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eLearning tools to improve understandable writing
In the course of their studies, students receive and write a barely comprehensible amount of texts. Writing in academic exchange is rarely done on paper. Writing is done on the computer. More and more often, writing takes place directly online in cooperative settings, via chat, forum or wiki. “Our writing utensils work with our thoughts,” Nietzsche once remarked with regard to his typewriter at the predominant time of the book. Our new writing tools have changed digitally and must be appropriately designed and used as eLearning tools for the requirements of digital communication skills.
The topic of this article is the writing of texts in an understandable form. The increasing digital and web-based processing of texts raises the general question relevant for teaching and research, whether or to what extent the quality of writing will change. As part of our eLearning project "Understandable Writing", which is being carried out at the University of Vienna at the Institute for Educational Science in cooperation with the Institute for Knowledge and Business Engineering, we asked ourselves the specific question: How can the quality of understandable writing be improved using eLearning Tools to be improved?
In particular, the conception of eLearning tools and their use in blended learning scenarios is discussed. First empirical surveys are presented, which are intended to provide valuable information to enable the tools to be used effectively for individual as well as cooperative text production within various courses and to be able to evaluate them in a specified manner. In this context, the frequently cited question is also taken into account, to what extent teachers increase their workload through the use of eLearning toolsbeload or even a workentburden have to be reckoned with.
In order to explain the purpose of the comprehensibility of texts, a demarcation from the scientific nature of texts and the current demands on writing competence in the change of "digital literacy" should be recorded.
Acquired in school, writing skills are given a scientific status at the university. Anyone who observes the rules of scientific writing has a good chance of attaining an academic degree with a carefully prepared document of scientific knowledge (master's thesis). However, writing texts not only in a scientifically formal way, but also in an understandable way, is usually poorly conveyed in teaching. “Expressing yourself in an understandable way” (Langer et. Al., 2002) is currently a challenge especially for those students who have discovered the innovative potential of interdisciplinary approaches and want to document their new findings and make them understandable to one side or the other of subject-specific subject examiners. “Against the background of disciplinary realities” (Eberherr, 2005) of a university, questions were asked about the problems of interdisciplinary cooperation. The greatest difficulty can be summed up in the question: “How to find a common language and understanding” (Nentwich, 2003). There are interdisciplinary communication difficulties in an omnipresent trend of increasing specialization. Quite a few are almost helpless when it comes to presenting the highly specialized knowledge in a language that is generally understandable for non-specialists.
While the university libraries made available for research and teaching were cataloged and arranged according to the logic of individual specialist disciplines during the predominant period of the book, the research that is preferred today using search engines on the Internet requires finding one's way around and understanding in the interdisciplinary environment of multilingual cultures. With the increasing penetration of “digital literacy”, the diffusion of several languages and specialist terminologies is accelerating. Accordingly, an increased need for eLearning tools to support comprehensibility could also be determined within an interdisciplinary, research-oriented course with doctoral students (Motschnig-Pitrik et. Al, 2006).
For the development of appropriate eLearning tools and their use, especially within blended learning scenarios, we refer as a starting concept to the "Hamburg model" for the perception of text intelligibility by Inghard Langer, Friedemann Schulz von Thun and Reinhard Tausch. However, it must be taken into account that the exercise texts recorded in the basic literature we use, "Express yourself in an understandable way" (Langer, et. Al., 2002), were developed in the early 1970s and are therefore a not insignificant target group problem for current ones despite revised editions brings university requirements with it. The exercise texts (model texts that strictly adhere to the Hamburg concept of comprehensibility) can, in spite of all this, present very insightful clues for understandably written texts. For an eLearning instrument that can be used universally and, above all, across disciplines to improve text comprehensibility, primarily only the basic comprehensibility criteria are of decisive importance for us.
The "Hamburg model" for the perception of text comprehensibility (Langer, et. Al, 2002) is based on the assumption that texts can be evaluated using four comprehensibility criteria. These criteria are:
Simplicity - Using common words and simple sentences.
