Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pitt Students Develop Innovative Grading Software for Professors Alligrader to Help Check Computer Science Work

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pitt Students Develop Innovative Grading Software for Professors Alligrader to Help Check Computer Science Work

Article excerpt

After two weeks of coding, University of Pittsburgh senior Natalie Boehm's computer science project was dismantled with a single sentence: "It did not work." She received a grade of 10 percent.

The problem was it actually did work, but the teacher assistant doing the grading could only devote 30 seconds to check. And in those crucial 30 seconds, Ms. Boehm's work was discredited.

If only she had had Alligrader.

Alligrader, created by Ms. Boehm and three other Pitt students, including fellow senior Robbie McKinstry, is a software intended to improve the efficiency and accuracy of grading computer science projects. The idea is to allow students to resubmit their projects when the system alerts them to a problem, instead of waiting for a single final grade.

Alligrader's code checks assignments for accuracy based on an answer sheet set by professors and grades for style based on common structural code practices similar to how English teachers grade for grammar and syntax.

Mr. McKinstry's team was part of the spring cohort of Pitt's startup accelerator Blast Furnace, a program started in spring 2015. The competitive accelerator offers training and mentoring in exchange for 10 to 20 hours of workshops per week, said Blast Furnace director Greg Coticchia.

The Shark Tank-style boot camp was created to meet the demand of entrepreneurial students, and it pulls support from both the university and similar startup accelerators in the region like Alphalab and Thrill Mill, Mr. Coticchia said.

Alligrader was one of eight teams competing on Thursday for the grand prize of $1,500. A water monitoring system startup, Aqualab, took first place and the prize, with the cyber-security data collector Cyclosa Labs in second. The tennis court line robot Jock-BOTS finished in third place.

Alligrader did not place but it has won some support.

For educators like Bill Laboon, a visiting lecturer in computer science at Pitt, Alligrader could both save time and eliminate the mental exhaustion that result from grading. …

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