Between Frontend and Backend Challenges: Connecting Tool Development with Writing Analytics

Otto Kruse (Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland) and Christian Rapp (Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland)

Since the introduction of the first word processors in the 1980s, writing technology has developed rapidly and absorbed several generations of subsequent innovations such as networks, mobile computers, internet and social media, each of them connected with new challenges for the teaching of writing. Cloud computing recently gave rise to a new generation of writing tools and writing/ learning environments that are scalable, allow for fine-grained tracking of user data and integrate technologies provided by computer- and corpus linguistics. We will shortly look at the significance of writing analytics for the teaching of writing, and then demonstrate from our own work what this means for tool development. It is already a matter of planning and construction to ensure that such data can be safely acquired and evaluated. But for what purpose? Data may provide feedback for the writer, instructor, institution, or for the tool’s developers, or it may be used purely for the purposes of academic research. Before data is collected, issues of data protection and privacy have to be resolved, which is a subject that necessitates different solutions for many countries. Is it permissible for developers to access and read the papers authored by their users? And when data is used for such purposes as single-case evaluation, usability research, or cross-sectional study, which code of academic ethics has to be considered? Legal issues may be secondary for the early stage of tool development but are of vital importance for dissemination studies or when considering the practical implications of commercial application.

This presentation aims to illustrate the connection between frontend and backend development from experiences gained through the development of Thesis Writer (TW), a self-created writing environment supporting writers, supervisors, and institutions of higher education (see We offer a brief look at the frontend functionality as well as a more comprehensive overview on how data is collected and subsequently processed at the backend. Preparations for the dissemination of TW at universities across three countries will be described, and a discussion held on attempts to resolve the issues of data protection and privacy. Furthermore, we will outline solutions for offering evaluative data to the benefit of the users. Even though TW is already live and in use, research and development is ongoing; so rather than reporting on established results, insights will be offered into present-day design and decision processes.