Abstract Portfolio assessment (PA) is promulgated as a useful tool to promote learning through assessment. While the benefits of PA are well documented, there is a lack of empirical research on how students’ self-regulation can be effectively fostered in writing classrooms, and how the use of PA can develop students’ self-regulated capacities. This multiple case study, which spanned one academic year, explored how teachers can foster self-regulation in elementary students through PA, and the effects of using PA on self-regulation among students. Two teachers and their students from two Primary Six classes in different elementary schools in Hong Kong participated in the study. Data sources included interviews with teachers and students, as well as classroom observations and field notes. The results of the study indicate that portfolios are an empowering activity and contribute to students’ development of self-regulated learning. Implications of the study are discussed. Introduction Portfolio assessment (PA) is promulgated as a useful tool to promote learning through assessment (Hamp-Lyons and Condon 2000). In the EFL/ESL classroom, writing portfolios play an important role because they uniquely place students in the driver’s seat. Rather than having students become passive or unmotivated when faced with the daunting task of writing in their second language (Lee 2011), PA has the capacity to engage students in the writing process, and to spur them on in their development as writers (Parsons and Taylor 2011). While the benefits of PA are well documented, its implementation in the EFL/ESL classroom faces several obstacles. First, sociocultural factors such as teacher workload and a lack of autonomy to develop innovative forms of assessment, as well as the prevalence of product-oriented writing pedagogy, impede the popularization of PA (see Lee ibid.; Mak and Lee 2014). Second, there is insufficient language assessment training that develops and enhances teachers’ skills in, knowledge of, and practice of alternative assessments (Hamp-Lyons 2007). Third, and relatedly, teachers’ lack of assessment literacy hinders the development of student agency in learning, where students require guidance from teachers to become self-regulated learners (Lo 2010). Self-regulation is an intricate process, whereby students set learning goals, and monitor, regulate, and control their cognition to achieve these goals. It has a strong association with students’ learning and academic performance. As such, students actively construct knowledge and skills, and assume greater learner agency in the learning process. Through these self-regulatory processes, students attain higher academic achievement (Pintrich 2000). However, self-regulation does not come easily and calls for teachers to use instructional practices that foster students’ self-regulation. In the PA literature, there is a dearth of empirical research on how writing classrooms can effectively foster students’ self-regulation, and how students perceive the development of their self-regulated capacities through PA (see Lam 2013). To address this research gap, the present study explores how two elementary teachers help students cultivate self-regulation after professional training and support, and examines how using PA enhances self-regulation from the perspective of students. This study adopts the framework proposed by Pintrich (op.cit.), which promotes students’ self-regulation through four cyclical steps: (1) forethought, planning, and activation; (2) monitoring; (3) control; and (4) reaction and reflection. This model was chosen because it includes ‘factors associated with schooling and addresses the complexities of self-regulation outside of laboratory settings’ (Schunk 2005: 87), and is therefore ideal for examining self-regulation in educational contexts. This study addresses the following research questions: How do the elementary teachers foster students’ self-regulation through PA in their writing classrooms? What are the effects of using PA on self-regulation among elementary students? The study The Hong Kong writing classroom In Hong Kong, portfolios are recommended to teachers as a tool to encourage active learning and promote learner independence (CDC 2004). According to Roemer, Schultz, and Durst (1991: 455), a portfolio ‘dovetails neatly with process theories about writing’, as the potential of portfolios in teaching and learning is maximized with the development of learners’ portfolios over time, allowing drafting and revision to take place as students incorporate feedback. Portfolios, however, are underutilized in Hong Kong, and the process approach is not widely practised (Lee op.cit.). Instead, writing is often conducted under timed conditions and is more tested than taught. Moreover, students lack clarity about the learning goals and are not adequately prepared for the writing task. ‘One-shot’ writing is prevalent, where teachers respond to student writing using a product-oriented approach, treating it as a final draft. Self- and peer assessment, where learners assume responsibility for their learning and assessment of their learning processes, are not commonly practised. Assessment, being detached from learning, does not afford students the opportunity to act on the teacher’s feedback, relegating students to a passive role throughout the writing process (Mak and