ChatGPT caused a stir on its release in that it seemed to have the ability to write meaningful content quickly — and much of it was useful, although not all. What many seemed to miss is there are many AI-enabled supports for people who have to create content, check the writing of others, or apply for grants and scholarships. ChatGPT is just the latest.
Such tools were first developed between 1984 and 1994, and have matured since. A recent 2022 review suggests there are at least 25 such systems worthy of exploration and that may be of value to faculty, instructors and instructional designers tasked with creating content.
All have a degree of efficacy. They produce some meaningful materials. Some do so quickly and with references. But caution is needed with all. From time to time, they produce false information. A recent paper reports this:
[GPT-3 – the precursor to ChatGPT] references “Dunn, R., & Dunn, K. (1997). Learning styles: Research and practice. Journal of Research in Education, 7(2), 139–151.” There is a journal named Research in Education, but no issue 7(2) in 1997. Dunn & Dunn did publish research on learning styles, but not in that journal.
There are also problematic offerings from these tools – writing that looks competent but can be riddled with flaws.
In the end, these tools should be seen more as “partner” contributions that aren’t intended to replace the person responsible for authorship. At best, they can accelerate writing, suggest new lines of thought or prompt further work. At worst, they can be distractions or produce material that is either wrong or misleading.
We developed a summary of the major tools that colleagues use in course creation, to create social media or blog posts or to curate content. This is not a complete list — there are more than 100 such tools and services — but it covers those worth exploring.
The following seven specific tools support the work of faculty, instructors, students, researchers as well as those who create text for marketing programs and courses. (Contact North | Contact Nord provides this summary for information only. It neither endorses nor recommends any of these tools.)
1. Text mining tools
These are software systems that permit the automated process of transforming unstructured text into easy-to-understand, meaningful information. They can analyze all types of text, from survey responses and emails to tweets and product reviews, helping businesses gain insights and make data-based decisions.
- RapidMiner – Offers a wide range of text mining capabilities, including text extraction, natural language processing (NLP) and text classification. RapidMiner also offers several machine learning algorithms to help you better understand your text data.
- MeaningCloud – Offers sentiment analysis, text classification, topic extraction, deep categorization and more.
- Voyant – An easy-to-use and free text analysis tool. Upload text and Voyant automatically determines word frequencies and co-locates and displays them graphically.
- Alteryx – Offers a wide range of text mining algorithms, including NLP, text classification and entity extraction. Alteryx offers several visualization options to help you better understand available text data.
2. Automated grammar and punctuation checkers
- Grammarly – Embeds in Microsoft Office and checks as you write for grammar, spelling and “sense,” suggesting alternative formulations. Also enables plagiarism checking (premium edition only). Premium account start at US$11.66/month.
- ProWriting Aid – Integrates with Microsoft Office and all major web browsers. Comprehensive spelling and grammar checker. It also suggests style improvements and alternative words based on its understanding of what you are writing. Lifetime licence is US$399 or $79/year for a premium account.
- White Smoke – An all-in-one English writing tool that provides grammar and spelling checks and improves the style tone, and clarity of writing. It consists of a dictionary and Thesaurus and supports more than 50 languages. Plagiarism checking is available and an effective proofreading tool for US$11.50/month.
- Hemmingway App – A largely free grammar and sense checker that focuses on the readability of writing and the use of adverbs, passive voice and overly complex phrases. It rephrases sentences and paragraphs. For some advanced functionality, users pay US$19.99 one time.
3. Sentiment analysis tools
These tools help writers and instructors understand the emotional impact of their work to better understand what students and colleagues are feeling and thinking. They include:
- Cognigy.AI – Used commercially to understand how customers feel and think about an experience (e.g., in retail, travel and hospitality), some are using it to understand how students feel about college and university services or specific programs or courses. Could be especially helpful in student recruitment and marketing.
- Lexalytics – Mines text to better understand sentiment and the way sentiment indicates intention. Can sort a range of documents from a variety of different people into “sentiment groups” or likeminded individuals.
4. Content curation tools
The content curation process consists of finding, tagging, rating, commenting, updating and contextualizing content. Or as this infographic shows, curation means compiling relevant materials into one source you can share with others.
