Discovery-based learning software to improve English writing skills

Oscar Chan and Reggie Kwan
Caritas Francis Hsu College
Hong Kong SAR, China
Philip Tsang
The Open University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

This paper reports on a qualitative study of a software tool -- developed by Professor John Milton from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology -- which aims to improve non-native learners' English writing ability. After the software has been introduced, the students are required to use it to proofread and correct mistakes in essays they have written with the assistance of a discovery-based learning device.

The idea behind discovery-based learning is that learners are more likely to remember concepts they have discovered on their own and be encouraged to continue learning independently. However, weak English learners may have difficulty in identifying their writing problems, and so this kind of discovery-based learning may not improve their writing abilities and may also have an adverse effect on their attitudes to learning English.

In this first stage, the study concentrates on students' initial perceptions of the software and this will be followed by a longitudinal study which will attempt to measure changes in students' level of confidence in writing in English.