Feedback on Academic Essay Writing through Pre-Emptive Hints – Moving Towards ‘Advice for Action’

Denise Whitelock
The Open University, United Kingdom

Alison Twiner
The Open University, United Kingdom

John T. E. Richardson
The Open University, United Kingdom

Debora Field
Oxford University, United Kingdom

Stephen Pulman
Oxford University, United Kingdom


This paper reports on the SAFeSEA project (Supportive Automated Feedbackfor Short Essay Answers), conducted by the Open University and OxfordUniversity, which set out to assist students in writing draft essays. The projectexplored a number of feedback mechanisms to facilitate this process. Onesuch mechanism was investigating how to offer support regarding essaystructure, based on the premise that a good essay is like a good story: itneeds a beginning, middle and end; the components are also well connectedand the middle section of the essay provides the evidence for the argumentprogressed throughout the essay. This leads to the development of a web-based feedback system called OpenEssayist (Whitelock, Field, Pulman, et al.,2013). In parallel with this technical development, we also investigatedwhether support could be given to students before they started writing theiressays, in the form of ‘hints’. This paper will set out the rationale behind thisinvestigation, the context in which it was addressed, and the conclusions wecan draw to confidently assert that such a ‘feed-forward’ approach can have astatistically significant effect on students’ essay marks.

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