Skip to main content

The Crowdmark platform.

Handout

As a rule, teachers are enthusiastic about forming young minds and putting their energies toward bettering the next generation.

As another rule, teachers hate marking, and they hate it with the heat of a thousand blazing exam papers.

James Colliander, a professor at the University of Toronto, found himself staring at about 5,000 pages of papers from a national math exam. Traditionally, a cadre of markers would sit around a large table for marathon grading sessions, assembly line style, each one tackling the answer to one question before passing it on to the next marker.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Colliander hacked together an expedient: He scanned the pages into a software framework and distributed them to markers digitally. He was essentially able to parallelize the marking process.

"The markers didn't all have to be in the same place, so they could move much faster," says Lyssa Neel, COO of Crowdmark, the company that, with Mr. Colliander as CEO, has brought the idea to market.

Crowdmark is an online service that takes the idea of distributed marking and scales it to an institutional level.

Before they give a test, instructors sign up from a Crowdmark account. Once on the site, they'll find templates they can use to build their exams. Each page is marked with a QR code – students only write their names on the front page. After the test has been collected, the papers are sent to Ricoh, which Crowdmark has contracted to do some industrial-scale scanning. (The company says 10,000 pages can be scanned and returned the same day, or by the next day, for an evening exam.)

Once the exams are digitized, the software breaks each exam apart into its constituent questions. The user sees a grid: Each row is a student's exam, and each column is a question, so each square is one answer to one question. The marking load can be shared between as many team members as they like, who can tackle their share of the marking wherever and whenever they like. The software handles the totalling of the final grades, which can then be exported to learning management systems.

Crowdmark says this can shave 50 per cent to 70 per cent off the time of grading, not by reducing the amount of time that markers spend interacting with students' work, but by cutting down the logistical overhead of dealing with large piles of papers.

Even for solo markers, there are upsides: The papers are all graded anonymously, reducing the subtle biases that can creep into any classroom setting. And since markers end up giving the same feedback regularly, the software allows teachers to store and re-use common phrases.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Neel, who holds a doctorate in computer science, was running an IT incubator at Toronto's MaRS Innovation, and she encouraged Mr. Colliander to apply with his idea, later making a substantial seed investment in the firm. Ultimately, she jumped ship and joined the company as COO.

The idea is, in many ways, a modest proposal: It doesn't require the re-engineering of classroom structures, or the upending of traditional pedagogy. Nor does it stray into the disquieting territory of software that is learning to grade subjective and fluid work, such as essays.

Ms. Neel says Crowdmark is targeting a market in which big class sizes at bigger universities – and open online courses that can host thousands of students – create an opportunity for software that can help maximize the time humans spend grading student work.

"We have a way to scale the human element," she says.

Follow us @GlobeSmallBiz and on Pinterest
Join our Small Business LinkedIn group
Add us to your circles
Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading…

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.