MyWritingLab and Pearson Writer educator study explores technology benefits at Seneca College
- Students averaged 85 percent on required topic post-tests in MyWritingLab, demonstrating mastery of important grammar and writing skills. Student scores increased an average of 16 percentage points from diagnostic Skills Checks to post-tests for each required module. Eighty-one percent of student survey respondents said that completing MyWritingLab topics was extremely useful in helping to improve their writing.
- Pearson Writer gave students an opportunity for self-assessment in writing and revision, leading to better papers with fewer errors. One-hundred percent of student survey respondents believed that Pearson Writer positively impacted the grades they received on their writing assignments.
Seneca College, Toronto, ON
English and Communication (Developmental English)
MyWritingLab and Pearson Writer
Seneca College is an urban public institution with eight campuses offering programs at the baccalaureate, diploma, certificate, and graduate levels. The 2014—2015 annual report notes an annual enrollment of 27,500 full-time students, 70,000 continuing education registrants, and more than 5,500 international students.
English and Communication is a 14-week, non-credit course in reading, writing, and oral expression that prepares students for college-level Composition. Students will receive either a satisfactory (SAT) or unsatisfactory (UNSAT) for the course. SAT indicates that students completed coursework and the final exam with an overall grade of at least 60 percent. Students place in based on their performance on the English Skills Assessment and/or successful completion of lower-level developmental English. Students join a cohort of either native-born or international students. Annual course enrollment across the college is over 3,000. I teach three to four sections each semester.
Student learning outcomes include the following five components:
- Writing: Produce a 500-word essay with clear intent, supporting material, and a recognizable conclusion; identify and discuss the key elements of successful writing; paraphrase and summarize content.
- Reading: Develop the ability to critically analyze text and develop vocabulary through reading and writing.
- Grammar and editing: Write more effective sentences using the grammar, punctuation, and spelling of standard English.
- Information literacy: Assess, integrate, and document sources using MLA style; avoid plagiarism.
- Oral proficiency: Demonstrate understanding through oral responses; present ideas coherently.
Challenges and Goals
Students often enter developmental English apathetic and reluctant to engage in the course content. For this reason, I looked for an online learning resource that would help motivate my students. I also needed a consistent way to measure student proficiency in grammar and mechanics. In addition, I was seeking a tool that would help students with self-assessment in the editing and revision process. Too often students repeat the same errors in their writing, and in the past, I have spent too much time notating errors, rather than focusing on the writing content.
I chose to integrate MyWritingLab to engage my students and help them improve and master important grammar and writing skills. Since 2013 I have required Pearson Writer with the goal of improving student writing revision.
I believe students are most successful when MyWritingLab is a structured and integrated part of the course. Students need direction, guidance, and reinforcement to succeed. With this philosophy, I am very deliberate in how I present and require MyWritingLab. The following information details the MyWritingLab implementation in my class sections in particular.
Class meets twice a week for two hours each day. The first day is conducted as a lecture-format; the second day is held in a computer lab. During the second week of class, students purchase MyWritingLab and Pearson Writer, register, and login using the course ID. I give a short demonstration on how to use each program.
Students start by taking a 26-question diagnostic Path Builder in MyWritingLab. Path Builder results generate a personalized Learning Path indicating topics on which students have and have not achieved mastery. I look at an Item Analysis of Path Builder results in the MyWritingLab gradebook to see a summary of students’ strengths and weaknesses. Over time, I have noticed that students tend to have similar issues semester after semester, and these trends have guided the way in which I require MyWritingLab.
I have pared down the content in MyWritingLab to focus on four modules: Basic Grammar; Sentence Skills; Punctuation, Mechanics, Spelling; and Usage and Style. After taking the Path Builder, students must take the Skills Checks at the beginning of each module so they have an opportunity to master additional topics.
Each week, students complete two topics from MyWritingLab. The first topic is required for all students—I have selected nine topics that I have found almost all students struggle with. Seven topics are from the Sentence Skills module, one topic (Verb Tense) is from the Basic Grammar module, and one topic (Commas) is from the Punctuation module. Even if a student masters one of these topics via the Path Builder or Skills Check, they are still required to work through the topic. This first topic is taught as an instructor-led activity and must be completed during lab time. Students choose their second MyWritingLab topic to work based on recommendations from their individual Path Builder or Skills Checks results. If these additional topics are not completed in the computer lab, they must be finished as homework. In total, students complete 18 topics: nine required by me and nine from their Learning Path.
I set pre-requisites within topics so students do not skip ahead to the post-test without preparation. I give students four chances to achieve 80 percent on the Apply activities before they are able to take the post-test. They then have two attempts to achieve their highest score on the post-test. I average the topic post-tests to determine the MyWritingLab score. Students are provided a paper grade sheet with which to record and submit their MyWritingLab scores each week along with a folder of their work.
Towards the beginning of the semester, students sign up in pairs to deliver short grammar tutorial presentations to their peers on one of the required topics from MyWritingLab. Students use the Overview and Animation from the topic to prepare a few PowerPoint slides with which they guide their class lesson. They provide a definition of the error and show how to correct the error. I play the video from that topic and then ask the class a few questions. This is the way we start off each lab session.
