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Cambridge English offers free writing feedback online

A free online service that automatically rates and assesses English learners’ writing skills without the need for a teacher has been launched at the English Australia conference in Hobart, Tasmania.

Cambridge English Language Assessment CEO, Saul Nassé, unveiled the Write & Improve service saying it's a "good first step" to more automated marking technology. Photo: The PIE News

Once the student submits the writing task, the service quickly provides tailored feedback

Developed in partnership between Cambridge English and UK languages processing and computational linguistics consultancy iLexIR, Write & Improve uses a cloud-based algorithm to provide English writing learners with quick feedback on spelling, vocabulary, grammar and style.

“Write & Improve came out of research into how we could use automated marking technology,” said Cambridge English Language Assessment chief executive Saul Nassé, adding that one of the long-term goals of the service is to develop an assessment marker.

“It’s very hard to get automation to where it can actually mark, but a good first step is to create something in the learning space where the threshold of accuracy is a little bit lower.”

“It enables students to get more immediate feedback on their writing skills. It’s the gift that keeps on giving”

To use the service, learners log onto the site and pick a topic, ranging from beginner subjects such as writing a letter to a friend through to a descriptive essay on the learner’s most treasured possession.

Once the student submits the writing task, it quickly goes through the service’s algorithm which assesses the level of English the student has and provides tailored feedback based on that level.

Stronger learners will receive feedback encouraging them to experiment with different styles, while beginner learners will receive helpful tips on areas to be mindful of when writing.

Nassé said as more users engage with Write & Learn, the algorithm “captures data and distills meaning from that,” meaning the service adapts to the students’ needs.

English Australia chair, Marc Weedon-Newstead, said the service was a “rich English resource” and would provide teachers and students with an additional service for their English learning.

“It enables students to get more immediate feedback on their writing skills. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Students can go back, improve their writing and move on to the next level,” he told The PIE News, adding the service could potentially alleviate some of the demand currently placed on teachers.

Over time, additional paid services will be added to Write & Improve, depending on learner demands.

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