The RooWriter replaced the Written English Proficiency Test this fall. Students now have an online essay evaluating system to fulfill the university’s requirement.
Before the RooWriter, students who had completed English 225 but had not yet fulfilled 90 credit hours were required to complete and pass the WEPT in order to graduate and be eligible for writing intensive courses. Now students are able to take the RooWriter at any time.
“The WEPT was a one-time deal,” said Dr. Richard Delaware, associate professor of mathematics and statistics and RooWriter contributor. “You took it, it was a bump in the road and then you’re glad it’s over. The idea of the RooWriter is yes, you have to do it at some time after Discourse II, before 90 credit hours. But now, you can take it before and you can take it after. The point is, you have two trained evaluators looking at your essay and giving you a report.”
The process to replace the WEPT began in the spring of 2009, when the Campus Writing Board proposed to change the way UMKC evaluates students’ writing. Delaware and Nathan Oyler, an assistant professor of chemistry, were the subcommittee of the University Writing and Reading Board, formerly the Campus Writing Board, which worked with the Division of Internal Applications of the UMKC Department of Information Access to construct the actual RooWriter website over the last 14 months.
The UWRB had to propose the first draft of the RooWriter website to the provost last summer.
“We built this in-house from scratch, so we found an open-source free word processor,” Delaware said. “It isn’t Microsoft Word, but it gives you all the basics you are going to need in this environment.”
A subcommittee in 2009 from the English department looked at other universities around the country to see what they do to assess writing. Nobody had a WEPT-like test, but nobody has an online test either.
“As far as we can tell nobody has done this before,” Delaware said.
Instead of students taking the test on campus on a particular date, the RooWriter allows them to take the assessment at any time. Students are given 72 hours to complete the essay, which must be between 750 and 1,500 words. This gives students the opportunity to save their work and even ask for help at the Writing Center. Students are also given a choice among six different reading selections, instead of just one chosen for the particular WEPT test.
“We are hoping to get reading packets from all across campus to provide variety,” Delaware said. “We really put the word out to faculty about it.”
When a student logs in to the RooWriter website, he or she provided with the reading selections and then he or she responsible for printing the selection.
“The WEPT was kind of illegal,” Delaware said. “You can’t really do copies of articles for 400 people. When you start getting to that number, it’s not fair use anymore. Cindy Thompson, director of public services, is who told us about the copyright issue.”
In addition to a selection from general reading packets, students also have the option of writing an essay about community or global issues.
“We thought there are a lot of students who want to help the world, the community,” Delaware said. “So we thought why don’t we provide packets where students can help to solve a problem? Students have the option of having their essay sent to someone who could potentially use the solution. It’s good for the students and it’s good for the university. I hope it catches on.”
Students can take the RooWriter at any time, allowing for ample preparation, and may take as much time as needed to read through the packet and prepare for the essay.
“We spent a lot of time on the website itself to make it very user-friendly,” Delaware said.
Dr. Henrietta Wood, coordinator of writing assessment, had her Discourse I students take the RooWriter as a test run of the new system.
“They did some silly things that we thought they would never do, but of course they did,” Delaware said. “We are working through some of the bugs.”
Instead of the former pass/fail standard for the WEPT, the RooWriter is evaluated with feedback from two trained evaluators.
“You simply take it,” Delaware said. “As long as two evaluators read your essay, it is accepted as the requirement. However, if it is obviously not a serious attempt, the evaluators have the option of hitting a button and rejecting the essay immediately. It doesn’t get evaluated and it won’t count for the requirement.”
A RooWriter essay attempt can also be rejected if evaluators suspect conscious or unconscious plagiarism. If unconscious plagiarism is suspected, the student will be told so in the assessment. If a student is suspected of conscious plagiarism, the essay gets sent to Wood for evaluation. The student will be given a warning for plagiarizing and the essay will not count for the university requirement.
An essay may also be rejected for being too short or too long. The RooWriter website will warn the student about length requirement upon submission. One glitch is if a student writes a few paragraphs, saves his or her work and forgets to go back and finish the essay before the allotted 72 hours is up. In this case, the student will receive a rejection notification email.
Students will receive a personalized assessment of their essay compiled by two evaluators and the RooWriter website.
“There are about 60 pieces of data that are pulled in to create a RooWriter assessment,” Delaware said.
Evaluators give each essay a score on a scale of one to six for six different scales: point-purpose-idea, depth and breadth of analysis and critical thinking, support-evidence-citations, style-audience-interest, clarity and cohesion of structure-organization and grammar-usage-mechanics.
The RooWriter then provides an assessment of the scores given by the evaluators, and provides suggested resources to improve on each area.
The essay evaluation includes an overall impression of the essay from the evaluators and additional constructive feedback for the writer.
“The 18 hired RooWriter evaluators include a couple of instructors, but mainly consist of graduate students pursuing master’s degrees at UMKC from business, counseling, English, higher education administration, history, nursing, social work and theatre, and one is a former middle school English teacher,” Delaware said. “They had to submit a CV [curriculum vitae], transcripts, get two letters of recommendation to apply and are continuing to go through RooWriter evaluator training.”
In the past, the WEPT coordinator had to hire unwilling evaluators from the English department to grade the essays, according to Delaware.
“From your point of view as a student, you didn’t get anything out of that except for a P or an F,” Delaware said. “That’s useless as far as you’re concerned. We have all types of people across this campus who know how to write. We sent the notice out to faculty and the graduate student population to recruit evaluators. There is someone who is working as an executive secretary in another discipline who happens to have a master’s degree in English.”
The RooWriter evaluators, who were hired over the summer, participated in a training session with Wood. Wood provided the evaluators with information on how other universities like Harvard evaluate students’ writing, Delaware said.
“We want to provide students with feedback that they actually want, which is personal feedback,” Delaware said. “Students want specific feedback about their work.”
With everything online, data can be collected about the RooWriter such as the average time it takes to receive an assessment, which reading packets are being chosen and how many times a student has taken the test.
“We expect this [evaluation process] to be reasonably fast,” Delaware said. “We’re trying not to state any specific amount of time because we want to wait and collect some data.”
Instructors who teach writing intensive courses or courses with writing will soon be able to access students’ previous RooWriter evaluations.
“The instructor can have a sense of their students’ writing ability before they even meet them,” Delaware said.
Dr. Nathan Lindsay, assistant vice provost of assessment and chair of the UWRB, said he hopes students will recognize how much better the RooWriter is than the WEPT.
“The RooWriter is certainly more convenient to take, but more importantly, it provides students with a lot more feedback on how to improve their writing,” Lindsay said. “Helping students develop stronger writing and reading skills is a critical goal shared by UMKC faculty, and the RooWriter will be a valuable tool to foster more conversations between faculty and students about ways to enhance students’ writing.”