Structure / order
Inner order: The sentences follow one another in a logical order.
External structure: The structure of the text is visible (headings, lists for facts, important words are highlighted).
Brief / Concise - The length of the text corresponds to the amount of information it wants to communicate.
Stimulating additions - How can interest in the text be generated (e.g. colored examples)?
The introduction to the comprehensibility criteria and the implementation of exercises from book form in online modules are basically about learning processes such as
Because the exercises can now be designed more interactively on the basis of eLearning, there are some new design options that offer significant advantages in terms of learning theory and practice. An example of this can be seen in Figure 1 (simplified representation!).
In this introductory exercise on the intelligibility criterion “simplicity”, adjectives are to be found that characterize this criterion. Using drag & drop, the respective characteristics (intelligibility features) as pairs of opposites can be drawn onto the corresponding fields in a playful way. A built-in random generator ensures that the intelligibility features are arranged at random every time the task is repeated. This prevents the exercise of the task as a mechanical execution or reaction (behavioristic learning effect) to visual perception stimuli. Instead, with each repetition, the information and its meaning must be cognitively processed and understood again before the task can be carried out successfully. This random mechanism was also built into advanced exercises.
These and other exercises (see Kroop, Mangler, 2005a) are part of an introductory training program in the concept of comprehensibility criteria and their application.
A scale is used to evaluate the texts, which should convey in a clear form how understandable a text is. The scale is used consistently to rate texts. It is also a central element within a complex "assessment system" (a system for evaluating texts of all kinds) that is used in our blended learning scenarios for individual and cooperative text production, which we will discuss later. Figure 2 shows how, according to Langer et. al. the "optimal understandability" of a text was defined.
The project “Understandable Writing” was evaluated by the university management of the University of Vienna; it be "Desirable and has strategic importance for the university due to its high applicability in numerous courses of study"1. Around 65,000 students are currently enrolled in 130 fields of study at the University of Vienna, so that many students could benefit from the Understandable Writing modules, provided that they can be successfully integrated into the curriculum. It must be taken into account that the requirements for intelligibly written texts differ greatly in the various disciplines or in interdisciplinary communication. When developing the Understandable Writing modules, we therefore attach particular importance to the fact that they do not necessarily have to be completed as a complete learning program according to the book (Langer et. Al., 2002), but that individual modules can be selected and used individually. In particular, the modules for the basic communication of the comprehensibility criteria are initially independent of a subject-specific text, but can subsequently also be used as an evaluation system for individually (subject-specific or interdisciplinary) selected or written texts. In addition to the modularized implementation of the learning program for flexible, needs-based use, there is also the aspect of flexible provision on various learning platforms.
The University of Vienna offers all interested course leaders the opportunity to support their course with a learning platform, currently through WebCT Vista, whereby the variety of learning platforms is expressly to be retained. Other platforms such as Moodle, Ilias and the Plone-based "Project Pin" in pedagogy are also supported. The possibility of using these platforms is actively used and the Understandable Writing modules should, if possible, be integrated into the various platforms. The students should be presented with a virtual room in which all the resources that are required for acquiring knowledge within a course are present in a central location. So in order to be able to flexibly integrate the Understandable Writing modules into one or the other learning platform, it is necessary to consider which technical architecture can do this with the least possible effort. In conventional practice, the Understandable Writing modules would have to be adapted to the specific system architecture of a learning platform and its different programming languages; that means each module would have to be built into each learning platform individually. For our concern of flexible and unproblematic use of the modules, this would in fact involve too much effort and would also burden the respective learning platform itself. This approach should therefore be rejected in particular for the following reasons:
For example, adding functionality directly to WebCT Vista can make the entire platform unstable.
In the course of creating and optimizing the Understandable Writing modules, feedback from teachers and learners should be taken into account as quickly and continuously as possible, which would require constant access to the internals of the modules and thus to the respective learning platform. This is also an additional platform load and disrupts the smooth running of a learning platform in its basic function of central provision.
