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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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ug, how can we solve anything if we confuse correlation with causation?

The headline reads: "School Absences Translate to Lower Test Scores, Study Says".

If you ain't in school, ya ain't gonna learn. That's obvious. But this article from Sarah D. Sparks implies causation--that missing school causes the lower test scores. Sparks argues that "The analysis contributes to mounting evidence that absenteeism puts students at greater risk of poor academic achievement and eventually dropping out of high school."

If it's true that absenteeism is a causal factor, the solution is very simple: make sure those kids get to school every day. So let's push for more government grant money to hire a whole army of truancy officers!

However, let's remember:

Any teacher will tell you that missing school is bad, but what really matters is why those kids are missing school. Correlations can be interesting but identifying causation is how you solve problems.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

New Feature Proposal: Grammar marks

Teachers have requested that EssayTagger add support for marking grammar errors. Here's how I'm thinking of doing it.

Update 1/7/13:
The Error Mark feature has been built and is now released! Read about it here!

Teachers would like a streamlined way to note missing commas, spelling errors, and a wide array of other grammar errors. Most of us envision this as an "SP" icon for spelling, perhaps a "~" for a split infinitive, and so on.

Sounds easy, but...
There are a couple of challenges with this. First, there doesn't seem to be a standardized set of symbols or abbreviations for each possible error. Teachers tend to develop their own system and give students a decoder key at the beginning of the semester. It's not really practical for us to support any arbitrary collection of teacher-generated symbols. The flip side isn't any better; I don't want to create my own set of symbols and force all EssayTagger users to adopt them.

The other problem is that the list of possible errors is really long. It would be very difficult to organize and present all those symbols in a user-friendly manner. It wouldn't save you any time if you had to sift through a confusing list of 40+ symbols. Maybe we could help you pare down the list to just the errors that you care about most, but there are still complexities and tradeoffs.

Is it worth it?
But my biggest misgiving is that I question how valuable it is in the first place. How much are we really helping our students when we mark up and correct every grammar error on their papers? Do the students really look at those edits? Do they internalize them or learn from them in any way? Do we hold them accountable to learning from them?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Latest Update: More screen space for the grading app!

I do just about everything for EssayTagger on my MacBook Air. The default screen resolution of 1440x900 makes the grading app look great. There's plenty of space for everything.

But one of the more pressing items on my to-do list was to address the needs of users with more cramped screens. I set my MacBook's resolution down to 1024x768 and figured out how to make the grading app fit a bit more comfortably in that constrained space.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to get your administrators excited about EssayTagger

You (hopefully) want EssayTagger at your school. And we would both rather see schools and districts pay for the licenses.

To that end, we've developed a new slideshow presentation aimed specifically at administrators. It gives a quick overview of how EssayTagger works and then dives deep into what administrators care about most: data and Common Core!

View the slideshow

Share the slideshow with your administrator and encourage them to send any questions my way (all of my contact info is provided at the end of the presentation).

We see a trifecta of benefits for teachers, administrators, and -- of course -- students. If we can get administrators excited and onboard, we can all be happy campers!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pricing changes for 2013

With EssayTagger's growth and evolution it's time to revise our marketing emphasis and pricing model.

Reaching maturity
EssayTagger launched at the 2011 NCTE conference in Chicago as a bare-bones site that was built primarily around our innovative grading app. In the early days we were in "Open Beta" and all accounts were completely free. We then shifted to early adopter discounted pricing while continuing to expand our feature set at a nonstop pace. And because we are a cloud-based service every single feature upgrade we make is instantly available to all users (think how Google Drive constantly evolves vs installed software like Microsoft Word that forces you to buy upgrades).

The site is now a full end-to-end solution from configuring a Common Core-aligned rubric all the way to statistical analysis of your grading results and student-by-student Common Core-aligned progression tracking.

Instructors from nearly 1,000 different schools across 60 countries have graded thousands of essays in EssayTagger.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Latest Update: Rubrics can now be downloaded as Excel files!

We're doing everything we can to encourage more teacher collaboration within teams and across the entire web. One of the main ways we do this is through rubric sharing.

Instructors can already create their own rubrics; share them via email, Twitter, facebook, or hyperlink; print them (Macs can save the printable version to PDF); import any EssayTagger rubric into their own accounts; and edit those rubrics however they please.

Now you can also download any EssayTagger rubric as an Excel CSV file.

The CSV file format is very common and is supported by most spreadsheet programs (Excel, Google Drive spreadsheet, etc.).