For research, teaching and learning:
- Diigo – Save and tag resources, add notes and annotations and then share with others. The “outliner” function enables the library to be organized and structured in ways that are appropriate for the task at hand (e.g., by lesson, by topic, by issue). Also permits the use of “sticky notes.” Pricing is US$40/year.
- Milanote – This app enables curation and sharing of resources found on the web and presents them in a structured and visual way with a “board” for each topic. Some design tools make the creation and sharing of boards easy. Pricing is US$9.99/person per month or US$49/team per month.
- Scrible – A cloud-based system for creating a personal library of resources such as weblinks, uploaded materials, web bookmarks and other resources (videos, images, etc.). Enables team sharing and commentary on items in the library. There are both free and premium versions (US$119/year).
For personal use:
- Flipboard – Finds and shares content in categories that are either picked from a list or created by the user. Enables users to create their own collection and share it with others (research team members, colleagues across the institution or around the world, and students). Users can add their own content and share it in their “magazine” or “exchange” space.
- Pinterest – An image and social media sharing service. Users “pin” material available online to web spaces they create, which can be seen and shared by others. Since 2021, users can also create and share live-stream videos.
- Storyful –This social media and text content aggregator seeks to verify content through automated fact-checking and pattern recognition (e.g., recognizing patterns that suggest that an automated bot is planting social media statements). Used extensively by news and broadcast media (it is owned by News Corp), it analyzes the risks of sharing a piece of information from a reputational point of view. Useful for college and university marketing staff.
5. Plagiarism and originality checkers
- Copyscape – A comprehensive analytic tool that searches any kind of document (PDF, Word) up to 10,000 pages using a batch analytic function. Costs US $0.03 per 200 words and $0.01 for each additional 100 words.
- Turnitin – An Internet-based anti-plagiarism detection software that also promotes quality academic writing within learning institutions. This allows students to develop quality writing skills as it facilitates rich, significant feedback on their submitted work using a product within Turnitin called “Draft Coach.” The system provides assessment of originality, similarity with other material available online and feedback on the writing. It also gives instructors insights about not only an individual student’s work, but the work submitted by a class of students. It can also grade papers if the instructor provides appropriate rubrics.
Speech-to-text can be useful for students with exceptionalities or those whose primary language is different from the language of instruction. This is a rapidly growing technology, especially with translation engines becoming much more accurate (although improvements are still needed). Some significant uses in research (automated transcription of interviews or focus groups) and an ability to see speech turned to text during a presentation are two simple examples.
- Otter.ai – Instant transcription, including identification of different speakers throughout the meeting. Integrates with Zoom and other video-meeting software. The basic Otter service is free and premium services cost US$8.33/month. There is also a team version for US$12.50/user/month.
- SpeechText.AI – Designed for more technical and scientific transcriptions, this web-based software can follow technical terms and ideas through the choice of a domain for the transcription (e.g., medical, physics, IT). Pricing starts from US$10/180 minutes and the standard service is US$49 for 990 transcription minutes.
Text-to-speech can be useful for creating presentations with voiceovers, such as presentations to be viewed before or after a class or for an audio lesson. Voices can be varied, adjusted for tone and inflection, and can be available in several languages. The more recent versions of these resources have overcome the problem of voices sounding robotic. Inflection and tone have improved. These two are in high demand:
- Speechelo – 30 voice choices, tone adjustment and 23 languages. Can be directly integrated with many of the major video production and editing suites. Currently available for C$28.35 for a 10-year licence.
- Revoicer – 80 voice choices can be adjusted for tone and emotion (e.g., friendly, sad, cheerful). Works in 40 languages (including Canadian French and English) and is web-based. Compatible with all major video editing and creation software. Current costs are US$27/month for 600,000 characters a month.
In addition to seven tools outlined above, there are many commonly used AI writing tools, including:
There are many other writing tools that are AI-enabled. iAWriter, Scrivener, Final Draft (best for screenwriting) and Ulysees are all “distraction-free” writing tools that use a prompt to improve writing and employ what is known as “markdown” language. Scrivener also enables research notes and referencing.
AI-enabled support for content creation and text, speech and video is a fast-growing focus for many technology companies. We can expect more breakthrough developments in the coming years. Faculty, instructors, students, and researchers may find these tools helpful, however, it is important to exercise caution and verify the accuracy of their output. Ultimately, the use of these tools requires a careful balance between their benefits and limitations.