So two key points need to be resolved. First, a method has to be found that allows the modules to be seamlessly integrated into a course, while maintaining the flexibility to introduce corrections and improvements at any time without endangering the stability of the system. Second, a solution is to be found that works in a technology-neutral manner, i.e. ensures that all modules can be reused directly without the need for complex adaptations or new developments for other platforms.
The solution is a plug-in system based on web services (W3C 2001, W3C 2003a, W3C 2003b) (Mangler, Derntl, 2004; Mangler, 2005). For each platform (Moodle, WebCT, Ilias, Lerndorf, Drupal, ...) in which the modules are to be used, a so-called thin “intermediate layer” (plug-in system) is implemented for precisely this one platform instead of the implementation of each module , which allows the use of any modules. This intermediate layer has the following properties:
It does not implement any functionality of the Understandable Writing project itself, but only serves as an intermediary to the modules that are installed on another computer. In other words: it sends requests to a module, converts the result into HTML and sends it back to the user.
Because the intermediate layer only has to fulfill this one clearly defined task of "mediator", it is very easy to implement.
The modules can thus be implemented in any technology (in our case PHP). The intermediate layer enables the modules to be integrated in a system such as WebCT, which is based on Java. Intermediate layers for Drupal and Moodle are already in a test phase.
Before we explain the use of the comprehensible writing modules within blended learning scenarios, we would like to take a brief (retrospective) look at the use of the Hamburg comprehensibility concept in traditional teaching to date and, in particular, record their experiences and problems that have emerged.
Since the authors of the Hamburg comprehensibility concept with the exercise and model texts provided in the book “Self-Understandable Expressions” address all those as a target group whose task is to prepare texts for teaching and information purposes, this textbook is particularly used in didactics studies. As the Hamburg team themselves noted in their subsequent research report, advice and information on how a person who writes can express himself in an easily understandable manner is of little use; only doing it yourself, practicing it, brings full success. Working in small groups proved to be particularly beneficial. Not only is understanding and retention decisively promoted by working in small groups (in contrast to individual work), the participants also found learning more enjoyable in this form of work. The frontal lessons only performed best in difficult-to-understand texts. (Langer et. Al., 2002, pp. 211ff.)
Against the background of these findings, the competence "understandable writing" was conveyed in the context of classic university courses as a seminar with appropriate practice units in face-to-face form. Didactically, the focus was on group work that was equal or shared, joint feedback rounds and short presentations on comprehensibility research. This course was titled „Comprehensibility as didactic quality " offered a total of seven times as a course of study for pedagogy students at the University of Vienna since 2000. An average of 25 students took part in the courses, so that we have experience with a total of more than 170 students. The aim of these courses was not only to convey the Hamburg concept of comprehensibility, but also to apply it using the example of extensive relevant specialist texts (from pedagogy, psychology and social sciences). The students had the task deviating from the exercise sequence in Langer et. al. (2002) to work in small groups (2-4 students) to write extensive relevant specialist texts for teaching purposes (lessons) in accordance with the Hamburg concept of comprehensibility. Depending on the size of the working group, the length of these specialist texts was between 25 and 50 pages on topics such as "Introduction to Diagnostics", "Hermeneutics and Phenomenology", "Personality Theories", "Learning Theories and Behavioral Therapy", Disability and Special Education "," Basic Medical Terms " etc. In a first step, the students should consult standard works on these topics in order to define roughly basic knowledge on a chosen topic as content. After discussing the content with the course leader, the students created a sample lesson (4-5 pages). This was revised and corrected - through feedback and with the help of the course leader - until an optimal level of comprehensibility in terms of the concept was achieved.This sample lesson then functioned as an orientation and “anchor stimulus” for the development of further lessons.
