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A month ago, a friend of mine who has taught at both private and public schools reached out to talk about student centric learning. As a classics teacher, he had been using student annotations to help generate tests and quizzes which have been proven to be more effective in the classroom by putting the student in the center of their learning, while simultaneously saving teachers time.

But can you really learn to teach more in less time? But can you really teach to learn more in less time?

Perhaps ancient literature provides an answer: in his preface for Epigrams, the Roman poet Martial praised his “words’ playful truth—the epigrammatic language, that is.” Ultimately, we hope that students will enjoy playing with texts and that teachers will enjoy new contexts for instruction.

Likewise, perhaps recent history provides an answer: teachers in the United States spend more time teaching than their OECD peers (by about two standard deviations from the mean), and yet, PISA Reading results from 2015 show that the United States places last in comparison to other English-speaking nations.

In this vein, we hope to place “words’ playful truth” at the center of 21st century curriculum.

What it does

Epigrammar allows students to collaboratively annotate text in real-time and allows teachers to utilize said annotations to automatically generate assessments.

How we built it

We use an Elixir/Phoenix lean API on the backend with a GraphQL endpoint. This endpoint connects via Apollo to our React JS front-end.

We also use PubNub to allow real-time annotations where teachers can watch students annotate in real-time.

We did not use annotation libraries, we built all the elements and handled the annotation system in house.

Challenges we ran into

Scope! We are trying to build something we'd like to spin into an actual product, and since seeing that it's not only great for students, but saves time for teachers, we need it to be simple, but effective.

Unfortunately, that means getting down a lot of edge cases. Annotations are difficult, and making everything drop-dead simple for the end user is the most important thing we can do.

Also, hosting Elixir applications can be a little tricky.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Building all of it in house. There were annotation library options, but nothing that worked well in a 'react-friendly' way that we wanted. We're also really excited about our PubNub integration providing real-time annotations for teachers to view from students.

We also didn't take nap, not once.

What we learned

Perhaps to limit the scope a bit coming in, then again - would that have meant we would just taken a nap?

In all seriousness, we learned so much from our peers around us, because who doesn't at a hackathon?

What's next for Epigrammar

This is a problem we've heard from multiple teachers, and we haven't had a chance to build it until now. We're excited about it, and would love to get it in the hands of teachers and students alike this fall.

Definitely sign up for our proper release at our landing page.

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