Response: What Revision Assistant Is—and Is Not

Opinion | Language Arts

Response: What Revision Assistant Is—and Is Not

By Jamie Calhoun     Apr 12, 2016

Response: What Revision Assistant Is—and Is Not

This is a response to “Humans Still Win: A Comparison of Two Robo-Essay Readers From Turnitin and WriteLab.”

Blake Montgomery offered a thoughtful review of Revision Assistant, and made some good points. I want to respond, simply to clarify the purpose and drive behind our work.

My name is Jamie, and I write the comments the students using Turnitin Revision Assistant see. I am the voice in the machine. And I am a teacher. I’ve taught writing for 15 years at the university level in many different contexts—open enrollment, highly selective, liberal arts, and business schools. Those of us who teach writing want to see our students buoyed up; we want students to realize they can discover their own thoughts and their own voices in writing.

Revision Assistant can help to eliminate the many fears students have when it comes to writing. Revision Assistant is meant to support writing as a process. Many students are afraid to ask what a thesis statement is. They are afraid to tell the teacher they waited until 10pm the night before to start writing. With Revision Assistant, they can get help, and then they can come to the teacher with clearer questions, clearer ideas. They will ask, “When Revision Assistant said I needed more explanation here, what does that mean?” Or, “How can I add more vivid description?” These questions will be much more productive for the student than the most typical request that teachers hear today: “I don’t know what to do.”

Revision Assistant can help instill confidence: students will receive two constructive, positive comments on most of their drafts, pointing out areas of relative strength. I like to use “You” statements on the strong comments, whereas negative comments focus on the writing, not the writer. In this way, I hope to celebrate the writer’s successes and detach negative comments from the writer’s self worth.

Revision Assistant is not a grammar checker, not a grader, nor a replacement for teachers. It is a tool to engage students in the writing process and to get them to write and revise more. Once students treat writing as a process, their writing improves. An excellent article by Susan Van Doren, “(Not So) Rough Drafts,” talks about this very process.

To quote Van Doren: “Technology can’t replace good teaching, but it can help me reach more students than I could have dreamed of previously, and it can empower students to take ownership of their learning.” We wholeheartedly agree.

Jamie Calhoun is a Content Specialist for Turnitin. Prior to this position, she earned her Ph.D. from Miami University of Ohio, and taught a variety of English Composition and English Literature courses there and at Xavier University and Penn State.

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