A project which looks at online writing tools for students of business

This project’s resources were originally developed for both undergraduate and postgraduate students at the Business School at the University of Auckland, by Shireen Junpath from the Innovation in Learning team.

These resources might be useful to: teachers interested in online writing tools, teachers of writing and literacy in higher education, teachers of business studies and teachers of English as a second language students.

Watch Shireen present her project at the 2017 CLeaR Teaching and Learning Symposium.

Shireen Junpath is a 2017 CLeaR Fellow. You can watch an interview with Shireen here.

For similar projects, see: From ‘Thinking Like a Manager’ to ‘Writing Like a Manager’ and Student Writing Textbank.

Project background

What were the Project Objectives?

The focus of this study was to inform and encourage colleagues to try out new innovative teaching methods. Currently online writing tools such as Grammarly, Lextutor and Academic Phrasebank are not widely used and have only been introduced to students in the Business School. The key aims of this project were to understand the effectiveness of these tools and capture the students’ perspectives on using these tools to support their writing.

How did students learn?

The overall results of the research showed that the majority of the students engaged with the tools and found them useful for their learning.  Some of the online writing tools that were introduced to these students are Grammarly, Academic Phrasebank and Lextutor.The highest level of engagement was with Grammarly while Academic Phrasebank and Lextutor were used mainly by postgraduate students. Grammarly is a software that helps students to proofread their work as it provides comprehensive feedback to students. Academic Phrasebank is an online resource created by John Morley and draws on the work of John Swales. It includes a bank of phrases organised under particular headings which students can draw on to support their academic writing. Lextutor created by Tom Cobb is a tool that helps students with lexical text analysis. It highlights the first 1000 high frequency words, the second thousand high frequency words and the Academic word list (AWL).

Some of the responses from students about their experiences using the tools include: ‘improved my academic style’, ‘notice how phrases are used’; ‘helped me to embed sources; ‘use fewer awkward phrases’ and ‘more writing accuracy’. These responses address some of the key issues identified from their DELNA diagnosis, hence emphasising their benefit for the students. Their responses to Grammarly were generally positive:  ‘instant feedback’ and ‘makes you notice things…commas’. Students appreciated the immediate feedback from Grammarly and also that it made them think about their writing as they began to notice things. The criticism against Grammarly showed an awareness not to accept all the suggestions.  Academic Phrasebank provided the scaffolding required not only for second language learners but native speakers as well.

Project reflection

The strengths of the study are that the majority of the students found the tools useful; it also provided good formative feedback and could be used as a diagnostic tool to support student academic writing. Some of the limitations of this project are that it was a small study but provided a rich student narrative and a few students highlighted a few criticisms which may be explored further in order to better support student writing. The wider implications of this project relate to creating a greater awareness within the Business School and the wider university of the available resources and how best to support student academic writing through the effective use of these tools and nurture writing independence.

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