Lee op.cit.). Context and participants Since PA is underused in Hong Kong, it is challenging to locate teachers who are skilled at using it. To gain access to data, convenience sampling was used, where two teachers new to the implementation of PA (and therefore typical of teachers in Hong Kong more generally), Kenneth and Hilary (pseudonyms) from two primary schools, voluntarily participated in the study. Kenneth held a Master’s degree in English language teaching, while Hilary had earned a bachelor’s degree in English. Little attention was placed on PA in their education and training. At the time of the study, Kenneth had three years of teaching experience, whereas Hilary had eight. Their Primary 6 students, totalling 69 in number, were Cantonese-speaking children aged 11 and 12 who had received English instruction for approximately eight to nine years. The students had eight English language lessons every week, of which two were devoted to English writing. They did in-class writing, and were usually given approximately 45 minutes to complete one piece of writing. Their English writing proficiency level, according to the national Territory System Assessment,1 was at the territory’s average. Prior to the study, Kenneth’s school adopted process pedagogy in its writing classes. Teachers administered feedback on content in the first draft, and form-focused feedback on the second draft. Direct comprehensive feedback, where every single error was identified and corrected, was practised in the final draft. Hilary’s school, on the other hand, adopted a traditional product-oriented pedagogy, with only direct comprehensive feedback. Peer assessment was carried out occasionally in both schools. Neither of the teachers had used portfolios in their writing classrooms, but they both had noticed that students lacked motivation and a purpose for writing. As such, they were willing to devote time and effort to transform their assessment practice, and to develop students’ ability to self-regulate their learning in order to become reflective, autonomous writers. This would be done through PA within a process writing approach, as the teachers believed that portfolios could provide ‘footprints’ that document students’ competencies at a particular point in time, and could also ‘act as a trace of students’ progress from one testing occasion to the next’ (Hamp-Lyons and Condon op.cit.: 26). Professional training and support To develop the teachers’ competence and expertise in PA implementation, the first author (a teacher educator) engaged them in a two-day professional development workshop and carried out the teaching of each phase of the PA, as laid out in Figure 1. During the workshop, the teachers developed materials such as writing goals and assessment criteria with guidance from the first author. Understanding the teachers’ existing workload, the first author was sensitive to their needs and provided teachers with sample teaching materials, which could be modified to suit the needs of their students and classrooms. Throughout the academic year, the two teachers communicated periodically with the first author, seeking advice through email exchanges. Their lessons were also observed three times by the first author to hone their practice in PA. figure 1 View largeDownload slide Relationship between PA and the four phases of self-regulation figure 1 View largeDownload slide Relationship between PA and the four phases of self-regulation Data collection and analysis Data included individual interviews with teachers, focus group interviews with students, lesson observations, and documentary analysis of teaching materials and student writing collected over one academic year. As part of a larger study, the present article draws exclusively on the data obtained from teacher and student interviews and classroom observations, as well as documentary analysis of teaching material. Semi-structured interviews with teachers and students, lasting between 40 and 60 minutes, were used as a pre- and post-study instrument. The first author conducted individual interviews with the teachers in English, and focus group interviews in Cantonese with six randomly selected students of high-, mid-, and low-English language proficiency from each class. Each classroom was observed for a double lesson, lasting roughly 80 minutes each, three times during the school year. Field notes were taken. All interviews were audio-recorded while all lesson observations were video-recorded. The interviews in English (with teachers) were transcribed verbatim and the Cantonese interviews (with students) were transcribed and translated into English. Using a qualitative, inductive, and iterative approach, the interview transcripts went through rigorous and systematic reading and coding to allow major themes to emerge, and to identify themes related to the research questions. To strengthen the trustworthiness of the findings, we first analysed the data individually, and then collectively, to reach consensus. The classroom observation data were reviewed to identify episodes that reflected the supportive practices of self-regulation, and field notes were analysed and used to substantiate the findings from the interview data. Research findings Research question 1 Cultivating self-regulation through PA in the writing classroom encompasses Pintrich’s (op.cit.) four cyclical phases