Sponsored by Turnitin
Summary: Revision Assistant is a writing curriculum supplement tool that assists learners in their writing process through feedback and actionable comments. All writing prompts are based on hundreds of expertly scored student essays, based on feedback from teachers in classrooms and aligned to state and common core standards.
Revision Assistant helps teachers to better understand the writing process of their students and helps them to make well-informed decisions based on the effort put into each revision. It gives them an overview about each step the student takes during the writing process and lets teachers offer quick and targeted support at each step.
Practice makes perfect. An old wisdom that can be applied to a variety of skills, from cooking to woodworking, from painting to skiing and writing. Writing, an essential part of human interaction, a crucial skill in our daily lives.
In order to become a good writer one needs to sit down and write on a regular basis. Outliers like comedian Jerry Seinfeld made it a habit to write something every single day. During this learning process, revising and reworking content are key to get better at this craft. But how can this be done at scale in our classrooms?
One teacher cannot take a whole school year on one writing task and give feedback and advice on each student’s revision. Or can she? Enter Revision Assistant.
Founded in 2013 at Carnegie Mellon as LightSide Labs and acquired in October 2014 by Turnitin, Revision Assistant launched under its new name in early 2016 with a pilot program covering 20 schools across 6 states in the US.
How does Revision Assistant work?
We had the chance to get a product walk-through from Jason Chu, director of marketing at Turnitin. Though we just had one hour we got a very thorough overview of the product and had enough time to get into the details which is already an important point in itself.
What we saw of Revision Assistant as a product during the demo looked slick and thought-through. The product presents itself in a clean look which reminds of modern cloud-based text editors that get rid of unnecessary buttons and menus, helping the writer to focus on, well, writing.
Teachers can easily set up their class and send out assignments from a library of over 60 writing prompts. The prompts include both open-ended and source-based informative, narrative, and argumentative writing assignments. Teachers can also add special instructions before sending the assignment out.
Naturally, Revision Assistant can be connected to the schools prefered LMS like Blackboard, Moodle or Canvas as it supports LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability), an industry standard created by the IMS Global Learning Consortium.
Before starting with their first draft students can sort their thoughts and sources with a prewriting tool that offers space for their claim, support and conclusion.
During the writing process students can get instant feedback by clicking on the Signal Check button at the bottom of the editor. Areas that need work are highlighted based on the four different traits in the rubric. When a student clicks on the highlighted part she gets an expanded explanation on how to improve the text.
Each Signal Check provides the student with four specific feedback comments, two of which indicate passages that have a strong signal, the other two indicate parts that have a weak signal and need work based on the feedback given.
Each writing prompt comes with its own rubric which is accessible to both, teachers and students. The rubric rates the writing in four traits, Clarity and Focus, Use of Evidence, Analysis and Organization and Language and Genre Awareness. Revision Assistant chose to use a WiFi signal as icon to rate each trait from poor to very strong. Students can use the rubric to check their progress between revisions.
When students submit their work they can add their own assessment or commentary to which the teacher can answer directly through the system. Teachers can follow the progress of each student including every draft, comment, and Signal Check and check the performance of the entire class through a score report in Excel format.
Based on what we saw during the walk-through, we think Revision Assistant would make a good addition to a teacher’s toolbox.
Two important final notes before we get into our own Signal Check of the product. Revision Assistant cannot replace teachers and their personal feedback. The product makes it easier for them to handle the workload and to make educated decisions based on the student’s process during the writing.
Revision Assistant also does not support cheating as it does not offer shortcuts for students. There are no sample texts students can simply copy. The feedback they get is there to help them to come up with their own solutions in their own words.
There are, however, a few drawbacks to Revision Assistant. Other than most edtech tools today, Revision Assistant is targeting institutions and entire districts and is not available to individual educators who would like to use the product in their classroom. It is also limited geographically to the United States.
Both factors will naturally slow down broad global adoption and eventually leave out teachers and private tutors out of the public school sector who would surely be interested in offering the tool to their students.
Revision Assistant is also strict about the creation of its writing prompts and told us that it can’t open the library to contributions from educators, similar to what we know from platforms like Teachers pay Teachers or the recently launched Inspire platform from Amazon.
Chu explained that the creation of a writing prompt on Revision Assistant is pretty complex due to the underlying data gathered from 300 to 500 expertly scored student essays per writing prompt. But the company plans to work closely together with school districts to cater to the needs of teachers. At launch Revision Assistant offered 38 writing prompts and ramped up its library to 60 for the new school year.
Revision Assistant does not provide a grammar checker. According to the company this decision was made upon the feedback of teachers who told the team they preferred students focus on writing and not simply fixate on revising to fix grammatical errors. It also does not work seamlessly together with the company’s flagship product: plagiarism check.
The product also does not include an automatic grading feature. Revision Assistant suggests that teachers could use the signal bars as a form of evaluation and attach a grade to those measures.
Last but not least, teachers need to keep in mind that Revision Assistant is still in its early stages. It might not be perfect in terms of feedback all the time but as Revision Assistant is built upon a machine learning algorithm the system will learn from every student revision and interaction.
Through its narrow focus, Revision Assistant offers a great solution for its specific niche. The product looks and feels clean, is easy to use and integrates well with existing LMS technology as well as state and common core standards.
Revision Assistant saves every single revision, making it easy for students and teachers to track back and get an overview of the entire process.
The product does not offer shortcuts by offering better phrasings but encourages students to think about their writing and work out their own solutions based on feedback and actionable commentary.
The feedback is immediate so that students know instantly if their new draft came out better than the previous. Since feedback is broken up into four different categories students can work on different aspects individually in each revision or tackle all categories at once.
Last but not least, the growing writing prompt library offers a good selection of topics, probably more than a teacher will ever need in her classroom.
This review is sponsored by Turnitin and written by the EDUKWEST editors.