Microsoft’s new “Rewrite” feature: A challenge to academic integrity?

April 20, 2020

Microsoft has just announced a new feature in Word: “Rewrite”. Microsoft shared details of the feature in this blog post last Friday.  The feature is designed to provide “sentence-level suggestions” to help users improve their writing. Microsoft reports that, “This feature is powered by cutting-edge, neural-network, machine learning models, which are trained on millions of sentences.” Zhang Li of Microsoft writes that the new feature:

Improves fluency: These suggestions aim to improve the flow of the wording, including mechanics like grammar and spelling.

Concise phrasing: The goal of these suggestions is to express an idea clearly, without extra words.
Paraphrased sentence: These suggestions offer synonyms for alternative wording.

Improves readability: The goal of these suggestions is to make the writing easier to read for people with different reading abilities. In general, suggestions will include shorter, simpler wording.”

Reading through the blog post comments, users are anticipating this will replace services such as Grammarly. People in the tech world are already calling it a “game changer”.

From an academic integrity perspective, it certainly could change the game. Drastically. Scholars such as Ann Rogerson and Grace McCarthy started publishing articles about the impact of paraphrasing software a few years ago. Their article “Using Internet based paraphrasing tools: Original work, patchwriting or facilitated plagiarism” prompts us to consider how paraphrasing software impacts our notion of writing, plagiarism and “originality”.

Microsoft reports that the new feature is currently only available in English and requires a subscription to Microsoft Office 365.

My prediction is that this new feature will change writing as much as spell check has, but in ways that are infinitely more complex. Spell check offers suggestions on individual words. Grammar check highlights possible grammar errors. A feature designed to re-write entire sentences has the potential to shift writing in significant new ways.

This may challenge our notions of “original writing” in ways we cannot yet predict. Educators and administrators will have to figure out how, if at all, this will impact our understanding of plagiarism, authorship and originality. Only time will if assisted and augmented writing will become the new normal.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada. Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary.


Lessons learned from 2 Million blog views

June 5, 2018

8 years.

614 posts.

5126 followers

2,014,851 views.

According to the blog stats, I’ve recently topped two million all-time blog views, with over 1.2 million visitors (some of whom have viewed more than one post, obviously):

All time views - posts

Here are some things I’ve learned about blogging as a result of this experience:

Keep on blogging

I know so many people who have started blogs, only to abandon them because they got too busy, got frustrated when they didn’t get a massive following instantly or just got bored.

Here’s a high-level graph that shows a steady increase in blog views and visitors over the years:

Year-over-year.jpg

Of course, the stats for 2018 are lower because year isn’t half over yet. But if you look at 2010 through 2017, you can see that the number of individual views, as well as the number of visitors, has increased steadily over time.

The graph below breaks it down a bit more. It shows how many views my blog has had over the months and years since I started it in February, 2010. Darker colours represent more views.

All time views - Months and years.jpg

In 2018, my monthly average has been about 39.9 thousand views per month, from January through May. (Given that I’m writing this post in early June, 2018, the numbers for this month don’t look very impressive, but that block will be dark blue by the end of the month.)

The number of views has increased consistently over time. The average number of views per month in 2010 was under 1400. What I had as a monthly average number of views in my first year of blogging is now almost my daily average!

When I tell people that my blog now gets over 1000 views per day, they look at me in disbelief, but here are the stats:

Average per day.jpg

Again, the numbers for June 2018 look low because that’s a monthly total and we’re still at the beginning of the month and that number is the average for the entire month. That number will increase throughout the month.

Look at all the light grey in the first two years of my blog. The real increases started to show in year 3 (2012). If I had given up blogging, I would never have seen those increases. My lesson learned here is: Keep on blogging, even when you think no one is reading. More readers will stop by as your blog gets populated with content.

Your progress is relative

There are some superstar bloggers out there who get millions of views every week. Some bloggers make money from their blogs, and others even blog for a living. But that was never my intention. My goal with my blog has been consistent: to share and archive content, document my own professional and learning experiences and offer tips to students and educators. The number of views and visitors is relative to the industry you work in, your purpose for blogging and how much content you share.

Sometimes you don’t know the reason for the stats

My best day for blog views was April 7, 2014:

All time views - posts

What happened that day? Nothing special, as far as I can tell. I didn’t even post that day. It was a complete fluke. I have no idea why that day in 2014 was my all-time daily maximum for blog views.

My learning from this is to not get too hung up on trying to achieve every day. Progress happens over time. Blips and flukes happen, too. The important thing is to not give up and stick with it.

Try different things

I have tried all kinds of different things over the years. I’ve written features about educators who inspired me (like this post about Deaf educator, Brent Novodvorski, for example). In 2012, I did a weekly series where I posted my favourite resources of the week. I have also used my blog as a space to archive material that I wanted to share online with readers, like this APA Checklist for Term Papers.

