning software boosting innovation

Some non-profit ventures such as edX and Lightsource, promoted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have actually published their research on the web to encourage innovation in the sector. Such efforts have paid off because the capabilities of these software have improved drastically. Software makers have managed to incorporate statistical techniques created by computational linguists, machine learning and natural language processing in their code.

However, some people have also managed to beat these software, exposing their soft underbelly. MIT Writing Across the Curriculum former Director Les Perelman was able hoodwink one software into giving him a high score for a gibberish essay. He says that his main concern is that such software do not work. To score an essay, you need a deep level of understanding which no software possesses. He also warned that these software can have the opposite effect; they may dumb down writing skills.

Association of Educators