Response from Studiosity to Friends don’t let friends Studiosity (without reading the fine print)

CWCR/RCCR recently published a post, Friends don’t let friends Studiosity (without reading the fine print) (Vol. 4 No. 1 (Fall 2022)).

Professor Judyth Sachs, Academic Advisory Board Member & Chief Academic Officer at Studiosity, contacted the editor with a reply. Here is the content of that reply in the original.

Professor Judyth Sachs
Chief Academic Officer, Studiosity

Response to Holston and Bell (2022)

Students lie at the heart of university life and supporting their success is something we can all agree on. This support can take many forms. What form this takes is often contested, provides the basis for rigorous debate and is part and parcel of the academic zeitgeist. However, these debates need to be accurate, objective and evidence based. It is on these assumptions that, as Chief Academic Officer at Studiosity, I wish to set the record straight about Studiosity as a company, and our commitment to supporting students to be successful in their studies. However, before I do this, I want to make the following observations based on my experience as a senior academic leader and manager at two large research-intensive universities in Australia (University of Sydney as PVC Learning and Teaching and Provost at Macquarie University) where Student support came under my remit.

I accepted this role as Chief Academic Officer because of an alignment with my own values and a strong commitment to student success. In this position I support academic partnerships, ensuring academic integrity, commissioning research with partners on student experience and running Symposia  – where we have academic, academic leaders and professional staff whose responsibility is to support students. Our last Symposia was on Academic Integrity which had over 500 registrations from Australia, NZ, Canada and the UK.

First and foremost, I believe that Writing Centers in Australian, UK and Canadian Universities offer a very important service to students. They are typically managed by professionals who are dedicated to students. They are usually under-resourced and most of their teachers are appointed with time-limited contracts with minimum job security. The incredible enrolment growth (particularly foreign students) and growing budgetary constraints have affected their ability to offer their services adequately.  Many disadvantaged students – those for whom English is a first, second or even third language, students who are first in family and lack the cultural capital to be able to navigate many university processes and procedures are the cases in point. There are also students who have not been taught the requirements of academic writing, either because they are mature returning students or school leavers where this was not part of the curriculum, or they lack confidence in their academic writing. These students often take advantage of the Academic Writing Centres.

The service Studiosity provides to students augments that of Writing Centres. We do not see our services as replacing those of the above centres. Our specialists provide students with support when it is not available out of hours – usually between 5 pm and 8 30 am. Our evidence suggests that many students seek support around midnight, when there is no support provided from a university – and nor should there be.

I wish to make the following general points and then take issue with three specific points.

  • Studiosity shares the common goal/aspiration to support students to be successful.
  • We work in partnership with universities and engage students to provide advice to ensure that the service we provide meets their needs.
  • Our specialists undertake a rigorous recruitment process and come from the top 10% of universities. They are also required to undertake training modules to improve their work with students and to ensure students have a positive experience.
  • We acknowledge that at times when resources are scarce decision makers make decisions based on multiple variables, cost and duplication are two. But for both parties students are at the core of the business and supporting them can take a variety of forms.

It was disappointing to read misleading terms such as ‘ethics washing’ and students as an ‘abandoned carcass’. These are cheap shots and unworthy of hard-working academics, whose goal is to contribute to the literate and practice of academic support.

Specifically, the key issues:

  1. The non-human tutor.Although the article subsequently mentions human involvement, it primarily implies that the work of writing feedback is undertaken via an algorithm. This is incorrect. Student essays are individually read and reviewed by our subject specialists, in every instance.
  2. Google Adwords.There is no advertising either within the Studiosity student experience or on our website. We don’t make any money from Google or any other type of advertising. The reference to Google in our privacy policy specifically relates to ‘remarketing’ whereby Google can and does collect information about visitors to our website when they use Google’s Chrome browser. We don’t have any control over whether visitors opt in or out from Google’s oversight.
  3. Data privacy.Every student that uses Studiosity must explicitly accept our privacy and acceptable use policies, which are fully compliant with Canadian and European/GDPR laws, the latter being amongst the world’s most stringent. We do retain draft essays, not for their own content, but to monitor and enhance the feedback provided by our own subject specialists. We have never nor will we ever on-sell student data.

In my role as Chief Academic Officer I would be more than happy to engage in a respectful conversation with the authors and members of your association. We are interested in academic issues rather than industrial ones but recognise that the two are connected.  The blog seems to admit that assumptions are being made about how Studiosity works. If a conversation is possible, it would help Studiosity understand how to address CWCA’s concerns and for the authors to understand our aspirations. Understanding each other’s business can have multiple benefits and can lead to new insights and understanding about how best to support students. My Canadian colleagues and I would welcome an opportunity to engage in such a conversation.