I have tried all kinds of different things over the years. My learning from this is that experimenting helped me to figure out what works. It also helped me to figure out what kind of blogger I want to be.

Develop your blogging identity

I have worked as an educator since 1994. It’s no secret that I love teaching! I love interacting with students, whether they are in a classroom or online. While I may have been experimental with my posts at times, I’ve been consistent that my blog has always been focused on learning in one way or another. I don’t post recipes or tips to improve your health or fitness. I post about education. My followers have come to expect posts about learning, teaching, leadership or a related topic.

My learning from this is to develop an identity as a blogger. I have grown and developed as both an educator and a blogger since I started my blog. I engage in regular reflection about what I have learned and what I still want to learn. For me, my professional growth and my development as a blogger have gone hand-in-hand over the past eight years.

Followers come from different places

Apparently, my blog has over 5000 followers:

Followers.jpg

Some folks follow along on WordPress, others get an e-mail every time a post is published and still others follow along on social media. WordPress doesn’t give me much information about who these followers are, but all I can say is, “Thank you!” I appreciate that you have read, liked and commented (or even just lurked) over the years. It makes me feel that my blog with worthwhile to you. What better reward could there be?

Approach comments with caution

Regular followers will know that I shut down the comments section on my blog a few years ago. For a long time, I was really excited to get comments on my blog. But then, things took a dark turn once the blog started to really gain views. The nature of some of the comments sometimes became rude, aggressive or abusive.

I expect that anyone who has spent a lot of time blogging has encountered something similar. I understand there are different thoughts on how to approach this. Some people believe that there’s no such thing as bad publicity and the more flaming comments, the better. Me, not so much. Ultimately, I decided to shut down the comments function. I still really appreciate it when people hit the “Like” button at the end of a post, but I’m not sure I’ll ever re-open the comments again.

Your blog can be an incubator for ideas

One highlight about developing my identity as a blogger and as a professional is that in 2010, the first year of my blog I wrote a post called, “Are your students plagiarizing? Here’s how you find out”. I wrote a few other posts about plagiarism over the next year. Several years later, academic integrity has developed into a major research area for me. In 2017, I published my first peer-reviewed research article on plagiarism.

My learning from this is that your blog can be a place where your ideas germinate and incubate. I think those early posts in plagiarism in 2010 planted a seed that grew over the years.

People sometimes steal your content

I am sorry to say that some of my best content has been replicated on other people’s blogs or sites without attribution to me. Of course this makes me sad and angry. I sometimes wonder if that experience was part of the reason my interest in plagiarism as a research interest developed? Not sure.

I have learned the hard way that there are some people who feel entitled to lift whatever they want off the Internet and claim it as their own.

At one point, I was so upset this by this, I took a long hiatus from blogging. I almost abandoned my blog altogether. Instead, I learned a few tips and tricks. I’ll share these in a future post. (Wink, wink!)

My advice for bloggers

My key piece of advice for bloggers is: Stick with it. Your blog is an expression of you and your ideas over time. Share whatever you want. Some people will love it and others won’t. That’s OK.

If people leave you hurtful comments, turn off the comments. Your blog is about you and those who appreciate the effort you put into it. Experiment. Try different things. No blog is perfect, so don’t aim for perfection. Aim to be yourself and share whatever inspires you. Over time, I bet you’ll be surprised to see how you grow as a result.

Blog on, my friends!

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


What kind of sources to include in your literature review

February 27, 2018

Graduate students who are unfamiliar with what is expected of them in terms of higher-level research writing can easily get overwhelmed when it comes to their literature review. A literature review can form part of a larger project, such as a chapter in a thesis or dissertation, and it can also be a standalone project. Regardless of whether it is part of a project or a standalone work, we (your professors) expect certain kinds of sources.

We learned what kinds of sources to include in literature reviews when we were students, but we are not always so good at articulating what those expectations are. The result can be frustration for both students and professors. In this post, I have curated tips and information that I have been sharing with graduate students over the past several years.

These tips are intended to be a guideline, not a prescription. They are based on my experience and include a healthy dose of my own opinion. For example, I am adamant that students should avoid citing Wikipedia in their research writing. I am also unapologetically opposed to quotation websites where students have been known to cut and paste quotations from great thinkers such as Aristotle or Plato. In my view, quotations for research writing ought to come from original works (or in a pinch, a translation of an ancient text).

Your professors or research supervisors will have their own ideas about what kind of sources to include in your literature review, so be sure to consult with them. Here’s what I tell my students:

Most respected sources

Books, peer-reviewed scholarly or scientific journals from reputable publishers. Avoid predatory journals. At least 80% of the total number of sources in your literature review should be sources from this category.

