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September 29, 2017

Online Editing Tools – Benefit or Crutch for Students?

Writing today is almost a completely online or computer aided experience. Students are composing in word processor programs as well as online in programs like Google Drive or directly in Canvas. While most of these text editors will probably have built in spelling and maybe a grammar checker, a more robust dedicated editing tool can find hidden errors that are easily missed on a standard text editor, and there are many of these tools available on the web for free and for pay. During my summer project, time was spent using some of these editing tools to discover which make best use for students and studying how these programs work to discover if in fact they are accurate and how accurate they are. Although most of the programs are expensive for students, three stood out as being accurate and useful for students.

I am officially hooked on Grammarly; however, I did cancel my membership after my 3 month trial period. It’s just too expensive to justify even though the service was good. And the free version still offers features that are usable to me and others.

This small project gave me the time and the motivation to dig in and see if any of these tools are useful, which I discovered that they are. I discovered their usefulness for students, and learned how to use them for my own benefit. I spend half my day writing, so this is useful for me too. Doing this project also helped me increase my knowledge of tools in which I can share in my role in the CTLE where I’m responsible for delivering innovative workshops for faculty, so I’ve shared these resources with the English department and colleagues who are constantly asking me about these different tools. I now have a working knowledge of these specific editing tools. It’s been awhile since I’ve research and written anything. As community college faculty the opportunities are not abundant. In fact, the last time I did any research and writing was when I was a MIL fellow. It’s good practice to indulge in scholarly endeavors even if they aren’t as heavy as a dissertation study. It keeps the mind sharp and keeps you current in your field. So for me partaking in this small project was doing that for myself.

I created a document that includes the literature review, matrix of tools, best practices list, and quasi users guide for implementing an editing tool for use with students. These materials are Creative Commons licensed so all can freely use the information and share it forward. We have a page on our CTLE website for “Resources” which are users guides that cover technology tools or new pedagogies (https://goo.gl/Jo75PU). I included this project to the list of others we already have there. In addition, I to developed a workshop page in my Canvas CTLE Workshops course (https://goo.gl/H7BSmb) that will include all the materials designed as a presentation that I will present in the Fall 2017.

There weren’t many challenges to this project. I was hoping there would be some sort of data collection in the tools to help an instructor analyze writing errors, but none of the tools did that, so that was disappointing, but not a real challenge. Another bone of contention was the price of the tools for what you get. They really expensive and not amenable for college students because of the price.

I had four goals for this project. My first goal was to spend some time using some of these editing tools to discover which make best use for students. Grammarly and Ginger are two, but I did some quick research to discover the 4-5 best programs and then did some field research. My second goal was to do some research to see how these programs work to discover if in fact they are accurate and how accurate they are. I found that the programs are mostly accurate, but when they are not, it’s very annoying, especially for an English teacher. I compiled a quick guide for faculty. The guide includes information on purchasing if required. In addition, my third goal was to research whether these tools actually benefit students by teaching them to become better writers or if they are simply a crutch. I’m not sure my answers is conclusive, but I found myself simply relying on the tool to just correct my mistakes. I quickly lost interest in learning what the error was and how to fix it. This could be bad for students. The final goal was to develop a plan for how best to use these programs with students so that they can be more of a teaching aide than a tool that makes corrections only for students. I’m not sure this is a possible goal. I did, however, create a guide for faculty to use if they plan to adopt one of these editing tools. I also created a workshop for the CTLE.

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