Overall, the course briefly described above is „Comprehensibility as didactic quality "It was received with interest by the students and the content was also perceived as highly relevant for practice. The exercises were very helpful for the students, especially for the discrimination of the intelligibility features. It also appeared that the exercise goals could easily be achieved (discrimination learning). In particular, the independent design of more extensive texts together with the feedback from the course leader was experienced as very target-oriented for learning the comprehensibility concept, but also as very time-consuming and associated with high requirements. In addition, the following specific problems or phenomena were observed:
A new language: The students experienced the comprehensible writing as a contrast to the usual language requirements at the university. Despite insight into the practical relevance and importance of the comprehensibility concept, many complained that they needed some time to learn the "scientific" style of language with abstract terms and nested sentences, which teachers often wanted, and that everything had to be rearranged again. Some also compared the requirements with learning another, seldom spoken and undesirable language.
Relapse phenomena: The phenomenon of relapse is also related to this aspect just described: A change in writing style after the blocked exercises and after the short exercises in independent text design was clearly noticeable. The students also experienced this change subjectively as progress. However, in the phase in which more extensive texts had to be designed independently, there was often a relapse into the usual style (e.g. longer sentences, foreign words, no stimulating additions, etc.). This relapse phenomenon seemed to be more likely to occur in those students (groups) who had to take a longer break between blocked exercises and independent text creation due to their individual scheduling (interruption of the exercise experience).
Target group problem: For many students the question arose as to "how much comprehensibility" which target groups need. What can high school graduates be expected to do, what can adult professionals be expected to do? How can the requirements be assessed in order to avoid excessive or insufficient demands?
Blurring of discrimination:One persistent problem was associated with learning to distinguish simple and complex sentences. Students tended to rate texts that they themselves could easily understand as “understandable” and “simple”, regardless of whether they corresponded to the criterion of simplicity. So even texts with complicated and abstract sentences were rated as understandable if the individual student could (only) understand them himself.
„Offense "at the intellectual lack of challenge: A problem that should not be underestimated is the question of the level of intellectual aspiration. Understandable texts were interpreted by some as grossly under-demanding of their intellectual capabilities, which was experienced or expressed as a kind of devaluation of their person. So the question arises: How much intellectual stimulation is possible in an understandable text? How much intellectual stimulus is lost in making a text understandable? (cf. also Bartels, 2001) Does the “individuality” of a language style play a role and what of it is lost through making it understandable?
As already mentioned, the “Hamburg intelligibility concept” was developed in the early 1970s, a time when the word “Internet” did not yet exist; a time in which texts could still be prepared in a way that was largely tailored to the target group. These days, however, in the course of increasing mobility, changing living conditions and the associated much more differentiated life experiences as well as highly individualized life concepts, it is becoming increasingly rare that people can be grouped together into uniform “target groups”. In addition, the level of education or intellect is likely to have changed significantly, in particular due to the innovations in information and communication technology among schoolchildren as well as in the general population. Exercise texts that have been prepared on the basis of target group-specific evaluations of another generation are therefore inevitably out of date. Langer et. al. stated that the (exercise) texts were presented to the following target groups: “The texts from public life were read by over 400 working men and women, 17-50 years old, with elementary school education, secondary school leaving certificate and Abitur. The textbooks were read by over 500 pupils from elementary school, secondary school and grammar school, 7th and 8th grade. Finally, the scientific texts were read by over 80 male and female psychology students from different semesters. "(Langer et Revised and expanded edition also not comprehensible. Our own efforts that of Langer et. al. Using and discussing evaluated texts prepared as a learning program within classic university courses, however - as already mentioned - made the problems visible.
For the project "Understandable Writing" it is therefore less interesting to bring the communication between book and reader to a uniform level than rather the interpersonal communication, the perceived intelligibility of which is individually and increasingly dependent on unpredictable and changeable situations. This requires a system that trains a certain cognitive flexibility in order to be able to work out texts appropriately in the sense of "understandability" of a situation.
Accordingly, it is not so much the texts provided in the book as a learning program, but rather the fundamentally elaborated comprehensibility criteria that offer a valuable starting point for conceiving the necessary eLearning tools and blended learning scenarios. The use of the intelligibility criteria (independent of the exercise texts) - as already explained - was evaluated as very helpful and with particularly positive acceptance even within classic university courses (discrimination of the intelligibility features).
