Bill Hart-Davidson was recently invited by the College Conference on Composition and Communication to present an Ignite session about the story behind Eli Review. The ignite sessions were all focused specifically scholars are inventing new products.
The materials from Bill’s presentation are included here. You can find links to the materials he references, his actual slides, and his presenter notes.
We want to thank Joyce for this event. We are proud and humbled to join this group of writing teachers writing software (and engineering hardware!).
To understand Eli and what it does, it’s best to think about what it looks like to learn to write. Can you picture it?
What you see are people performing and learning together. Their greatest resource is one another. This is Vygotsky’s powerful idea of peer scaffolding.
The ability to identify and learn, in a moment, from a more capable peer is a powerful thing. And it is no accident that we teach both dancing and writing in studios. We want those moments to happen.
The feedback that flows among peers makes everyone better. This is “the zone of proximal development.” The idea that when we work and learn together we are each capable of much more than one of us working alone.
But dancing and writing are different too, aren’t they?
Writing happens in the mind of the learner and on papers in screen in front of her. So it’s harder to see. And that means it’s much harder to do the kind of on-the-fly peer calibration that makes the Zone of Proximal Development work.
It’s hard for teachers, too, to see and intervene (or not) like a dance instructor can. Sweeping across the chorus line, I can see who is on the beat, whose toes are pointed, and whose top line is a model for the others. And I can do it quickly. Fast enough to point it out to the group and get everybody on track.
Feedback like that – formative feedback – is powerful, but only when it is timely. That’s what makes writing studios challenging.
In the picture I just showed, could you tell who is writing? Who is addressing the key criteria in their writing? Who is offering feedback to a peer? Who is offering feedback that is helpful? Aligned with the assignment criteria?
Can you see who is struggling to understand the criteria? Can you tell who the others in the group are looking to as a model for their learning?
Can you see you is stuck and can’t figure out what to do next?
And if it is unavailable to me, the teacher, it’s also unavailable to my students.
The most powerful learning resource we have, the most transformative influence on learning…is largely missing here.
Eli was engineered from the ground up by writing teachers to help learners harness the power of feedback. Eli puts a powerful set of coordination tools and reports in students hands. The result in a writing class: more time spent doing the things that matter most. Especially revision, review, and reflection.
And for teachers, Eli offers a “live feed” of student learning. This means that power of formative feedback is working for you too. In your classroom, in your program, in real time.
They show that of the big three – writing (or drafting), review, and revision – it’s those last two that really pay off the most.
Trouble is, for most teachers, this is what a typical paper looks like in terms of time spent.
More, and more frequent review and revision. More and better quality feedback.
And this write-review-revise cycle would ideally repeat. Maybe several times. So each paper would unfold in time something like this.
Writing is the solitary move here.
Review, planning, and revising (based on others’ feedback) permit the kind of peer scaffolding we see in a dance studio. That yellow and green area? You can think of that as “the zone” – the zone of proximal development – the place where peers have a rich set of resources to learn from each other.
It’s also the place where I, as a teacher, can get to the things that really make a difference in the way I use my time.
With Eli, I can see very quickly – within an hour – what kinds of dance moves my students are proficient in and where the group is struggling.I see it in the real-time displays of review data that Eli gives me.
And, of course, students see it too.
I can get them quickly thinking about the specific challenges of an assignment. First by coaching high-quality feedback and then by guiding the ways they select, prioritize and reflect on that feedback to revise.
Eli makes the writing studio work a lot more like a dance or yoga studio. The moves become visible for leaners to see, for teachers and students to talk about, and the dynamics of peer learning accelerate as a result.
And it all happens not through some automation or algorithm. It happens because we use the digital space and the computer to transform the learning environment – whether the class is online or face-to-face – into one focused on and driven by high-quality formative feedback.
When writers move the feedback they receive into a revision plan and share it with me as a teacher, a feedback loop is complete that tells me something about their learning. Right that moment, I can evaluate what the student needs to keep going.
Are they focused on the right criteria? Are they revising based on higher-order concerns? Are they stuck and need my help? All those things that were invisible in the picture I showed earlier are now right in front of me. Updated in real time. Compiled to show trends for the whole group, and broken down into detailed reports for each individual too.
Because we know the most informative moments about student learning don’t happen at the end. They happen along the way. Eli knows what you know: where to watch, and what to gather so you can see your students learning and help them.
And between you and me: it’s exhilerating. The first time you can read a reviewer’s comments that show you, clearly and unequivocally, that they “get it” because they are giving great advice. Even better, the moment when you can say: psst…hey, take you own advice! ☺
Eli lets me intervene in students learning in plenty of time for it to make a difference. I don’t have to guess who’s struggling. I can see it early. With enough time and in enough detail to make the comments, have the conference, or switch peer response groups in ways that will help.
Folks often ask us if this formative data means we don’t read their writing anymore. Heck no. Of course we read it. The difference is that we now read it in the context of their learning process. And it makes all the difference.
This is why a writing classroom with Eli is truly more like a yoga studio than a dance studio. We aren’t always trying to get everyone to do the same choreography in a writing class after all. There can be many right ways to do the steps, as many right ways as there are students.
But we do want to get each student to somewhere new in their individual practice. We want them all to learn something new, to expand their repertoire, to build strength and confidence.
Eli’s data displays make this kind of individualized instruction possible from day one of your course. If that sounds hard to believe, you should talk to teachers who have used it. It’s transformative. Not because it give you more control, but rather because it lets you give that control back to students where it belongs.
There are numbers in Eli. But more importantly, there are words. There is writing. There is reflection. There is evidence for you to understand how your students are thinking about their writing and how they are thinking about the criteria and learning goals you’ve asked them to engage.
Many of our innovations in the teaching of writing have been aimed at gathering evdience. Portfolios. Holistic grading for summative evaluation. These are evidence of student performance.
But never before have we created such a powerful tool for gathering evidence of learning.
That tool is Eli. And we made it for you and your students.
Because you can see review and revision in detail, you can teach it more effectively. Because students can see these, they can learn from one another in all the ways the idea of peer scaffolding promise.
We hope you try it. We’ll make it easy for you.