Scottish inventor claims new software can instantly mark essays and help students turn Bs into As

ROBIN Donaldson has developed a system which he claims can help improve students' work.
Robin says his software can help students with their essay
A DIGITAL inventor hopes to help students across the world after creating software which marks their essays.

Robin Donaldson struggled with dyslexia as a child. But he became ­fascinated with computers – and has now developed a system which he claims helps to improve students’ work.

He spent days locked in a Las Vegas hotel room with business partner Jamey Heit while the pair developed the idea.

Now Robin has secured a deal with a college linked to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 31-year-old Glasgow University graduate said: “I found reading and writing essays difficult at school and was diagnosed as dyslexic.

“But I was given a laptop to write with and that worked for me.

“I taught myself the basics of programming and it’s something I find quite visual – I think that’s why I’m better than average at it.

“I studied software engineering in Glasgow, then did a Master’s at Cambridge.

“My mate Jamey became an English professor and we thought of putting our skills together.

“We came up with the idea of trying to create a programme that could grade any student essay. I wasn’t sure it was
possible – but we decided to give it a try.

“Eventually, we met up in Las Vegas in 2014 and spent four days in a hotel going through dozens of student essays.

“Jamey told me how he’d grade them – and I thought about how I could turn that into software.

“We worked seven days a week and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding.

“Our first customer is an arts college in North Carolina, who work with major universities such as Harvard and
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The software has been deemed good enough for Harvard and MIT – so we’re really pleased with that.

“We’ve another deal in Asia and we just want to take things on to the next stage. We believe it could be global.”

Robin Donaldson, originally from Bearsden, now lives in California

Robin, originally from Bearsden, near Glasgow, bought a book on programming with his pocket money aged 12 and launched his first website before his teens. He went on to a high-flying academic career which culminated at Stanford University, the elite US college which was the birthplace of Google.

He says his software helps students identify what’s good – and what needs to be improved – about their work.

The computer expert says the invention – named Ecree.com – helps users sharpen their writing skills and boost their grades.

The Rangers fan, who now lives in Berkeley, California, added: “I’m a bit of a geek but this is about trying to provide
better education opportunities and trying to reach all corners of the world.

“It’s as applicable for people learning English in Asia as it is for high school or university students in the UK or America. It’s about using technology to help people learn.

“We don’t change the essay and it’s not an auto-correct. The software just gives observations on aspects of the essay.

“It’s the equivalent to going up from a B to an A – and that’s a big deal.

“We try to mimic how a professor would grade an essay. It grades the work and gives feedback the way a good teacher would.

“We look for measures of quality within the essay and use dozens of indicators to do it. The software looks at things like, ‘Does one paragraph argue one coherent point?’ and can assess this. It works across social science-type subjects such as politics, sociology and economics.

“People are buying it, using it and really liking it. We’ve found students who use it gain a nine per cent increase from their first draft.”

Until recently, Robin was a research scholar at Stanford University and chief technical officer for a US firm.

The PhD graduate, who met Jamey at Glasgow University, says his time at Stanford has helped to inspire him.

He added: “It’s in Silicon Valley and is at the heart of computer science with so
much history.”

Original article 06:00, 24 JUL 2016 BY CRAIG MCDONALD