If the “Hamburg comprehensibility concept” was conceived for quite limited target groups, a web-based comprehensibility concept has to meet the requirements of a network community across target groups far more closely. The “target group” is not so much predefined as that it arises rather from the need. With the flexibly applicable comprehensible writing modules described here and in particular the web-based "assessment system" for comprehensibility, it is possible that the processing of certain texts and the determination of the target group can also take place within an intercultural and cross-expert community, which depending on a situation a has his own idea of intelligibility. The ability to find a general understanding within a culture or a specific community is a prerequisite for acquiring the competence of understandable writing.
Two blended learning scenarios were developed for the use of the Understandable Writing modules. These are also to be understood as individual modules or modules that can be used as required. The use of these scenarios requires knowledge of the comprehensibility criteria or the completion of the introductory training program.
Scenario 1: Individual text production
The first scenario has the character of a “peer review” in which individually produced texts are mutually evaluated and discussed based on the comprehensibility criteria.
Scenario 2: Cooperative text production
The second scenario has the character of a "competition" in which a process of voting takes place within a text that is to be produced cooperatively, with the aim of being included in the community text.
A detailed description of these scenarios can be found in the conference proceedings for the 11th Business Meeting (Kroop, Mangler, 2005b). At this point, these scenarios should only be described comparatively briefly: The first scenario begins with a face-to-face session, whereas the second scenario starts immediately online. Both scenarios are made possible by the provision of wikis (Leuf, 2001), on the one hand for text production and on the other hand as a discussion forum. The texts in production can therefore be accessed and edited online at any time, with the individual versions being saved in the text creation process, so the development process can be viewed retrospectively at any time. Using a wiki, a group of 4-6 people should also be able to work together on a text (at the same time).
The combination of the creation of the text in the wiki on the one hand and the communication about this text on the other hand (by means of a rating system, a forced comment or justification of text changes, the connection to the discussion in the forum) should ensure a high level of transparency through the close connection between intelligibility (of the text) and Enable communication (of the participants). The creation process of a text can thus be understood at any time and by every participant and conclusions for easy or difficult to understand texts can be reflected on.
The blended learning scenarios that have just been briefly presented have already been discussed within a peer-reviewed workshop that was held at the University of Vienna as part of the 11th Business Meeting. Only people who have been actively and in a leading position for a long time either directly or at least indirectly with this topic in the university area took part in the workshop. We therefore speak of "experts". The specified subject areas of the experts resulted in a very interdisciplinary picture, so that the above-mentioned fundamentally interdisciplinary relevance of this topic can be confirmed as "interdisciplinary competence". Subjects were specified such as: linguistics, communication studies, journalism, pedagogy, ecology, computer science, biology, psychology, veterinary medicine, history, translation studies. The average age of the experts was 40 years, with the youngest being 27 and the oldest being 53 years. A total of about fifteen people took part in the presentation, which was followed by a very intense and lively discussion. After the presentation and discussion of each scenario, the experts were asked to answer two questions on a distributed questionnaire. The first question related to the quality of the writing, the second question related to the workload in the teaching company. At the end of the workshop, eleven completed questionnaires were available.
The experts were asked to indicate whether the quality of comprehensible writing among students would likely rise or fall and whether the respective scenario would relieve the lecturer or would burden it with additional work. The experts could choose between constant 0, deterioration [-2.0 [or improvement] 0, + 2]. The overall result can be seen in Figure 3.
For Scenario 1 the following picture emerged: the experts agreed that this scenario would lead to an improvement in teaching (low variance V = 0.21). In addition, the experts assumed that the teaching staff would be burdened more, although opinions differed (high variance V = 0.61).
For Scenario 2 the results were similar at first glance. Again, a medium increase in quality was assumed, as was an increasing burden on the teachers. When it comes to the question of quality, however, the variance indicates a higher degree of uncertainty: in fact, the evaluations were much more diverse (V = 0.77). For example, some experts rated the aspect of a possible improvement in the quality of writing very positively, while others were apparently rather very skeptical. When assessing the relief of teaching, the experts again guessed an increased burden. The scatter was rather small (V = 0.46).
