National Writing Project

Automated Writing Instruction: Computer-Assisted or Computer-Driven Pedagogies?

Publication: Machine Scoring of Student Essays: Truth and Consequences
Date: August 9, 2012

Summary: In this essay, author Beth Ann Rothermel describes the heavy marketing of machine-writing programs to K–12 administrators and teachers. Rothermel argues that these programs narrow and constrict the work of both the writer and teacher, and teachers of preservice teachers need to consider these implications.


Excerpt from Article

. . . This essay examines another recent application of commercial machine scoring—its use with Web-based writing-instruction programs currently marketed to K–16 writing teachers.

I look at Vantage Learning's new "writing development tool," MY Access! which, like WritePlacer Plus, uses Vantage Learning's general-purpose program IntelliMetric. Students employing MY Access! engage in online writing to specific prompts and then submit their writing for a grade; the program then provides students with immediate feedback on ways to improve as well as opportunities to rewrite and resubmit. All of the students' work is maintained in a Web-based "portfolio" that may be reviewed by the instructor when assessing individual and class progress. In other words, MY Access! appears to take up where assessment programs such as WritePlacer Plus or e-rater leave off, reaching more directly into classrooms to shape the learning and teaching process. . . .

A closer examination of the product as well as a review of current scholarship leads me to argue that the language with which Vantage Lesarning [sic] represents MY Access! masks a different ideology, one that defines not just writing, but also teaching and learning, as formulaic and asocial endeavors. I argue that rather than developing a space rich in dimension, conducive to complex interactions between students, teachers, and curriculum, MY Access! constricts and narrows the learning environment. Using the program in the way that it is intended to be used potentially disempowers teachers and limits student access to the multiple print and technological literacies they in fact need. Given the extent to which MY Access! is being marketed to secondary school teachers, I conclude by considering the implications such programs have not just for K–16 writing teachers, but for those charged with preparing preservice writing teachers for the schools.

Copyright © 2006 Utah State University Press. Posted with permission.
Rothermel, Beth Ann. 2006. "Automated Writing Instruction: Computer-Assisted or Computer-Driven Pedagogies?" In Machine Scoring of Student Essays: Truth and Consequences, edited by Patricia Freitag Ericsson and Richard Haswell, 199–210. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

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