App developed at USF used at universities nationwide

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A new online learning tool at the University of South Florida is getting international attention and it could change the way English courses are taught.

Anyone who's ever written a term paper knows the drill: type it up, print it out, hand it in, and then get it back with comments from the teacher or professor - and a grade - written in red pen.

The process could become one more on a long list of things only older generations remember, thanks to the My Reviewers app developed by students and professors at USF.

The app's developers intended it to be an interactive tool for students and teachers to turn research papers into interactive learning tools. 

Here's how it works: Students upload their papers to the app, and professors and fellow students can comment from anywhere. Professors can also insert a hyperlink to videos or more information. For example, if they were having a problem with active and passive voice, the professor could add a link to a tutorial. They could even do exercises to try out the concepts.

USF English Professor Joe Moxley partnered with student coders to develop the app because he wanted to understand what causes some students to struggle in writing composition courses.

“The college board has reported that 50-percent of students are coming in not college ready. So some are coming in without strong writing skills,” he said.

The incoming student population is also incredibly diverse, he said, adding some learned English as a second language. Coming up with a tool to help pinpoint their problem areas is essential to student improvement.

Natalie Kass is a young entrepreneur and English masters student who helped develop the digital learning platform.

“So, I have all my peer reviews here, and instructor reviews here. And then I can develop a revision plan for my final draft," she said while demonstrating the app. 

Administrators can also compare student performance semester-to-semester using data from every instructor who teaches a class. They can then look for patterns that may indicate areas where changes in curriculum could help students learn better. 

However, My Reviewers does more than just collect after-the-fact data. It can identify students who aren't doing well early, particularly those who have recurring problems, which can help instructors in real-time.

Nearly 15,000 USF students now use My Reviewers each year.