Students, faculty are invited to use online grammar tool

Iowa State began a one-year pilot of an online grammar assistance tool this month. All students and faculty can create an account for Grammarly's premium edition via their MyCanvas website or directly at The initiative is supported with $57,000 in student technology fees approved last spring by the Computation Advisory Committee, since renamed CASTLE.

Grammarly is a cloud-based service that uses natural language processing and machine learning to find and correct spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. The premium version includes plagiarism detection and suggests improvements for style, tone and vocabulary choices. It works across multiple platforms including web browsers, Google Docs and Microsoft Word and Outlook (PC only). It also works on mobile phones and tablets.

While any ISU student can use Grammarly premium on their own, assistant professor of English Jim Ranalli views course integration as the best way to motivate students to try the tool and incorporate it into their writing process. As part of the team promoting the Grammarly rollout this winter, Ranalli will be trying to persuade faculty and staff instructors to weave it into assignments this semester. Faculty who want Grammarly premium invitations sent to the students in their classes may contact Ranalli,

Ranalli led an early classroom pilot of Grammarly last year with Miller grant support. The 26 participating faculty from eight departments generally concluded that Grammarly made it easier to read and evaluate students' written work, allowing instructors to focus on higher-level writing issues such as organization, content and demonstration of learning.

"We find Grammarly facilitates an efficient division of labor when it comes to providing feedback on writing," Ranalli said.

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Activate your account

A Grammarly page for faculty has been set up in MyCanvas: Teacher at ISU, under "Modules" and then "External Apps." The page provides information about establishing an account and using Grammarly. Once on Grammarly's signup, faculty will provide name, ISU email address and a password (Okta integration is coming later) to activate their own account. All Iowa Staters must use their ISU email address -- not a personal one -- to successfully open an account. This is how Grammarly knows to admit them.

Students will find similar information in their MyCanvas: Student page under "Modules" and "Other Tools Available to Students."

Due to the funding source (student fees), non-instructional staff can't be included in the university contract.

Does it work?

Ranalli and others will be busy over the next year assessing who's using Grammarly and how they use it. One of the planned studies is a collaboration with the student affairs division's Writing and Media Center to identify best practices for introducing Grammarly to students who seek help at the center. Most students who go there are seeking grammar help, he said.

"There's a real opportunity to introduce Grammarly as way of addressing grammar concerns and making students aware of the value of the Writing and Media Center for higher-level things they also need to be thinking about," he said.

Ranalli also will look into Grammarly's effectiveness in detecting errors in different kinds of writing, for example a freshman essay versus a researcher's grant proposal.

If students and faculty use Grammarly and find value in it, Ranalli said the subscription could be renewed. CASTLE has committed to funding a second year if it's meeting expectations.