From the lecture theatre to his garage, New Zealand University Professor Dr Ian Hunter has created an innovative solution to a problem that has long plagued educators: the writing ability of students. His patented educational AI system, Writer's Toolbox, has not only scored highly in New Zealand and Australian schools but has also won the prestigious 'Most Innovative Hi-Tech Creative Technology Solution' at the 2023 NZ Hi-Tech Awards.
Dr. Hunter's concerns about his university students' writing abilities led him to leave the lecture theatre in 2011 and found Writer's Toolbox in his garage. The initiative aimed to help schools solve the writing problem, with Dr Hunter even going from school to school to sell the concept and fund this ambitious project.
Now, Writer's Toolbox employs over 60 staff in Australia and New Zealand, working with around 600 schools across the globe. The system teaches primary and secondary students the principles of writing composition through patented educational AI, analysing aspects like precision, fluency, and coherence and providing instant feedback on how to improve. Unlike generative AI or ChatGPT, Writer's Toolbox reviews work as a teacher would, helping both teachers and students.
"Educational AI is needed more than ever, especially against the backdrop of plummeting literacy levels in New Zealand," says Dr Hunter, emphasising the critical importance of literacy for education, employment, and broader life outcomes. A recent research report revealed that more than a third (35.4%) of 15-year-olds struggle to read and write, a statistic Dr Hunter finds "deeply worrying."
Writer's Toolbox is not just a passive AI that provides answers; it actively reviews students' work and suggests improvements. The success of the system is evident in an Education Review Office report, which showed that NZ schools using Writer's Toolbox achieved writing effect scores double those normally experienced.
But the innovation doesn't stop there. The R & D team at Writer's Toolbox has a two-year innovation pipeline in place. Dr. Hunter explains, "It's about creating a digital world that keeps education exciting and responds exactly to the needs of that individual student."
The company will host the Australasian Literacy Summit in Hamilton next month, aiming to share strategies and interventions to improve literacy outcomes for students across all year groups.
Writer's Toolbox is more than just a technological innovation; it's a tool that's actively addressing a significant educational challenge. By providing personalized feedback and support, it's helping to tackle the literacy problem in New Zealand and beyond, one student at a time. Dr. Hunter's vision and dedication have turned a concern into a solution that's making a real difference in the lives of students and teachers alike.