For students learning English as a second language, writing it is often regarded as the toughest challenge. So the award-winning system devised by a scholar of The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) Dr Gary Cheng Kwok-shing to enhance English writing skills is a truly welcome development. As an additional benefit, the innovative system encourages students to broaden their critical thinking skills.
The web-based automated tracking system developed by Dr Cheng, Acting Head and Associate Professor at the Department of Mathematics and Information Technology, EdUHK, enables students to analyse their draft English essays based on their teachers’ feedback. The system can automatically detect whether the students’ revisions were made in response to the teachers’ feedback, in terms of content, language, organisation, referencing and so forth. From the automated individualised analysis, students can immediately see how closely their amendments follow their teachers’ suggestions and consider whether further revisions are needed.
At this year’s Silicon Valley International Invention Festival 2019, Dr Cheng’s system was awarded a Silver Medal. He said: “The system not only effectively encourages students to reflect on their English writing, but also facilitates more effective revisions and a higher quality of writing by drawing students’ attention to the gaps between their actual revisions and those suggested by the teachers’ feedback.”
In addition, teachers can make use of the analysis generated by the system to understand and review their own assessment criteria or patterns. The system thus provides a good reference for teachers of the same course to develop a benchmark for their feedback approach. This can ensure fairness and consistency in their assessments.
Dr Cheng explained that although AI and information technology can help shape the revision or learning process for students, teachers still play a crucial role as they offer effective and useful feedback to help students engage in a cognitive process of revisions and reflect deeply on their writing in all its aspects.
Dr Cheng said that at this stage, the system can only identify/highlight the areas for further revision. Going forward, Dr Cheng will explore the feasibility of creating new functions, such as providing suggestions and links to relevant learning resources, so that students can benefit from a more constructive and holistic way of learning.