of self-regulatory processes, including (1) forethought, planning, and activation; (2) monitoring; (3) control; and (4) reaction and reflection. The first phase involves target goal-setting, activating prior knowledge about the content to be studied, and activating metacognitive knowledge that the students might have about the task, such as knowledge about the text structure and purpose in writing. The second and third phases are intimately intertwined, where learners engage in monitoring processes that illuminate the gap between their progress and desired goals. The learners are then able to exercise metacognitive control and regulate their own thinking by revising and modifying plans based on their progress. In the final phase, learners react to their performance against the task, and reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. The various phases do not necessarily follow a linear process, whereby monitoring, control, and reaction may occur concurrently during the writing process. As such, learner goals are continually modified based on feedback derived from the monitoring, control, and reaction processes. Phase 1 To facilitate the first phase of self-regulatory processes, both teachers provided instructional scaffolding that followed a genre-based approach, comprising three stages: modelling, joint construction, and independent construction (Martin 1999). First, the teachers activated students’ prior knowledge of the structure and language features of the target genre by deconstructing a model text and examining the assessment criteria in the feedback form (see Figure 2). Next, the teachers collaborated with students to produce part of the target text using ideas generated on a mind map (see Figure 3) created in the previous lesson. After that, the students set goals in relation to the task-specific features that corresponded to the assessment criteria introduced earlier (see Figure 4). This informed how they each constructed the first draft of their writing. The teacher promoted self-regulation through explicit instruction and modelling of the target text, familiarizing students with the writing task. Through goal-setting, the teacher supported the development of self-regulated processes by establishing criteria to make students cognisant of what to strive for in their learning. It also helped them set realistic expectations to maximize success in the writing task (see Figure 1, which depicts the relationship between PA and the four phases of self-regulation). figure 2 View largeDownload slide Feedback form* for story writing Note: *each feedback form was designed by the teachers and created according to the genre of the writing figure 2 View largeDownload slide Feedback form* for story writing Note: *each feedback form was designed by the teachers and created according to the genre of the writing figure 3 View largeDownload slide Mind map Note: Figures 3–5 show student work about a writing piece called ‘An unhealthy lifestyle’ figure 3 View largeDownload slide Mind map Note: Figures 3–5 show student work about a writing piece called ‘An unhealthy lifestyle’ figure 4 View largeDownload slide Goal setting and reflection figure 4 View largeDownload slide Goal setting and reflection Hilary outlined how she facilitated the development of students’ self-regulation during this phase of explicit modelling and joint construction: It’s unrealistic to ask students to set goals without providing input. Before asking the students to start their writing, I’d use the feedback form to go over the assessment criteria related to the target genre. For a recount, I’d discuss with students why we need to include the WH-questions, and describe the events in sequence. I’d also go over the language features like the use of past tense with them. After that, I’d show them a model text … I suppose my instruction is crucial. Without it, my students wouldn’t know what constitutes success in a writing piece, and they wouldn’t know how to set their own goals, or what to work towards. Phases 2 to 4 Since the remaining three phases of self-regulatory processes are recursive in nature, they are reported together in this section. After the first draft, the students reviewed and assessed their own writing using the feedback form with assessment criteria. They then performed peer assessment using the same feedback form (see Figure 5 for a sample of student work). Next, teachers collected the students’ first drafts and offered them feedback on content. Corresponding to the assessment criteria laid out in the feedback form, the teachers’ feedback was tailored towards the students’ goals (for example feedback targeted at how well students write an unforgettable ending if that is their aim in the goal-setting sheet in Figure 4). In this way, students are able to develop self-regulatory proficiencies to self-assess their writing against the assessment criteria introduced in the instructional scaffolding stage, and to monitor their progress towards the targeted goals in the feedback received. figure 5 View largeDownload slide Peer assessment figure 5 View largeDownload slide Peer assessment Once students strengthened their writing using feedback from peers and teachers, they submitted their second draft for teacher feedback. The teacher administered focused and coded feedback on the second draft, using specific codes for selected