Tuesday, 07 December 2010 12:24

Google grant for Sydney Uni's student writing coach software


Google is providing financial support for a University of Sydney project designed to improve students' writing skills.

The School of Electrical and Information Engineering at the University of Sydney has been developing software to provide students with real-time feedback as they write essays.

Called iWrite, the software uses Google Docs' web-based word processing capability for individual and collaborative writing projects. But it goes further by providing authors with feedback to help ensure documents reflect their intent, are coherent, and stick to the topic under discussion.

According to Associate Professor Rafael Calvo, the use of Google's servers "[saves] millions in the infrastructure costs of running the tools, keeping backups and so on,"

Further improvements to iWrite will be possible thanks to a grant of an unspecified amount from Google.

Associate Professor Calvo and his team plan to using the funding to investigate the effective use of humour when providing feedback.

How might that be done? See page 2.

"Currently for instance, we might say 'You're plagiarising' when the tool detects replication of previously written material. It may be more effective to say 'Blimey, it seems that you copied a whole page from Wikipedia, how about putting it in your own words?'," he said.

"This grant allows us to experiment with different types of feedback with a view to identifying the most effective way of interacting with users."

The project is part of a wider program supported by Australian Research Council and the Australian Teaching and Learning Council.


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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