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A TechCHAT With Imagine Easy Solutions Co-CEO Neal Taparia

Neal Taparia, the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Imagine Easy Solutions (EasyBib.com) recently spoke with Education World about their new tool Scholar, which offers teachers the ability to assign and review research papers, while monitoring student process from beginning brainstorming sessions to finalizing bibliographies. 

 

With no shortage of school-to-home and assignment management platforms, where did the idea to focus Scholar on research assignments originate? Describe some of the development process for Scholar from conception to now.

Scholar is much more than an assignment management platform. It provides in-depth analytics on the progress of individual students and entire classes, and students can leverage our browser annotation tool to mark up digital texts to strengthen their close reading and critical thinking skills.

With the recent shift in state standards, the use of informational texts in a class curriculum permeates all subjects. After initial user data analysis of our flagship product, EasyBib, we saw that students really struggle with using information ethically and purposefully in their assignments.

We spoke with hundreds of teachers, librarians, and school administrators to better understand how we can support them (and students). We want to help educators and students with teaching and developing close reading and ethical writing skills, respectively. After more than a year of research and product development, we released Imagine Easy Scholar in Spring 2015.


How does Scholar fit in with the other EdTech in your portfolio? Is EasyBib’s technology included in Scholar?

There’s no doubt EasyBib is a powerful technology; it’s the most popular online citation tool out there with 50 million yearly users. The good news is that everything that our users already know and love about EasyBib is available in Scholar—students can cite 59 different types of sources, format them thousands of different citation styles, and export it as a bibliography to Google Docs, Word, or copy and paste it. Our data analysis showed that more than half of students would intentionally plagiarize if they didn’t have technology like EasyBib to help, so it was a no-brainer we would leverage the power of EasyBib in Scholar, as well.

EasyBib currently integrates with many other popular databases and service providers, including Google Apps for Education, EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale, and Follett. We plan to bring that same fluid interaction between these providers and Scholar in the near future.


Scholar is integrated with the Google Chrome Annotation Tool. What spurred this on? How are users incorporating their annotations within a larger context? Will teachers be able to grade and return student-submitted papers via Scholar eventually?

From our research and speaking with hundreds of educators, we learned that students are not practicing close reading or critical thinking skills, particularly with digital texts. Teachers we spoke with said that incorporating multiple tech tools in the classroom--such as one for annotating, one for organizing ideas, and one for sharing with teachers--is an added challenge.

Scholar streamlines this issue through the Google Chrome annotation tool. Students can highlight text, create notecards, and think critically about information they consume online in real time—there is no jumping back and forth between browser tabs, or from computer to notebook.

We built first for Chrome because Google is doing amazing things for schools, and we wanted to be part of the ecosystem. Soon we’ll introduce a Google docs add that will allow teachers, while viewing a paper, to evaluate it with a rubric.


Scholar Space includes resources such as citation guides, infographics, lesson plans, tip sheets, videos and more. Are there plans to expand upon this content, and if so, how?

Our blog, the Scholar Space, is a popular destination for educators to find dozens of free resources and webinars on demand. We are planning to revamp the blog in the coming months, including growing our lesson plan offerings to multiple subject areas—including English, social studies, and science.

Scholar is a cross-curricular platform, and we want to support our community of teachers as much as we can. We have a long-term goal of creating a truly collaborative environment with the Scholar Space, where teachers can share their lesson plans and ideas with others around the world.


Are teachers engaging with students in any ways that they haven’t before by using Scholar?

Absolutely. During the product development of Scholar, educators told us that no tool they use right now really helps them see how students are reading, consuming, synthesizing, and using information in their assignments. Studies have shown that students are more likely to consult Google than an educator for help with their writing assignments, which ultimately leaves teachers in the dark. We wanted to change that.

Scholar increases transparency for teachers, as they can view a student’s notes, writing outline, and source list to truly pinpoint areas of improvement for each student. It also provides detailed analytics of how a class or individual student is synthesizing information, what types of information is used, and whether that information is properly attributed. With Scholar, teachers are able to make data-driven decisions to improve and personalize their instruction for every class and student.


How are educators able to use analytical assessments to improve student research papers overall using Scholar’s tracking system? What features are special, and how do they work into teaching and learning this specific type of writing?

Not only can a teacher view student notebooks and source lists in detail, but Scholar caches external sources that students mark up using our annotation tool. For example, a teacher can view a specific article that a student read, and see every piece of highlighted text, every notecard, and every idea the student had while reading the text. This provides unparalleled transparency for teachers to drill down into the unique thought process behind every student.

As mentioned previously, Scholar provides detailed analytics to help teachers get a better view and understanding of how students (and classes as a whole) are synthesizing and using information. But now, teachers can see a student’s thought process behind each digital source that they annotate.


Imagine you’re an educator in a high school setting. What case would you make for using Scholar with your class? Explain why Scholar is easier than older methods of research paper writing.

As an educator, I have noticed that my students aren’t practicing authentic writing in my class. Instead of paraphrasing or creating their own ideas, I see many students just copying and pasting quotes from articles. They struggle to keep track of their ideas, where information came from, and critically thinking about sources they use in their assignments. The flow of their writing isn’t cohesive, either. Yet despite my best efforts, students are not coming to me for help when they need it, and I don’t know how to intervene to guide them.

With Scholar, students have the freedom to critically think about information in their own way. Instead of reading online and taking notes on paper or with a separate program, they can annotate as much as they want, and all information is tied back into their account. Organizing ideas and outlining their writing becomes a dynamic and interactive experience within the Scholar Notebook. Best of all, my students find to to be fun, and are engaged!

Scholar benefits me as a teacher by providing practical data, so I can hone in on individual pain points for each student, or check in on overall class progress. Instead of seeing where they struggle after they’ve completed an assignment, I can see how students think about and interpret specific sources, how they organize their writing, and personalize my instruction as needed.

Scholar is a powerful platform that helps my students become stronger readers and writers, and helps me improve and tailor my instruction for every student.

 

Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
Education World® 
Copyright © 2015 Education World

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