With the proliferation of technology in the classroom accelerating since the outbreak of Covid-19, different writing apps and grammar checkers are being promoted for use by students. AI tools that can help reduce mistakes in students’ work almost instantaneously promise to make both teachers’ and students’ work easier while helping improve the practice of composing texts and assignments.
One of the leaders of this group is the extremely popular app, Grammarly, which helps 30 million+ people worldwide to present more professional looking texts, whether they be simple emails, form data, longform articles, or story drafts. Acting as a browser extension, it provides a second set of eyes and gives suggestions, allowing the user to learn about why something may not be correct while offering a fitting alternative.
For those who are conducting creative writing, there are other apps such as Hemingway Editor, which put emphasis on fluency and sentence structure, showing where phrases could be more concise or reworded for clarity.
There is no denying the utility of these applications, but for students who are still developing their writing capabilities, are they really as good as they seem? In this short post we will look at some of the pros and cons of their use in the learning environment.
Advantages of Using a Grammar Checker in the Classroom
Easy to set up and use, there are some very clear advantages of using grammar checkers in a classroom setting—here are the three most prominent.
Reliable Suggestions and Quick Feedback
Online grammar checkers are becoming more accurate and user-friendly day-by-day due to machine learning, providing clear suggestions as students are writing, which is especially important. Feedback works better the more immediate it is, with apps giving learners the ability to reflect on their compositions while they are creating them.
Help with Readability
Grammar and writing apps don’t just strictly help with mistakes, they also suggest alternative phrasing to cut out repetition and excess words, allowing the text greater clarity and flow.
Time Saved for Teachers
A recent study looking at Grammarly and its effect on students’ writing where English is their second language notes that students have the opportunity to be more self-directed in their learning. The tool allows learners to check things like subject verb agreement, article usage, quantifiers and more, all while saving the teacher’s time. Rather than having to give feedback on many minor points, educators can focus on overall structure and coherence, while giving broad instruction on areas that all students tend to struggle with.
Disadvantages of Grammar Checkers in Class
As we have seen, grammar checkers can provide targeted help to both learners while aiding the workload of teachers, but there are some other points to consider.
Suggestions are Context Independent
Artificial Intelligence is great at picking up simple spelling and grammatical mistakes, but what about jargon, quotes with imperfect English, or language that differs from the norm for stylistic reasons? Applications will likely see these simply as mistakes, which is why we can’t completely rely on their judgement. A critical human eye is needed to understand whether the suggestion being offered is indeed legitimate.
Difficulties with Country-specific English
English is a global language with many different variations. While some apps allow you to preset the type of English you are working with, if you are using American English in one doc, British English in another, or a mix of both, you could be getting incorrect spelling suggestions.
Reduction in Attention to Detail
Having an application pick up things you otherwise may have missed is undoubtedly helpful when producing texts such as professional publications, but relying on a program to do the heavy-lifting for us can mean that we stop exercising our own abilities to reread and make sound judgements on our pieces of work.
While Reddit is currently the main forum where these concerns are voiced, this hypothesis conforms to similar arguments that are backed up by research, such as the studies showing that our navigational skills are deteriorating as the use of GPS devices increases.
Using Apps within School Tests
According to a recent article in the Guardian, the South Australian education department has stated that students who have the Grammarly extension can continue to use it as part of their year 12 English exams. The department claims that the communication of concepts, ideas, and perspectives is the main focus, with a grammar and spelling checker not providing any specific advantage to students. Others disagree, saying that with one of the marking criteria being “precise expression”, Grammarly can definitely assist in helping students to revise sentences and improve their grammar.
Is using Grammarly cheating? It depends on your definition, but if some students are using the app in exams while others aren’t, it certainly raises issues of equity, while leading us to question what other apps would be deemed acceptable in an examination environment.
Do Apps Enhance or Blunt Creativity?
If you’ve used the newer editions of Microsoft Word, you may notice that as you are typing, the program may offer a suggestion for a following word or phrase. Similar to the language about becoming lazy, will having text suggestions provided to us blunt our creativity, influencing us to use the same cliched phrases rather than forming our own?
In a more charitable light, we can see AI as a way to generate ideas that aid our own creativity. This conversation is being had in the art world, where a new program called DALL-E, which generates artworks based on given prompts, is being hotly debated. DALL-E is seen by some as limiting humanity’s artistic endeavours, while others believe it can generate prompts that are then enhanced by artists, expanding our capacity for the production of creative works.
Responsibly Using Apps in School
By looking at the benefits and limitations of grammar checker tools, we can reasonably conclude that there are definitely apps that can help you in school, providing that they are used in a critical and sensible way by students and teachers.
To avoid some of the negatives we pointed out, issues of fair access should be considered, and there should also probably be times where students work without any apps, relying on their own knowledge and ability to compose precise and accurate texts by themselves.