University of Toronto startup Crowdmark has developed an online grading and analytics platform that speeds up marking and allows instructors to provide students with more detailed feedback.
In 2011, University of Toronto math professor James Colliander took on a tough job: grading 5,000 exams for the Canadian Open Mathematics Challenge—a total of 70,000 pages of complex problems. He coordinated teams of volunteers who split up the questions and traded exam booklets back and forth. It took many hours of work to get through the giant pile.
Once the exams were marked and the paper cuts had healed, Colliander started thinking—there had to be an easier way. He teamed up with a graduate student, Martin Muñoz, and they got to work. Within a year, they had a company called Crowdmark, and a prototype for a software solution. At the following year’s Challenge, the marking was done electronically and took half the time.
“Crowdmark solves the problem by scanning all that paper into the cloud, thus enabling educators to grade anywhere, anytime with any internet-connected device,” says company CEO Michelle Caers. Instructors can provide better feedback, including links to reference materials. And students not only get their grades back faster—the richer feedback makes it easier to learn from their mistakes.
We have a grand vision,” says Caers. “Our mission is to transform assessment into a dialogue for improvement, and our vision is to transform education by providing personalized learning.”
Crowdmark benefitted from U of T’s entrepreneurship network. The U of T startup received seed funding from the University of Toronto Early-Stage Technology (UTEST) incubator and from the University’s Connaught Fund. But just as importantly, it had easy access to people interested in seeing it succeed.
“Being at U of T helped shape the product,” says Caers. “James and Martin received valuable feedback from instructors and educators on what features resonated and what future features they'd like to see.”
Built at U of T, Crowdmark is serving 27 per cent of Canada’s undergraduates, and growing fast. It’s adding new features for students, and expanding into the much larger market in the United States.
“U of T gave us our first funding, and ultimately the confidence to proceed,” says Caers. “Without U of T’s early support, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
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