errors. This compelled students to revisit their thinking, reflect upon their existing knowledge, and critically self-correct their errors. Once again, the teachers supported the students’ self-regulation by engaging them in self-assessment of their own errors and self-monitoring of their progress towards their goals. The students then improved their writing by incorporating the form-focused feedback into their final draft for teachers to review. Therefore, throughout the drafting and revision processes, the students constantly exercised monitoring and control over their writing. Upon receiving the final draft, the students filled in the error log to note down the number of errors they had made and to self-monitor their own progress. The students also examined their work, reflected on their writing using a reflection sheet (see Figure 4), and selected the work for inclusion in the portfolio to demonstrate competence. Through reflection, students engaged in critical thinking about their own progress towards their personal goals, and had a clearer direction of where to proceed. This enabled them to adjust goals and strategically plan for the subsequent piece of writing, ultimately spurring them on in their growth as writers. Kenneth described how he fostered students’ development of self-regulatory skills during these three phases: Because I wanted students to monitor their learning throughout the writing process, I found that I had to refer to their goal sheets more when I was providing feedback … I had to think of specific feedback that would help them foster that skill. Before and after each draft, I would also make sure students quickly revisited their goals to help motivate them, rather than letting these goals sit in their portfolio until the selection and documentation phases … As time progressed, students continued to choose bite-sized goals that were realistic and easy to monitor, which translated into notable changes in their drafts with regard to their goals. In sum, the teachers provided students with guidance to develop self-regulatory proficiencies through the four phases of self-regulatory processes that are closely intertwined with PA. To start with, the explicit instruction in Phase 1 serves as a means of scaffolding the learning process, enabling students to have a clear vision of what they should progress towards and to set individualized goals. In the remaining three phases, the students constantly monitored and regulated their actions towards their goals through the feedback provided by their peers and teachers. The information gathered from the monitoring and control phases facilitated students’ self-reflection on their learning, allowing them to set manageable goals in order to challenge themselves in the next piece of writing, and to select writing pieces for inclusion in their portfolios. Research question 2 Increased agency and goal-orientedness First, by establishing an objective through goal-setting, students had a heightened awareness of what to strive for. The goals gave the students a sense of direction and guided their attention to include relevant features in their piece of writing. While writing, the students diverted their attention to the specific features they had set out to achieve, such as using broader and varied vocabulary, or adjectives to describe the characters in their stories. This is reflected in the quotes below from Hilary’s students, translated from Cantonese to English: I challenged myself to use a broader range of vocabulary by integrating the newly learnt vocabulary in my writing as laid down in my goal-setting sheet. (H01) Because of the goal-setting in the initial stage of the writing, I know exactly what I am supposed to strive for. For example, I know specifically that I have to use more adjectives to help the readers know about my characters and make a better story. (H03) Second, the goals also motivated the students to exert effort to attain them. One of Kenneth’s students said: The goals are like giving you a blueprint and direction and you’ll try to achieve your goals. (K06) Since the students set goals determined by their ability and knowledge of themselves as learners, and the goals were self-initiated and self-directed, students exercised greater control over their learning and demonstrated greater agency in the writing process. Enhanced capacity to evaluate and monitor own work From goal-setting and keeping an error log to self- and peer assessment, the students reported that they were constantly self-evaluating and monitoring their progress. To start with, they monitored their progress towards the targeted goals by identifying the discrepancies between their set goals and their writing draft, making adjustments or changes in their writing accordingly. Kenneth’s student commented: So before writing, you put down what you want to achieve and after writing, you take a look to see whether you have done that in your compositions. (K05) Sharing the assessment criteria prior to the writing task also developed students’ capacity to evaluate and monitor their work. With requirements clearly laid out in the assessment criteria, students became cognisant of the criteria, understood the standards they were aiming for, and monitored their progress towards the expected standards. Hilary’s student nicely summarized how she gauges progress in writing: The assessment