Brief Description

This project developed a package for web-based teaching and assessment of basic writing skills, designed to be part of a blended learning programme relevant to and adaptable by any UK HE English department. Students were able to study writing skills on the web, test themselves on their knowledge and take online assessments of those skills. The results were stored and submitted to their tutor and course convenor to form part of the students’ formative and summative assessment.

Background

It can no longer be assumed that students in levels 1 and even 2 at Glasgow have the academic writing skills they need for any Arts discipline and particularly for English. Colleagues in other universities report similar problems. But pressures on staff mean it is often not feasible to spend as much time on classroom teaching and assessing of writing skills as is needed.

Online teaching and assessment offer a useful alternative. Many existing online resources offer information and practice exercises in aspects of grammar, punctuation, referencing and spelling – so many that students and even lecturers can be bewildered about which to use. Part of this project included the selection of an array of reliable sites.

The main focus of the project was the online assessment of writing skills. The aim was to generate a range of ‘mini-modules’ in areas such as sentence construction, framing paragraphs and using sources, each with practice tests for formative assessment as well as summative assessments testing all the relevant skills. Tutors could then point students to particular modules within the resource when they felt a particular student had a need.

Project design

After recruitment of Graduate Teaching Assistants and a programmer, the first stage involved designing the first five ‘mini-modules’ (i.e. topics such as sentence construction, use of sources, framing paragraphs) in the Moodle VLE. Writing the question banks took place during the summer vacation, under supervision by the project leader. At the same time, the project leader wrote content for each of the five mini-modules. This included explanations of key concepts, examples of good writing practice and links to selected external websites. The programmer meanwhile designed and tested the means of delivering summative assessment results to course convenors in an easy to use, adaptable database.

From October 2005 to January 2006 the site was used by the 400 level 2 students on Glasgow University’s (GU’s) English Literature 2A course, which was convened by the project leader. Following feedback from student users and staff as well as from GU experts in teaching and learning, adjustments necessary in content and delivery were made. A copy of the site containing many of the original questions and inputs has been included in the outputs below

Key findings

  • Providing materials online made them easily accessible to students
  • The project focussed on developing materials in certain types of skills that were more easily assessible online e.g. punctuation, academic practice (referencing, citation etc)
  • Students used the materials on-campus rather than at home, this helped to overcome issues of cheating.
  • The pilots was extremely successful because it resulted in an interest and set of capabilities in online asessment..that has resulted in an part-online and ambitious new initiative across the Faculty of Arts at Glasgow (upwards of 1000 students) in Writing Skills. This is resulting in a dramatic improvement in Writing Skills amongst first-year students. (Listen to the podcast below for more details)

Learning outcomes

This online resource will be of major benefit to the UK HE community, not limited to English or even Arts-side departments, but in any context in which writing skills are important. It will also be of benefit to schools. It will probably be of particular benefit where there is an active commitment to widening participation or to non-standard learners.

Reports and outputs

Project Leader

Alice Jenkins
English Literature
University of Glasgow

Research Period

August 2005 – June 2009