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A New Corpus of Student Academic Writing. Susan Conrad Sarah Albers Department of Applied Linguistics Portland State University. Our Objectives for this Presentation. Share information about a resource you may want to use

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a new corpus of student academic writing

A New Corpus of Student Academic Writing

Susan Conrad

Sarah Albers

Department of Applied Linguistics

Portland State University

our objectives for this presentation
Our Objectives for this Presentation
  • Share information about a resource you may want to use
  • Encourage sharing among (American) universities with similar projects
      • Writing from all levels at the university, all departments

Overview of the Presentation

  • Background on the project and Portland State
  • Current state of the corpus
  • Ongoing research & development; future plans
background the viking corpus project
Background: The “Viking Corpus” Project

The beginnings

  • “Corpus Linguistics in Language Teaching” class
  • Web announcement from M.A. student C. Gardes
    • Papers graded B or higher
    • Course, but no assignment info
    • Focused on immediate ESL teaching needs
project background continued
Project background continued…


  • More general use for PSU’s ESL program
    • The IELP: ~350 students. Common goal: enter PSU
    • New interest in innovations in curriculum & materials, corpus linguistics
  • Potential usefulness in other contexts
    • Other ESL programs
    • PSU more generally
      • Diversity: non-traditional students
      • “University Studies” – no university-wide writing program
  • Time to put effort into the design!
project background continued1
Project background continued…

A comment from the “supervising professor”

  • Student initiative
  • Serendipitous convergence of department developments

(ESL program integration, MA projects)

What do we have & what should future students gather?

 Sarah’s project

documentation and further development
Documentation and further development

Goals for my work on the project:

  • Documentation
    • better understand what was already in the corpus
    • read for paper topics and assignment types
  • Evaluate the organization of the corpus
    • By native-speaker/non-native speaker, student level, or department?
    • How is the corpus going to be used?

→ Goal is to learn about student writing in general

→ Organized primarily according to department

  • Guidelines for data collection
design principles
Design principles
  • Quality of Writing
    • Assignments received a grade of ‘B’ or better
  • Diversity
    • Authors – selected up to 3 papers per student for a given department
  • Balanced Representation
    • Targeted collection = one or two departments for data collection and build relationships with students & professors
assignment types
Assignment Types

Art & Literary Analysis ALAN

Empirical Research EMPA

Library Research LIBR

Narrative (creative) NARR

Reading Reaction READ

Report REPT

Personal Opinion POPN

Proposal PROP

Reflection REFL

Self-Reflection SREF

Theoretical Application THEA

These abbreviations are included in the file names, along with department & author’s number/level

current state of the corpus strengths and weaknesses
Current state of the corpus: strengths and weaknesses


  • Good start for Humanities & Social Science
  • Descriptive file names & a framework for documentation
  • Useful for pedagogical purposes: answering ESL teachers’ questions & materials development

Opportunities for improvement

  • Balance: 5 departments consist of 67% of the corpus
  • Need for science writing
  • Other departments with 15 papers or less: Anthropology, International Studies, Public Administration, Social Work, & others
  • Overall, more information about assignment guidelines
value of the corpus for pedagogical purposes
Value of the corpus for pedagogical purposes:

1. Setting Curriculum Priorities

2. Professional development

setting curriculum priorities
Setting Curriculum Priorities

Example questions:

1. How much time should be spent on studying reduced relative clauses (RRCs)?

Ex: …a four year plan comprised of streamlining processes.

  • Do proficient student writers used RRCs, and if so how?

→ quite frequent in professional academic prose

→ corpus gives us info about student writing

2. How does a successful writer of a library research paper utilize transitional phrases?

  • By Level 5 (out of 7), IELP students are practicing library research papers
importance of the corpus for in service teachers
Importance of the corpus for in-service teachers

Combining Skills/Contextualizing Grammar

  • Utilizing materials from this corpus in grammar classes will:
    • Develop grammar competence


    • Prime IELP/ESL students for writing at the next level


  • Tailoring activities according to student interests
    • Teachers can find samples from the disciplines she knows her students are planning to choose as majors
value for pre service teacher training
Value for pre-service teacher training

Culminating experience or practicum option:

  • Pursue corpus-based materials development project
    • Supplementary materials for an IELP class
  • “Symbiotic” mentorship with experienced instructor
    • Instructor (-time, -corpus training)
    • MA: TESOL student (+time, +corpus training, +eager to apply knowledge in practice)


  • Strengthens IELP instruction
  • Engages pre-service teachers in IELP curriculum
  • Readiness and confidence to teach academic English
challenges current work
Challenges & Current Work
  • IELP teacher time & training
    • Collaborative projects for materials development & research

MA student + IELP teacher + AL program faculty

(H. Hahn-Streichen, D. Smith, S. Conrad, ORTESOL support)

    • Data overload / false generalizations
      • Research into corpus design: sample lengths (L. Spitzer)
  • Access and Plagiarism
    • Website including interface for corpus searches (T. Vaslev)
  • Motivating studentsto submit papers
  • Developing relationshipswith faculty in other depts
future plans
Future Plans
  • Funding from PSU for an expanded corpus & research
    • Language characteristics of high and low papers
    • Demographic characteristics and writing characteristics (e.g. Does Gen 1.5 writing exist?)
    • Characteristics of University Studies writing (vs within depts)
    • Comparison of IELP papers & regular class papers
  • Principled corpus for research into...
    • Variation in “similar” assignments across disciplines
    • Text types of PSU writing (comparison with other universities, with BAWE, etc.)
  • Incorporation of corpus analysis with studies of classrooms & students
portland state corpus of student academic writing

Portland StateCorpus of Student Academic Writing

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