criteria in the feedback form enables us to have a clearer sense of what a piece of good writing is and we also get to know the standard or expectations of the teachers … We have the assessment criteria in front of us and we check whether everything is there in our writing. (H05) Apart from self-assessment, peer assessment encouraged peer-to-peer comparisons according to expected standards in the feedback form. This allowed students to improve the quality of their writing, make judgements about their peers’ work, and evaluate their own writing at the same time. Hilary’s student reflected as follows: We compare our work with that of our peers, so having peers review our writing can help raise our standard. (H02) Keeping track of errors using an error log, the students became aware of their writing accuracy, and how far they had progressed relative to their self-set goals. Knowing the amount and type of errors they made in their writing, they were motivated to improve their writing accuracy in subsequent pieces. Some of the students said: The error log can keep track of which area you have improved on or got weaker in and you can think about how to make improvements. (K02) I think the error log can help us keep a record of the errors we’ve made and we’ll know how much we’ve improved and which grammar items we still have to work on. (H04) Greater autonomy in handling feedback Due to focused and coded feedback, students believed they had developed into independent learners and enjoyed taking more responsibility in handling feedback. Through the codes offered by their teachers, students revisited their thinking and generated their own strategies to respond to feedback. The following quotes illustrate how the students reduced dependence and reliance on their teachers: I’ve become more autonomous in writing. In the past, I relied on the teacher to tell me what the mistakes are but now the teacher won’t point out our mistakes directly ... He writes ‘t’ and you have to figure out whether there are ‘tense’ mistakes in the whole sentence. (K01) She underlines the mistakes and writes the codes in the margin, so we can train ourselves to look for and self-edit the mistakes by ourselves. (H06) Greater independence in handling feedback is evident in peer assessments. Students do not perceive the teacher as the only person to give feedback and they trust the feedback from their peers. The quotes below show how Kenneth’s students are clear about the purpose behind comments to peers, and also reflect on their ability to provide useful feedback: I think good comments mean that you have to tell the classmates what is good about the piece of writing and what needs improvement and this is what I try to do during peer review. (K06) We can give useful comments to our classmates. For example, I’ll tell them that their writing is good and which part I like best. (K01) Willingness to undergo critical self-reflection Reflection sheets encouraged the students to make critical judgements on their own writing. They would compare the goals set before writing and the reflection written afterwards to find out whether they had achieved the goals they had set. While reflection reinforced the students’ sense of success, it simultaneously helped them acknowledge the areas which called for more attention. One of Kenneth’s students commented as follows: We can compare whether we have fulfilled the goals as we do the reflection. We then know which part we’ve done relatively badly and we can improve on it. (K06) Another student added: After comparing, we know whether we have met our goals. So we’ll try our best to improve next time. (K04) Apart from the reflection sheets, students also performed self-reflection by monitoring their progress and selecting the writing pieces for inclusion in their portfolios that best illustrated their growth as writers. Hilary’s student expounds on how important it is to reflect on their progress and achievement: Every time after writing, I think about whether and which aspect I’ve improved upon and I’ll select these writing pieces to be put in my writing portfolio. (H03) All in all, students exhibit a greater degree of agency and goal-orientedness, as well as an increased responsibility for and greater ownership of their learning, which embody processes of self-regulation (Zimmerman 2008). Implications and conclusion Empowering students as self-regulated learners is one of the fundamental goals in education, and this article has provided evidence of how this can be achieved through PA. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of our research. The study is based on self-reported data from the teachers and students, and draws on a small sample. It is, however, not our intention to generalize the findings, but to gain an in-depth understanding of how teachers support students’ self-regulation, and how the students’ PA experiences enhance self-regulatory skills. The findings of our study suggest that students perceive PA as an effective platform to become self-regulated learners. Moreover, the findings point to the critical role of the teacher in supporting student responsibility and ownership of learning, as the ability to self-regulate requires scaffolding. Therefore, the teacher must design pedagogical practices at each stage of PA to foster students’ development of self-regulatory skills. As such, explicit guidance