Technology That Can Enhance Instruction & Learning

Renee Wright

How many of you use technology to enhance your instructional practice? Do you feel it’s a challenge to get students to use and understand it? Over the last few years, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with technology and its value. I know technology can be very supportive in the right situation, like assisting students with disabilities. I’m often torn about when to use it and how to get the best return on my investment. However, I have found a few tools that my students seem to respond to and that are fairly easy to use.

The first tool, WriteLab, is an online tool that provides students with immediate feedback on their writing assignments. According to the website, “WriteLab combines machine learning and natural language processing with proven pedagogical principles to identify patterns in the writing, provide specific feedback, and suggest revisions.” I tried the tool in my online Freshman Composition classes because students weren’t making progress with their revisions using another online tool. I found that sometimes it was difficult to see what their writing processes were.

With WriteLab, I was able to see the writing process and the errors the tool found. For example, one student ended several sentences with the word, “parents” and the tool asked, “How does ending these two sentences with the same word affect the sound and focus of your writing?” I found that most of the feedback responses were similar to responses I would give students. The other online tool we used provided vague suggestions and many times didn’t capture specific errors the student may have.

Students can use the tool independently, for free, with limited functionality, or subscribe for $59 per year, and the company also has an institutional pricing model. If used as a class, instructors can include their own comments, along with the WriteLab tool. Instructors also have access to analytic tools that show how students are revising their writing and which feedback is meaningful.

As many writing instructors can attest, students may not revise their writing as often as we’d like. Using this tool, students felt encouraged to revise and could revise with a specific focus. When I first tested the product, the company was still working out the kinks, but students loved the tool and revised often.

Another tool that seems to help students read online text is Scrible. What I like most about this tool is that students can read and annotate material online and save that information in their account. The site is relatively new in the postsecondary market, but so far the free account suits the needs of my students. Students can print a summary of their annotations and notes for review, but notes and highlighted text can’t be printed. The tool can annotate PDF or Word documents and save them to the same library as the online source materials.

When my students first used the tool, they didn’t know what notes to include or how to annotate effectively online. Using the tool in class first allows students to learn how it works and ask questions. Once they became comfortable with the tool, they started using it for their research. They can build a citation page, create a bibliography, and collaborate with other students. The annotated material can also be shared with the instructor. Students felt the process improved their comprehension of the reading material.

The final tool I’d like to share is Kaizena. This is a robust tool that provides audio, video, or text feedback to students’ writing. The tool has a very easy interface and allows instructors to provide feedback in various ways, including a holistic rubric. I find it useful for students to have a saved copy of my feedback to review later and keep for reference. One student called it a “mini” lecture on his computer.

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on December 14, 2016.