Students must achieve at least 60 percent on their course work before they can take the final exam, so they must complete their MyWritingLab work to finish the course. It is not optional. In the last week of the course, I will open up the due dates so students who may have missed a few topics can complete all of their course work.
I require students to purchase Pearson Writer as part of the course because I believe it is a valuable and affordable tool. I tell students, “Writer is like having a personal tutor,” and I convince students to purchase it for a year (rather than four months) by showing them all of its useful features. Writer’s tools help students become more aware of the errors they make in their writing—using it can make the difference between a D and a C paper. Before I required Writer, I was spending too much time marking small grammar errors that students should already have learned—it was frustrating. Pearson Writer doesn’t automatically correct writing, rather, the Writing Review feature makes recommendations so that students choose how to correct their errors themselves. Students are now more accountable for their errors, and as a result, papers are so much cleaner. As the instructor, I can finally focus on the content of the writing, not the errors.
Throughout the semester, students complete MyWritingLab/Pearson Writer self-assessment portfolio journals which help them revise and edit their writing assignments. Students track their understanding of why they are making errors and how to correct them so they should not make the same mistakes in subsequent writing. Part one of the assignment tests students’ understanding of MyWritingLab topics—for example, students might be asked to write an example of a complex sentence and explain what they have learned about it. Part two of the assignment uses Pearson Writer. After students copy and paste their writing into the Writing Review feature, they must choose three highlighted sentence errors, read the explanation to find out how to improve their writing, then make the necessary corrections. For each error, students must submit the original sentence with error, the Pearson Writer explanation of the error, and the corrected sentence.
- 35% Essays (3)
- 30% Final exam: written essay and comprehension questions (3)
- 10% MyWritingLab topic post-tests (18)
- 10% Paragraph assignment (2)
- 5% MyWritingLab/Pearson Writer self-assessment portfolio journal (4)
- 5% MyWritingLab grammar presentation
- 5% Blog assignment (2)
Results and Data
One key course goal is to be able to measure student proficiency in grammar and mechanics. Students are successfully achieving high scores on the nine standard required topic post-tests, averaging 85 percent overall (Figure 1). Figure 2 illustrates the average gains from module-level Skills Checks to post-tests within each module which show that students are showing significant improvement from start to finish.
Required topic post-test scores
Figure 1. Average Scores of Required Topic Post-tests in MyWritingLab, Fall 2015 (n=47)
Average skills check and post-test scores by module
Figure 2. Average Skills Check Scores and Post-test Scores by Module, Fall 2015. Skills Check Results: W1 (n=47); W2 (n=45); W3 (n=42); W4 (n=40); Module Post-test Results: W1 (n=224); W2 (n=369); W3 (n=173); W4 (n=54)
Although students are only required to complete 18 post-tests, in Fall 2015, 32 percent of student completed additional topic post-tests. I believe this shows students are making the connection of MyWritingLab work to their success in the course. 57 percent completed at least 13 post-tests, equal to 70 percent of the required 18 post-tests, and only 11 percent completed 12 or fewer post-tests (Figure 3).
Percent of students completing required topic post-tests
Figure 3. Percent of Students Completing 18 Required Post-tests, Fall 2015 (n=47)
Students taking developmental English were surveyed in summer 2015 in order to gather feedback on the implementation of MyWritingLab and Pearson Writer in my developmental English course. Two-thirds of students (n=16) responded to the student survey. Table 1 summarizes student responses:
Student survey responses
Table 1. Student Survey Responses, Summer 2015 (n=16)
The Student Experience
My students love technology—they are visual and tactile learners. When they find out half of our class is held in a computer lab, they get excited! Students are looking for non-traditional methodologies and creative ways to learn.
MyWritingLab helps me “turn my students into English teachers”—they learn how to teach themselves and others around them. Some of my students will come visit me a few semesters after they finished my course and tell me they are now editing their own children’s papers. They are passing their knowledge on to their family and friends—it’s a testament to the success of the program.
The following quotes were selected from open responses to a summer 2015 student survey:
What did you like best about MyWritingLab and why?
- “What I liked best about MyWritingLab is how it improves my grammar and the usage of the sentence structure.”
- “It shows you what you’re not strong at.”
- “The Animation and Overview are well explained.”
What did you like best about Pearson Writer and why?
- “It was good for checking my grammar and preparing for the final copy.”
- “It provides the right grammar and better words that helped to revise my work greatly.”
- “Pearson Writer helped me correct my work. It showed me that there were errors in my writing that needed to be corrected.”
MyWritingLab has made me a successful instructor. I believe technology is an effective way to engage students to be motivated and to have fun while learning. MyWritingLab and Pearson Writer have allowed me to achieve my goals of engaging students, measuring student proficiency in grammar and mechanics, and increasing the opportunity for students’ self-assessment in their writing and revision.
Read a related interview with Rose Caruso, How I used advice from Confucius to increase student engagement, published November 2016 on Pearson’s Teaching & Learning Blog.