With regard to the workload of teachers, we would ultimately like to note that changing a familiar routine in the teaching / learning process naturally requires additional workload, especially at the beginning, which can, however, mean a desirable relief elsewhere.
In the following, we have compared the arguments raised in the discussion with regard to the two evaluated criteria with regard to the quality of writing and workload in teaching. It can already be seen at first glance that, especially for scenario 1, many positive arguments regarding an increase in the quality of writing skills could be listed, which was confirmed by the quantitatively recorded result with a largely consistent evaluation (low variance). Accordingly, the rather unclear assessment of scenario 2 is documented with rather uncertain arguments. It should be mentioned, however, that scenario 2 was judged to be particularly innovative and was also noted as more interesting. The uncertainty that became clear in the variance can be explained by the fact that this scenario is actually still too great a novelty to be able to assess it with certainty. It may contain too many unfamiliar elements in the teaching of writing skills, so that a correspondingly stronger rethinking or initially fictitious putting into perspective is necessary in this scenario.
S Z E N A R I O 1 & S Z E N A R I O 2
First, some criteria are listed that have been mentioned in general and apply to both scenarios:
+ Texts can be selected for specific target groups.
Texts must be selected carefully and appropriately for the specific target group of a course. The exercises are no longer restricted or specified to the texts given in the book. You can choose your own texts that better correspond to a course type (philosophy, pedagogy, biology, etc.) or the course level (beginners, advanced, experts). Texts can be entered, expanded or exchanged flexibly and individually in the system.
+ Alternative optima for comprehensibility can be collected and entered.
It is possible to record and provide the optimal evaluation on the comprehensibility scale, which also proves text characteristics to be more appropriate for a certain specialist discipline. For example, for texts in philosophy, that of Langer et. al recommended optimum for "external structure" inadequate, which in turn depends on the target group or level of participants.
+ Increased participation through simple and transparent reviews.
With regard to the online editing of the texts, the experts agreed that good participation (especially in the peer review) can be expected, provided that editing and evaluation is simple and transparent. The easy handling of the evaluation based on the comprehensibility scale was rated as particularly convenient. A particularly satisfactory added value also results from the possibility of an immediate, automatically updated presentation of the overall results after a new evaluation has been sent. Results can thus be easily understood and compared. There should be more transparency in particular through the written down of discussions and the possibility of being able to fall back on them at any time in order to add or revise newly emerged arguments. What "comprehensibility" means in written form and how a certain understanding changes can be retrospectively understood at any time by communicating in the forum and conclusions can be drawn.
+ Ease of use through online processing.
It was found that almost all students had computers at home.Editing at home would be comparatively easy, as the (time) pressure would not be so high. Since the previous experience and knowledge of students with the individual text contents are sometimes very different, everyone can deal with the texts for more or less long or take part in discussions.
S Z E N A R I O 1
Most of the aspects are now listed under scenario 1. However, this is sometimes also due to the fact that on the one hand there was a little more time available for the discussion of this scenario and on the other hand that some criteria for the discussion of scenario 2 appeared to be superfluous from this discussion or were not explicitly discussed for scenario 2. The following criteria apply specifically to scenario 1:
+ Anonymous participation in the first face-to-face event has a motivating effect.
It was particularly positive that students had the opportunity to anonymously submit an assessment on the scale (comprehensibility criteria) online via laptop in the first classroom event. After all participants have submitted a rating, the overall rating automatically recorded by the system can be seen immediately on the large screen via the projector and compared with one's own rating. This is particularly beneficial for motivationall Students to actively participate in what is happening.
- Uncertainty / lack of technical equipment.
It was noted, however, that it is still too rare for students to be able to attend classes all equipped with laptops or that there are probably not enough computer rooms available for this purpose.
+ Scale guarantees a minimum level of participation (present course).