Sources that are OK to use in moderation

Credible edited journals that may not be peer-reviewed, but are highly respected in a professional field; edited conference proceedings; papers from well-respected research institutes or think tanks. Usually, not more than 20% of your sources should come from this category.

Sources that should be used sparingly

Materials from highly reputable news agencies such as the BBC or the Washington Post or highly respected websites, such as the Mayo Clinic. It is not that these sources are not credible, but that you want your research literature review to be strongly focused on research materials. For that reason, I recommend that not more than 5% of sources come from this category.

Sources to avoid

I mentioned two of the big ones above: Wikipedia and online quotation sites. Also avoid predatory journals and any sites (including popular media) that is less reputable.

Here’s an infographic to help you make wise choices about what kind of material to include in your literature review.

Hierarchy of Sources for Educational Research (1)

If your topic has limited sources available in the research, find and analyze what you can, but avoid “padding” your literature review with non-scholarly sources.

When you are learning how to write a literature review, it can be tricky to figure out what kinds of sources to include. Remember, you want to focus on producing a review that is evidence-informed and research-based. The quantity of sources you consult may be important, but quality is definitely important.

Talk with your supervisor about their expectations and get guidance as you go along. The more you work with scholarly or scientific sources, the better you will get at writing literature reviews.

Here’s a longer essay I wrote on this topic if you are interested in reading more:

Eaton, S. E. (2018). Educational Research Literature Reviews: Understanding the Hierarchy of Sources. Calgary: University of Calgary. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1880/106406

Related posts:

How many sources do you need in a literature review?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

5 Websites to avoid referencing in your research papers  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1IA

What’s the difference between a manuscript and an article? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1SV

How to provide peer review feedback http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qH

Template for a 10-page graduate research paper in social sciences http://wp.me/pNAh3-1s2

How to narrow down your research topic http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Xf

Dear students, It is not O.K. to cite Wikipedia as a source for scholarly articles. Sincerely, your prof. http://wp.me/pNAh3-1qx

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


Understanding Language Register

January 2, 2018

A few years ago I wrote a post on language register. It has become one of the most popular and often viewed posts on my blog. It is a long and fairly involved post, so for those who like their information in bite-sized pieces, here is a quick synopsis for you in the form of an infographic:

Language ReGISTER

It is important to understand the differences between registers so you can use language that is appropriate for a particular situation. If your register is too high, you may come across as being snobby, pretentious or arrogant. If your register is too low, you can come across as being inappropriately informal or too friendly.

It is not only English language learners who need to understand the difference between registers, but native speakers do too. One of the things I have observed in my work as a professor is that students sometimes write in a register that is too casual. Sometimes students do this because they do not want to come across as “stuffy” or pretentious. But casual writing in academic and professional papers can backfire. Writing that is overly casual is often not considered professional or terribly credible by the reader. It is important for students, professionals, scientists and academics to know the formal register for writing papers, theses and reports.

Here’s a free .pdf of this infographic that you can use for your own research or teaching purposes: Language Register (.pdf).

Check out these related posts:

Teaching formal and informal language register to native speakers of English http://wp.me/pNAh3-jV

Language Register and Why It Matters (Or: Why You Can’t Write An Academic Paper in Gangsta Slang) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1pr

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Reading aloud as a strategy to improve your writing

December 1, 2017

iStock-woman at laptopOne strategy to improve the quality of your writing is to read it aloud. I’ve been doing this for years.

According to the Writing Center at University of California at Chapel Hill, reading out loud means your brain gets information in a different way. You can literally hear your errors! You can find awkward constructions or sentences that are too long, for example. You can also find words that are repeated or just do not sound right.

When I read aloud I will often print out a copy of my work first. That allows me to make quick edits and notes on the page as I go. If something sounds off, I pause, make a note on my paper, then carry on reading the work aloud.

Sometimes when I recommend this strategy to my students, they tell me they feel silly reading their own work out loud. They don’t want others in their work place or household to think they are being pretentious or too eccentric. If this is the case, go find a quiet place where you can be alone.

Another important factor is to give yourself enough time to read aloud, especially if your paper is long. You may find that you prefer to read one section at a time, taking a break in between. It can also be helpful to have a glass of water nearby.

I recommend to each of you that as you revise your term paper, thesis, report or whatever you are writing at the moment that read your own work out loud (just like I did with this blog post). You’ll be surprised how much better the final product is.

References

The Writing Center at University of California at Chapel Hill. (n.d.). Reading aloud.   Retrieved from https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/

Writing Center at John Carroll University. (n.d.). Why We Ask to Read The Paper Aloud.   Retrieved from https://jcuwritingcenter.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/why-we-ask-to-read-the-paper-aloud/

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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