Technology has transformed education in many areas – but not in the manual process of grading papers. Crowdmark is changing that, to not only speed things up and do away with drudgery, but also enable richer feedback. It’s all about driving better learning outcomes.

Michelle Caers, CEO of Crowdmark (, has long felt that the Internet would democratize education. She did her MBA dissertation on e-learning, and notes how technology has made education more accessible and engaging. Yet one area remains old school: the actual grading of students’ exams and assignments.

That tends to be a pen-and-paper exercise. The time required for manual grading can also get in the way of providing the most valuable comments and advice.

Crowdmark is changing that. The online grading and analytics platform allows educators to review their students’ work in a fraction of the time, from anywhere, while offering deeper input.

“There’s more opportunity to provide feedback,” says Caers.

Here’s how Crowdmark works. Students can upload their tests or papers, or instructors can easily scan and upload them. Crowdmark includes a suite of grading tools, so teachers can make easy notations and drag and drop from a reusable comment library (which can be used to create grading rubrics).

With Crowdmark, it’s simple to insert hyperlinks to resources, like PDFs or videos, so that students can enrich their learning. Students can also access an online portfolio to see upcoming assignments and review past assessments.

Studies have shown that educators can achieve up to a 75% productivity gain using Crowdmark. But this isn’t just about removing time and tedium from the process.

Grading becomes more robust and meaningful for students. With tests and assignments digitized, educators can also use Crowdmark to better track performance, and identify areas of strengths and weaknesses.

“With our data and analysis, we can assist teachers in establishing personalized learning and setting benchmarks, to hit on learning outcomes,” says Caers.

Crowdmark is now used by educators from K-12 and beyond. The gains are more obvious at university and college levels, where bigger classes and longer papers mean considerably more grading. Among Crowdmark’s post-secondary clients are the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Michigan State University and Georgia Tech.

The concept for Crowdmark came when founder James Colliander was frustrated with his own experiences grading exams. Colliander is an award-winning math professor, now at UBC but back in 2011 at the University of Toronto. At that time, he was grading exams from a national math competition – 5,000 exams, each 14 pages, all with handwritten answers. That made 70,000 pages. Even with teams of volunteers, it was a complex and time-consuming process.

Colliander worked with one of his graduate students to build a software prototype that he could use in the grading of a subsequent math competition. It ended up taking half the time.

While Colliander was an expert in math, he was a novice in business. Caers came on board to help develop the business model for Crowdmark. She has over 20 years of experience in education and technology, and has led teams in six start-up companies. Caers is also the Founder of DesignedUX, a strategy and design firm, and was previously an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Ryerson DMZ accelerator for tech start-ups.

Crowdmark launched commercially in 2014, and has been used in 36 countries. The platform ultimately allows for greater efficiency, academic integrity, descriptive comments, and more collaboration between learners and teachers.

“Our mission is to improve the teaching and learning experience for students and educators, by transforming assessments into a dialogue for improvement,” says Caers.

This article was originally published on the StartUP HERE TORONTO site.

Author:  Stuart Foxman

Photo Credit:  Zlatko Cetinic  Images Made Real

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