A colleague from Translation Studies noted that it is often particularly difficult for his students to give feedback in a discussion, since in addition to the normal reluctance to speak up, there is also the fear of being noticed by incorrect pronunciation or missing vocabulary. Here, a rating system (scale) can guarantee at least a minimum level of participation for every student.
+ Scale could stimulate constructive feedback (present course).
It has been noted that it can often be observed that students have trouble giving constructive feedback and prefer a scale on which they only have to choose good or bad. However, it is also important that students are motivated to provide constructive feedback. The scale could, however, be a better starting point for stimulating such processes in a subsequent discussion. To be able to compare the individually given evaluation with the evaluation of all should definitely arouse the interest to find out the reasons and the different or similar perspectives of the participants in the discussion or to announce one's own position as a reaction.
+ There is more time and space available for discussions.
It was noted that more experienced students in higher semesters value discussions (at least present) more than new students. However, the time for discussions within face-to-face events is always very limited, as only one person can speak at a time. Discussions and subsequent comments can be continued from home on the learning platform. The experience has often already been made that the active participants from the face-to-face phase sometimes hardly participate on the learning platform, whereas those who have never appeared on the platform suddenly become very active and sometimes provide very good input. If the input is appreciated by the participants, this has positive repercussions for increased participation in the face-to-face events.
+ Students take on more responsibility through peer review.
Experience has shown that transferring responsibility to the students means that something really "happens". As a result, more positive results could usually be achieved than if the course leader “only” had to wait for input after assigning tasks. Because the students can only participate in the further phases of the course again after they have sent their own individually written text and have evaluated and commented on the texts automatically assigned to them by other students, students have to do more than just take responsibility for your own text. It also has the positive effect that through the necessary mutual evaluation of texts (peer review), students receive a much more varied feedback for the individually written text than is possible through the usual evaluation by the course instructor.
+ Commentary forces reflection on the texts.
It was perceived positively that different texts and your evaluation have to be reflected by the forced comment.
+ Better results through greater participation.
The more students give ratings and comments, the better the results would be. The fact that students in the peer review not only have to evaluate the automatically and randomly assigned texts by other participants on the basis of the comprehensibility criteria quantitatively, but this evaluation also forces a corresponding comment, increases participation visibly.
- Greater participation requires increased control by teachers.
Concerns were raised that the more different opinions clash, the more errors and misinterpretations there would be. This makes it difficult for the participants to pick out the correct information. It became clear that the course leader or qualified student assistants should act as observers and moderators in the evaluation and commenting process of the peer review, with the possibility of commenting and exerting influence as an equal reviewer.
S Z E N A R I O 2
Overall, scenario 2 was viewed as more interesting, but also discussed and assessed more controversially. In addition to the positive aspects already mentioned, several concerns were expressed:
- Increased monitoring of a smooth process is necessary.
The situation could arise that the people within a group or within the competition cannot agree on a change. This could lead to the situation that the text is never finished. As in the last scenario, the course leader and student assistants should be given tools to monitor the process and to be able to participate in a discussion on an equal footing.
+ Close coupling of evaluation and commenting automatically obliges discussion.
A motivation problem was raised again. Some students may be demotivated within a group because others are particularly motivated and do all the work. However, this objection could be put into perspective by the fact that the evaluation and commenting of the changes are closely linked and mandatory. Thus, all students are forced to take part in the online activities.
+ Write a stylistically consistent text cooperatively.
The fear was expressed that if several people worked together, the stylistic consistency of a text would suffer. However, it was countered that (in the course of specialization and interdisciplinary cooperation) the ability to write a consistent text with several people is increasingly important, and thus the training of precisely this ability is desirable.
Writing competence is an essential "interdisciplinary competence", which is increasing in importance in the course of eBologna (Römmer-Nossek, Zwiauer, 2006) and the modularized implementation of the "European study architecture" (University of Vienna, 2005). In conclusion, we want to record some important considerations and aspects from the point of view of the individual authors on the project “Understandable Writing”. Information about general future social and technical developments are taken into account as well as corresponding efforts in project-specific research and development.
