CyWrite helps teachers and students in the classroom

For years, teachers at Iowa State University have been implementing automated writing evaluation tools in their classes. CyWrite is a new innovative software program being developed at ISU, and has been enhancing the way students learn to write English for the last two semesters.

English 101B and English 101C are the courses where CyWrite has been implemented. These courses prepare non-native English speakers for entry into Iowa State’s foundation communication classes (English 150 and 250). In English 101C, the focus of the Fall semester was grammar, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and verb tense, and subject-verb agreement.

“Since students spend lots of time in this section writing, CyWrite is able to give them specific feedback that isn’t generic like other commercial programs. This frees the instructor up to focus on commenting on the content of the writing,” said Jim Ranalli, English 101B coordinator and researcher on the CyWrite Project.

The accessibility of CyWrite also helps students as they work through the semester. English 101B and 101C use Moodle, a learning platform that teachers use to interact and update students with assignments and course materials. Through Moodle, students can access CyWrite.

“Students like the convenience of CyWrite, and as the instructor, I like that CyWrite has a teacher interface. I can see how many times the students click submit, and see how they make their revisions. Even though I am not looking over their shoulder and seeing everything they type, I can still go back on my own time and track their progress. That’s one of my favorite things about using CyWrite in my class,” Mo Chen, English 101C instructor, said.

By having students use CyWrite, it gives them an electronic response to go back and read what they wrote. The feedback is often in the form of a question, and it heightens their sensitivity to notice what is wrong with their work.

Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis, English 101C coordinator, has been instrumental in the practical implementation of CyWrite.

“The goal is for students to simply notice when something is wrong in their writing, whether it is a grammar or punctuation issue. CyWrite helps heighten students’ sensitivity and awareness to the different types of mistakes they are making, and gives them helpful and real-time feedback,” Sarah Davis, English 101C coordinator, said.

Before CyWrite, most classes were using Criterion, a commercial automated writing evaluator (AWE).  However, CyWrite has many perks that commercial programs cannot offer. The greatest difference is computational linguistics that went into developing CyWrite make it far more advanced in accuracy than any other AWE program.

“CyWrite is more accurate and gives more specific feedback, and the goal of developing CyWrite is strictly for the benefit of students, and by students, and is overall more advanced and effective than any other program out there,” Davis said.

The playback feature of CyWrite logs each keystroke a student makes, and looks like a screen capture video. It can replay the session so individuals can see their typing, giving teachers the opportunity to show their students the playback and discuss what students were thinking as they were writing, and discuss if their writing process behaviors are good or bad.

“This access to innovation is exciting. Not very many other students and teachers have access to this kind of useful and advanced technology,” Ranalli said.

CyWrite has helped ease up the teachers’ workload, and gives students access to useful technology at the same time. While using it in classrooms, it also provides an opportunity for teacher to give feedback to the CyWrite creators on ways to make it even better, making a connection between teaching and research.

“I take great pride in the fact that the software I’m using in my classroom is being developed and improved in the same building three floors above me,” Davis said. “It is a privilege to be a part of the development of CyWrite and the impact it is making in classrooms,” Davis said.