and modelling are required. For instance, demystifying assessment criteria enhances students’ understanding of what is required in a writing task, which informs the setting of learning goals. The teachers’ feedback, tailored towards students’ goals, empowers the students and enhances their ability to closely monitor their progress towards these goals. However, teachers like those in Hong Kong, where PA is not popular, may lack awareness and knowledge in the use of PA, as well as skills that promote self-regulation, due to inadequate training during pre-service preparation programmes (see Hamp-Lyons op.cit.; Perry, Hutchinson, and Thauberger 2008). Enhancing knowledge in the practical know-how of PA that takes into account the teaching contexts and self-regulation development of young learners therefore demands the professional development of teachers. In this regard, with the knowledge and skills needed to implement PA, as well as the expertise to scaffold students’ self-regulatory processes at different points of PA, teachers will be better equipped to empower students to take more responsibility for learning, and to become more actively engaged in their development as writers. Pauline Mak is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language Education at the Education University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include language assessment, second language writing, and second language teacher education. Her publications have appeared in The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, Language Teaching Research, English Teaching: Practice and Critique, as well as System. Kevin M. Wong is a PhD candidate at New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. His research interests include second language writing, second language vocabulary learning, and comparative education. His publications have appeared in The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher and Reconsidering Development. References CDC (Curriculum Development Council). 2004. English Language Education Key Learning Area: English Language Curriculum Guide (Primary 1–6) . Hong Kong: Hong Kong Government Printer. Education Commission. 2000. Learning for Life, Learning Through Life: Reform Proposals for Education System in Hong Kong . Hong Kong: Hong Kong Government Printer. Hamp-Lyons L. 2007. ‘ The impact of testing practices on teaching: ideologies and alternatives’ in J. Cummins and C. Davison (eds.). International Handbook of English Language Teaching . Norwell, MA: Springer. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hamp-Lyons L. and Condon W.. 2000. Assessing the Portfolio: Principles for Practice, Theory, and Research . Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press. Lam R. 2013. ‘ Two portfolio systems: EFL students’ perceptions of writing ability, text improvement, and feedback’. Assessing Writing 18/ 2: 132– 53. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lee I. 2011. ‘ Bringing innovation to EFL writing through a focus on assessment for learning’. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching 5/ 1: 19– 33. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lo Y. F. 2010. ‘ Implementing reflective portfolios for promoting autonomous learning among EFL college students in Taiwan’. Language Teaching Research 14/ 1: 77– 95. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Mak P. and Lee I.. 2014. ‘ Implementing assessment for learning in L2 writing: an activity theory perspective’. System 47: 73– 87. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Martin J. R. 1999. ‘ Mentoring semogenesis: “genre-based” literacy pedagogy’ in F. Christie (ed.). Pedagogy and the Shaping of Consciousness: Linguistic and Social Processes . London: Cassell. Parsons J. and Taylor I.. 2011. ‘ Improving student engagement’. Current Issues in Education 14/ 1: 4– 32. Perry N. E. Hutchinson L. Thauberger C.. 2008. ‘ Talking about teaching self-regulated learning: scaffolding student teachers’ development and use of practices that promote self-regulated learning’. International Journal of Educational Research 47: 97– 108. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Pintrich P. R. 2000. ‘ The role of goal orientation in self-regulated learning’ in M. Boekaerts P. R. Pintrich M. Zeidner (eds.). Handbook of Self-regulation . San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Roemer M. Schultz L. Durst R. K.. 1991. ‘ Portfolios and the process of change’. College Composition and Communication 42/ 4: 455– 69. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Schunk D. H. 2005. ‘Self-regulated learning: the educational legacy of Paul R. Pintrich’ . Educational Psychologist 40/ 2: 85– 94. Zimmerman B. J. 2008. ‘ Investigating self-regulation and motivation: historical background, methodological developments, and future prospects’. American Educational Research Journal 45/ 1: 166– 83. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Note Footnotes 1 TSA aims to measure students’ attainment of fundamental skills set out in the curriculum, enabling the government to monitor the effectiveness of their policies and provide focused support to schools in need (Education Commission 2000). © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
ELT Journal – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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