Adequate and appropriate? Matters to consider for the validation of an online writing tool.
It is generally acknowledged that secondary education systems across the world do not necessarily prepare students adequately and appropriately for the demands of higher education. There is agreement among authors that a lack of proficiency in the language(s) of teaching and learning, particularly in the productive mode, has a detrimental effect on study success. First-year students are predominantly at risk of failure and universities attempt to address this in many ways, among others by offering different kinds of interventions to help students better integrate and acculturate to the academic environment. One such intervention is the establishment of writing centres that students can visit free of charge for a one-on-one consultation with a trained writing consultant. However, as the demand on writing centres seems to increase and the availability of resources is limited due to cost or time factors, other initiatives need to be put into place to guide students textually before visiting the writing centre. An initiative taken by the Instituut voor levende talen, KU Leuven was the development of an online writing tool available to all students and staff associated with this institution. The tool is available in both English and Dutch. Users can upload their text to the online platform and get feedback on (i) structure and coherence, (ii) style, and (iii) spelling and grammar. Each of these fields consist a number of components that check aspects of students’ written work and accordingly provide information and guidance on how to deal with the matter at hand. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the validity of the aforementioned tool at a South African university. Matters considered include primarily the efficacy of the tool and its face and content validity. The former will consider possibilities for refinement and implementation. The latter will compare lecturer opinion with that of the tool in terms of the three areas of feedback mentioned above. The paper concludes with a brief overview of challenges and opportunities as to inform decision making on further investment.