How did the collaboration between Reea and Citelighter innovate the USA education? [Part I]

Dan Mașca, CEO Reea, Lee Jokl, COO Citelighter, with the development team

The whole citelighter.com story began in February 2011, with an overwhelmed student. Saad Alam’s brother, one of the founders of the platform, planned to abandon university in the first year because he couldn’t handle the research he had to prepare, as he wasn’t taught in high-school how to correctly write such a study. However, a clear and simple idea became a successful project.

A platform dedicated to students

…which gives them the means to create their own literature and writing projects, to add quotes from web pages and to add their own comments.

For many youngsters from high schools and universities it is very easy to write and structure projects on certain subjects, but for others this surely is a more difficult process. There comes the documentation, an outline of the subjects and the main ideas, their development, then the corrections of teachers, changing texts and so on. So, until the final form it is a long way. Even putting thoughts in order, at the beginning, may take more work.

The creators of citelighter.com, Saad Alam and Lee Jokl, thought about helping these students. From just a few functionalities like automatically extracting quotes using a web browser extension that automatically compiles the bibliographical data of the source they were extracted from, exports the project in Word, shares it via email, while teachers can continuously monitor the projects of the students, to PRO accounts with more sophisticated functionalities, all of them have the mark of Reea’s developers, for more than five years.

From New York to Baltimore

It was very difficult for the founders of Citelighter to promote the project in schools or universities in the beginning. The hardest part was getting the customers to pay in order to benefit from the platform, and create a business behind it.

A study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that 73% of graduates enter the labour market without the necessary writing skills. Being motivated by this, Citelighter has focused on developing a product that works extraordinarily well. With internal marketing and by participating in conferences, they won several awards for innovation in education.

The platform has been improved over time and won even more awards. In 2013, some of Citelighter’s financiers made the proposal to the Citelighter team that they move to Baltimore, the city in which a significant part of the companies working in the USA’s education field are financed and developed. Thus they opened an office in Baltimore, and Jonathan Ceresa, the CTO of the company, remained in New York.

Technically speaking…

Citelighter is a scalable and elastic PHP – MySQL application built to run in Amazon AWS cloud. The browser extensions are served by a NodeJS API which connects to a Redis in-memory database for very fast access to data. Citelighter has developed integrations with different API interfaces in order to connect with a lot of web services like Google Analytics, Google Drive, Google Apps Scripts, Sphinx Search Engine, PlagScan, Encyclopedia Britannica, Stripe payment system, and SendGrid.

Reea team

 The evolution of the platform

The student could export the project as a Word document or they could share it via email at the beginning. Then, paid accounts with a few extra functionalities were created, available only to paying customers.

Citelighter hired several experts responsible for “Knowledge Cards” which were divided into categories and subcategories. A “Knowledge Card” was a project with quotes already collected by the experts. Users could use these quotes in their own projects. They could also upload their own PDF documents in their collection on the account and could extract quotes from any other document on the web.

After that, the teacher role was created following the advice offered by different consultants. In “Teacher Tools”, the teacher can create classes, divide students into classes, monitor, and mark their projects.

The whole platform is organised by level of education, having implemented a system of plagiarism detection. In order to facilitate the work of students, a special text editor was implemented, so they don’t have to leave Citelighter to write in Google docs. Moreover, using the same extension, images can be extracted from the internet for inclusion in students’ papers. The Cognitive Print system was built, by which teachers can graphically monitor the steps taken by the students on their projects, including the time spent writing, both in the Citelighter platform and in Google Docs.

Our developers are constantly working with the US team to develop citelighter.com. The platform becomes increasingly stronger, and students can follow lessons and rubrics implemented by teachers for a particular course. Everything is based on the Common Core State Standards, as well as other state standards in the US. There is also an internal chat feature where the teacher can provide online feedback all the time.

Recently, Citelighter entered into an agreement with Encyclopedia Britannica, giving students the possibility of extracting quotes directly from the articles and documents of their propietary online library. Also, teachers can attach the documents required for a project to a course.

Contracts concluded between Citelighter and Schools from the US

Despite the slow start of acquring customers in a competitive K-12 market in the US, Citelighter has several contracts with renowned US schools, many of which use LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) based platforms. Interoperability platforms were developed between Citelighter and Blackboard (http://uki.blackboard.com/), Schoology (https://www.schoology.com/), and Itslearning (http://www.itslearning.eu/), with many more to be added in the near future.

At the moment, the Citelighter team is working together with our specialists to develop the platform and they are planning the implementation of new projects.

An interview with Lee Jokl (founder) and Jonathan Ceresa (CTO of the company) is about to be published. You’ll find out more information about the relationship between Citelighter and Reea and the difficulties encountered straight from their perspective. Keep in touch!

 

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