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Technology Tip of the Month

December 1999: Writing Labs

by Deborah Healey

Sometimes a general purpose CALL lab isn't enough, and you want something that focuses on writing. The Tech Tip for this month explores setting up a writing lab -- some of the considerations and some useful links. Writing labs generally focus on one of two basic directions, either teacher-led classes that emphasize writing or drop-in tutorial sessions.

Common features of writing labs

Most writing labs, both teacher-led and tutorial, include the following:

Teacher-led (class) labs

Students in these labs benefit from a teacher and a regular syllabus. This setup encourages collaborative work and peer editing. While classes rarely move in lockstep fashion, more whole-group sequencing is possible. Such labs generally include:

Collaborative writing programs make it easy for teachers and students to read each other's work and annotate it. Shared writing often shows up in columns, so that annotations are kept separate from each other and from the original. The software often makes it easier to see various drafts, as well. Microsoft Word offers some ability to track drafts, but not nearly to the same degree as the commercial collaborative writing programs. Benefits do not come cheaply, however. DIWE starts at between $100 and $125 per station, and Common Space at about $90 per station. Elements of DIWE will run on an individual computer (brainstorming, for example), but Common Space requires a network to operate. Both run on Microsoft NT, Novell, or Macintosh networks. DIWE requires a local area network (LAN). Common Space will run over a local network or over the Internet, so distance education students can also participate.

DIWE offers several pricing options. Check with Daedalus to see if they will honor the current website price of $99 per station (the sale was scheduled to end August 15, 1999.) Email info@daedalus.com, 1-512-459-0637 (voice), or 1-512-452-5206 (fax) when you are ready to order.

Common Space has English "Multi-user" license pricing that discounts the $90 per unit cost when 50 or more units are ordered. Electronic training is available for all international customers. For off-campus use, students may purchase the CommonSpace Student Edition for $30 per copy. Each package includes a CD-ROM, one Getting Started Guide, one User Guide and one quick reference card. There are no annual fees. Upgrades to the latest version can be purchased for $25 per unit. For more information, contact David Bethune, David_Bethune@hmco.com, 617-351-3148.

Tutorial labs

Tutorial labs generally have computers with Internet connections, but do not often have collaborative writing software. They generally do have a range of English language software available that would be recommended by tutors for individual students or that students would select for themselves. Most of the software is for self-study. Most tutorial labs have an online component so students can email writing to be checked or have access to online resources.

On their website at https://www.bgsu.edu/departments/writing-lab/about.html, the Bowling Green State University Writing Lab gives a good summary of what tutors do and do not do.

"Tutors help writers to: understand an assignment, generate ideas, pre-write, develop a thesis, analyze audience, organize and develop ideas, revise earlier drafts, improve proofreading and editing skills, discover their own writing process.

Tutors do not, however, proofread, edit, ghostwrite, or research any writer's work. Each session is a collaborative effort where the writer is in an active dialogue with the tutor as they work together to discover effective writing techniques for the writer."

One of the best-known of the online writing labs is the Purdue Online Writing Lab. It's not just online, though; it also offers drop-in tutoring, writing assistants in classrooms, and a regular computer lab with Windows and Macintosh computers and a variety of software. Information is at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/our-lab/introduction.html.

An interesting EFL writing lab is the online writing lab for Temasek Polytechnic (Singapore) at https://www-eng.tp.ac.sg/tcs/TCS2000/TCS2000.html. The first year starts as with teacher-led courses, and the course in Technical Communication Skills is done entirely via self-study in the second year .


Every lab will vary somewhat in the software due to differences in student needs. What follows are some suggestions for either teacher-led or tutorial labs. Tutorial labs will generally have a greater variety, but will also need to have a way of presenting options to students so they can select appropriate tools. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a sampling.

Some online references

I hope this has given some food for thought. Do feel free to write me with suggestions for other great sites

See Other tech tips

If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu

Last updated 26 June, 2009