What is WriteToLearn? Premised upon the propositions that students require speedy and focused feedback for their reading and writing projects, and that teachers struggle with large classes and correspondingly huge workloads; the online software provides instantaneous feedback on the submitted essays. For instance, a prescribed writing assignment would be graded and evaluated based on ideas, organisation, conventions, sentence fluency, word voice and voice; with editing tools provided to address mistakes in spelling, grammar, or in terms of word repetitions et cetera.
To empower students both in reading and writing aptitudes, the WriteToLearn programme comprehensively offers summary and essay writing tools respectively. Based on preliminary studies conducted by Pearson in the United States of America (USA) – which is publicised on its website tour – usage of WriteToLearn has yielded significant improvements within study groups, improving grades and increasing abilities. More importantly – from the teacher’s perspective – since assessment is automatic, additional time and effort can be dedicated to enhanced methodologies and student interactions.
Computer Versus Teacher?
However, when the news broke that select institutions in Singapore were using the WriteToLearn software on a trial basis for examinations, there was a chorus of sentiments denouncing its effectiveness and questioning its usability. Essay software such as WriteToLearn and Criterion has been in use since for regular homework since 2006. Opponents, nonetheless, were quick to point out that good writing is not determined by technical proficiency per se, the lack of sophistication of the programmes, as well as their inability to pick up creative expressions or phrases.
Interestingly, paranoid individuals are worried whether the proliferation of their usage would cause English language teachers to be out of the equation in the long run.
Unlike the clumsy and convenient assumptions put forth by writers that such essay software would eventually subjugate the roles and responsibilities of educators, these tools are meant to complement existing teaching pedagogies. That is to say, teachers will not – and should not – be entirely dependent on these services. Instead of lamenting the shortcomings of the essay software and short-sightedly dismissing them, academics should look to adapt them so as to render their students a more wholesome experience.
Just as WriteToLearn’s pedantic objectivity in assessment might prove uncomfortable for some, the teacher’s subjectivity may not be positive either. My experiences with English and General Paper lessons back in school have shown that teachers can be careless with their marking – missing out spelling or grammatical errors – or be opposed to the student’s arguments given his or her personal bias and influences. Consistently-good or technically-stable students might even get away with sub-par submissions, since teachers have the tendency to gloss over them based on their past merits. Under these circumstances, can we not find a constructive balance between the two agents?
Fitting Essay Software Into Our Education System
An outright dismissal of essay software is not the way forward. Since essay software is designed to identify mistakes in spelling, grammar and sentence or paragraph structures, the programme can be customised to help weaker or younger students develop the fundamentals of the English language. Regularly running through these faults would make the student more aware of the rules that govern the linguistics. Without having a strong base to evolve from, they would not be able to articulate or pen assertions or arguments in a clear and coherent manner.
Simply put, the essay software will do the preliminary work of addressing the aforementioned errors; before the English teacher makes additional comments on the efficacy of the expositions. Two complementary elements: language and content.
Moving forward – after the essay software has helped to facilitate an improvement and increased cognisance of the technicalities – the educators can then move on to spend more time assisting student-writers to develop their individual flair. The detection of nuances in the English language is something that the computer programme cannot manage; therefore, it has to be populated and graded accordingly by the teacher, who is seasoned by years of marking and exposure to an assortment of literary works.
It seems obvious that if essay software is utilised cleverly, weaker students can work with more concentration to brush up on their skills, while the stronger ones focus on shaping their arguments more substantively, coupled with wonderfully-presented language.