Robert Hutterer writes: From my experience, I can see that for the qualitative improvement of (understandable) writing, above all, extended exercise and application options must be built in, those that are available via the learning program in Langer et. al. go out. Exercises that encourage students to “translate” original texts from their own subject are useful if they are supported by a “comprehensibility coach” (but they would have to be trained first) - model learning. One problem is to achieve the upgrading of an understandable style of language in the academic setting among the teachers themselves. A lot of work is to be expected if you want to tackle this. Which "propaganda means" are useful here? You probably first have to convince professional representatives of the value of this style by “translating” their own texts and presenting both versions to their students for comparison. It is an important goal to "sell" the concept of comprehensibility in the academic community. One can justify this with the expectation that students can save themselves a lot of learning hours if they have understandable documents available. Consequence: shorter study duration.
I don't see any fundamental contradiction between scientific and understandable writing. On the contrary - scientific texts that aim to prepare and convey information gain in quality if the intelligibility features are taken into account. It may be that there are different language styles, abstraction requirements and language cultures in different subjects (philosophy, sociology, physics, biology). However, in scientific texts of any kind, a deficiency can often be noticed that is easy to rectify without losing information: long, complicated, nested sentences - so-called "multi-liner" - it is known that breaking down such sentences into several contributes a lot to understandability at.
Sylvana Kroop writes: Scientific training has long since ceased to be based solely on the leading medium of the book. Reading and writing have changed digitally and are gaining new importance as human communication and cultural technology: interpersonal communication is less and less face-to-face than face-to-interface. The interface between communicating people is often text. The first contact and exchange of ideas takes place more often in writing than speaking. Text input devices and the tool-specific interaction options give rise to the new organizational forms of human communication. Many interaction and control options from face-to-face communication are lost, new interaction and control options are being established due to the digital recording of understanding, are being automated and can be easily controlled again in these new communication systems under the requirements of increasing linguistic diversity and complexity. The Internet as a transnational space of human culture reveals to us the tendency towards a universal language on the one hand and, in the course of less uniform than more modularized training and specializations, on the other hand, many expert languages.
With the project “Understandable Writing”, an eLearning instrument is being developed that can contribute to the ongoing establishment of a communicative balance; a communication that is necessary in the act of understanding between various textually fixed linguistic forms and concepts. However, a number of evaluation processes will still be required in order to specify the actual effects of the new techniques on written communication skills and to be able to use the tools effectively.
Jürgen Mangler writes:My expectations regarding the project are that we will be able to implement the cooperative scenarios in such a way that the teachers are actually relieved. I believe that tools need to be developed that are specifically tailored to the needs of the teacher. When technology is misused, disappointment often ensues, which could set back efforts to support blended learning. Another focus of mine is the development of tools according to the "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines" (WCAG 2005). Disabled people should also be able to use the modules and exercises as much as possible. If these two goals can be achieved, I believe that we will have made a difference.
Technology is not a panacea that can make every course more interesting and less time-consuming. What has proven itself in the present cannot be mapped one-to-one on a technology-supported course. Rather, processes and scenarios must be identified that are worth transferring. A technical system can now contribute by providing the necessary flexibility to optimally support didactic processes.
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Kroop, S., Mangler, J. (2005a): Understandable writing; 11th eLearning Business Meeting. http://www.pri.univie.ac.at/workgroups/vs-workshop/ (last accessed on January 04, 2006).
Kroop, S., Mangler, J. (2005b): Workshop on the eLearning project “Understandable Writing”. In the conference proceedings: 11th eLearning Business Meeting, Vienna, Austria (2005), http://www.pri.univie.ac.at/workgroups/vs-workshop/Material/tagungsband.doc (last accessed on 03.03.2006).
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Motschnig-Pitrik, R., Derntl, M., Figl, K., Kroop, S., Logar, S., Mangler, J. (2006): Processes and their Support in a Developing Interdisciplinary Learning Community. Proceedings of the Network Learning Conference (NLC) 2006, Lancaster.
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