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CLeaR Fellows 2017 – Shireen Junpath

Experiences of undergraduate and postgraduate Business students using online writing tools to support their writing

Shireen JunpathI am a member of the Innovative Learning Team in the Business School. A key area of focus in my teaching is addressing the academic skills needs of the diverse undergraduate first year cohort. The cohorts are diverse and a key role of support for first year students is to provide the context through which the inadequacy of these students in study skills (note-taking, summarising, researching information etc.); cognitive processes (development of critical thinking); language skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening strategies); and linguistics (development of academic language e.g. vocabulary, sentence structures, grammar can be addressed. The students we target are identified through the DELNA screening which is carried during the Undergraduate Orientation Programme. One of the key challenges especially for second language students is the various writing tasks that they are required to complete in the different learning areas. From my experience working with students at undergraduate, masters and PhD levels, academic writing seems to pose a challenge. There are a significant number of students at all levels who require some degree of language support.

Consequently we have recently introduced online writing tools to help students in their writing tasks. These online writing tools include Grammarly, Lextutor and Academic Phrasebank. Grammarly which corrects up to 250 types of grammatical errors gives students an opportunity to engage with it independently as and when required. Case studies of institutes that currently use Grammarly include New England Institute, Excelsior College (New York), Radford University and St. Leo University. Lextutor is a free online tool which gives students feedback on their use of academic vocabulary in their writing. Academic Phrasebank created by John Morley is a useful resource for academic writers.

My intended research will explore how undergraduate, masters and PhD students engage with the various tools to understand their perspectives on its effectiveness for writing and learning. This would be a qualitative study where data will be collected from students by an interview or survey. Students will be introduced to the various tools in semester one of 2017 and they will be interviewed later in that semester.

This research is anticipated to offer understandings of the effectiveness of the tools from the students’ perspectives. Unlike quantitative studies that look at performance grades of students before and after exposure to a tool, this study will provide rich data that captures the students’ engagement with the tools to determine their effectiveness on their writing. Not only will this study be beneficial to the Business School, but it has the potential to provide a research background for other faculties to make an informed decision on its effectiveness for learning thereby improving teaching and learning and aligning with the University’s strategic priorities. The result of this study is expected to be disseminated to educators as a publication in an appropriate journal and at conferences nationally and internationally. Consequently, it will allow me to be part of the collaborations and conversations of enhancing writing using these tools. This is of particular relevance in the 21st century, where educators and learners seem to be inundated with online tools that surface without a research background.

The study aims to facilitate inclusive teaching by informing the Business School and other Faculties of the benefit of using these online writing tools. The fellowship will give me the opportunity to explore an area of writing using these online tools. It will also help me develop my research skills with regards to understanding the research process and offering my understandings to the field of research in the form of a publication and presentations. This research project will be a pilot study for further studies in this area of writing and literacy in higher education.

Through this research I hope to:

  • Develop a sustainable package of resources for other teachers to use;
  • Communicate this research with special interest groups;
  • Present at various educational conferences.