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EssayTagger is a web-based tool to help teachers grade essays faster.
But it is not an auto-grader.

This blog will cover EssayTagger's latest feature updates as well as musings on
education, policy, innovation, and preserving teachers' sanity.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Accountability and Incentives: A Cautionary Tale, pt1


I understand the rationale behind the push for ever-increasing teacher accountability -- it's natural to want to insure that your kids are getting the quality education they deserve. Teachers can't just sit back and say, "Trust me, I know what I'm doing." Those days are over. Fair enough.

But we teachers need the rest of the country to understand that when we push back against how teacher accountability is being implemented, we are not just scurrying around trying to hide our incompetence or protect our "cushy" jobs.

We can handle the scrutiny. Most of us would be eager to let our students' successes serve as evidence of our effectiveness as educators. I don't think we fear accountability -- if that accountability is implemented properly, if success is defined properly.

It's not about rigging the game in our favor, lowering the bar, or any of that nonsense; it's about making sure that we're judged for the things that really matter, the things that we teachers do that actually improve students' lives.

The American public needs to realize that not all forms of teacher accountability are created equal. Worse, the most popular methods can be misleading or downright detrimental. Even "no-brainer" approaches like rewarding "effective" teachers with bonuses have already ended in failure. Just because greed-maximizing incentives (sort of) work for capitalism doesn't mean they work for education.

However, hearing these arguments and really feeling them are two different things. And somehow teachers have been turned into the enemy -- or at least that's how it feels to us -- to the point where no one seems much interested in listening to the people who have the most expertise on the subject.

But I think the power of satire and absurdity has a chance to get the message across. So, in that vein, I offer you:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Latest Updates: Going global + enhanced security for student info

We are now global! 
Everyone on the planet can now grade essays faster and more efficiently!

Users from anywhere in the world can register on the site and use the free trial to grade a class set of essays (full details on the registration page).

Enhanced security for student information
Part of our to-do list for going global was to make sure that we were doing everything in our power to secure and protect students' personal information. Here are the steps we've taken:

Students' personal information is encrypted in our database using industry-standard best practices to guide our selection of encryption algorithms and encryption strength. If a hacker were to gain access to our records, s/he would only see the encrypted values:

firstName lastName email
BsBzpBQkQIN9s6RwV7fr58G2eY8qn2a6 yNd9sZ056n5xS14Qe5uZd3hefgY3s59i vA8ezh8Vlm3W9WscfkFGQw4C

Each piece of information is individually encrypted in such a way that "cracking the code" for one value does not make it any easier to decrypt the other values.

In fact, EssayTagger's own internal view of the database makes students' information appear just as garbled to us as it would be to an outside hacker.

We have taken these precautions even though it is highly unlikely that our database would be compromised. We are running on Google's computing infrastructure and therefore Google's efforts to safeguard their own computers are our first line of defense. Their computing infrastructure is among the most robust and powerful in the world and any improvement they make to the security of their system automatically protects EssayTagger.com under the same umbrella.

We will never contact a student unless it is an assignment-related notification (e.g. to tell them that their graded essay is available for their review) or if there is a technical issue that requires action on the student's part in order to be resolved.

Note: Instructors can decide whether or not they want the system to collect and store student email addresses. This will allow teachers to remain in compliance if there are any local or national restrictions regarding student contact info.

We will not sell or share students' personal information with any third parties or use students' information for marketing or any purposes outside of what is required to facilitate student-teacher interaction in our system.

Students are not added to any mailing lists.