Robo-Readers to the Rescue: Providing Instant Feedback

Yesterday, I posted about an article published in Inside Higher Ed titled “A Win for Robo-Readers.” The article covered the findings of a study from the University of Akron, which showed that automated grading software can be used to evaluate writing for grammar and syntax.

I was a bit concerned about some of the comments in the article, but I’m actually very excited about the potential of Robo-Readers for the writing classroom.  But I wouldn’t rely on them necessarily as a grading tool. I want my students to use them as a learning tool. My hope is that eventually, Robo-Readers might be able to evaluate students’ writing for them as they work.

Most of us have realized that students learn best when they get instant feedback that lets them know how well they are (or aren’t) doing.  My own students have told me that they like using online learning tools for their math and science classes because they know their score instantly and are often given multiple attempts to complete the assignment. If they make a score they don’t like the first time around, they can go back to the course materials, review the concepts, and then try again.

We don’t really have that equivalent for writing classes. Sure, students can take grammar quizzes, but that only helps them on the sentence level. It doesn’t really help them understand how well they are communicating their ideas. Like I mentioned in my last post, the majority of students don’t have severe problems writing grammatically correct sentences. They struggle with organizing their thoughts into larger assignments. They need feedback on organization, the progression of ideas, and logical arguments.

With a class of 25 students, I physically cannot give critical feedback on their writing very quickly.  Even working at my fastest, students wouldn’t receive my comments for several hours. And by then, they’ve switched their focus to something else and have lost a significant amount of motivation.  With Robo-Readers, students would be able to work with their writing on their own schedules, practicing and honing their skills outside of class.

I think using Robo-Readers in this way gives students the individualized help I can’t always provide. I don’t, however, see this as a complete replacement for the teacher. Writing is a very personal process and there is still something to be said about being able to sit down and talk about it with another person.

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