Software designed by VCU professor assists K-12 students with their writing

New software designed by a VCU School of Education professor assists K-12 students with their wri...
New software designed by a VCU School of Education professor assists K-12 students with their writing. The software, called RoboCogger, lets students set writing goals, track their progress and work through confidence problems. (Courtesy photo)

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Innovation Gateway, in partnership with the VCU School of Education, is offering a new online software system designed to improve writing for K-12 students. The software offers features for goal setting, technical mastery and overcoming confidence problems.

When students log in, they are prompted to set writing goals, track progress and share what might be standing in their way. The system — called RoboCogger — is designed to help students work through barriers.

Current educational technology for composition focuses on helping students organize and edit their writing projects. While helpful in creating general tasks and milestones for an assignment, composition often involves mental roadblocks and self-confidence issues around the worthiness of the subject matter, punctuation and scores of other factors.

Focusing on the role of metacognition, or the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought process, Sharon Zumbrunn, Ph.D., an educational psychologist and associate professor in the Foundations of Education department in the VCU School of Education, created RoboCogger. Zumbrunn was seeking a way to motivate students by helping them express how they were thinking and feeling about getting a project started and finished.

The software accomplishes two goals: It enables students to improve their writing and it advances data collection toward the study of metacognition, motivation and performance in young writers.

“Metacognition and motivation are critical factors of student writing success,” Zumbrunn said. “To improve the metacognitive processes that K-12 students use while writing, we must understand the ways in which metacognition and motivation change over time. Then we can use real student data to develop instructional practices that will increase student metacognition and motivation. RoboCogger allows us to measure the growth of student writing metacognition and motivation, improve upon them, and in turn help students increase their performances in writing.”

RoboCogger is a free resource available to primary and secondary school-age youth. To use the tool, students choose specific writing goals to pursue and monitor their progress on projects. Students also use RoboCogger to record how they feel about their writing, earn badges for making progress toward their goals, and express a plan for improvement. Access for teachers and parents enables coaching, encouragement and monitoring of students’ self-perceptions and improvement. 

“It’s important that the software not only aid skills development and achievement, but that the interfaces and graphics be user friendly to the student,” said Brent Fagg, licensing associate at VCU Innovation Gateway. “Dr. Zumbrunn and her team created software that is accessible from any device, connects to commonly used cloud storage like Google Drive, and includes commonly used features found in document creation software like Microsoft Word. This creates instant familiarity and comfort for students. It is intuitive, so that the student just logs in, enters simple information and dives into their writing.”

In addition to the educational benefits of RoboCogger, researchers can use data across classrooms, schools and beyond to understand what variables affect student academic outcomes.

“RoboCogger will ultimately allow our team to conduct research on student writing self-efficacy, attitudes and self-regulation,” Zumbrunn said. “The results of our research can influence how students are taught to write across curricular domains, from English essays to science reports.”

Students, parents and teachers may access the software at https://robocogger.com/.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 30,000 students in 233 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-two of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and MCV Physicians. The clinical enterprise includes a collaboration with Sheltering Arms Institute for physical rehabilitation services. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.