June 8, 2023

How to use an advanced STEM editor for assessment

Austin Tomlinson, PhD

While STEM graduates have done so much for technological advancements over the years, the irony is that they themselves have been poorly served as undergraduates by digital assessment.
It's time to level the playing field or level up STEM; Building a system for faster feedback has been long overdue.

While STEM graduates have done so much for technological advancements over the years, the irony is that they themselves have been poorly served as undergraduates by digital assessment. Rather old-fashioned, fragmented systems and an early bias toward typed language left STEM behind. Keyboards catered only for what could be typed, but what about diagrams, tables, and mathematical symbols? One solution was an over reliance on multiple-choice quizzes. Technology could deal with them. They have limitations, however, in terms of educational benefits and learning outcomes.

It's time to level the playing field or level up STEM. It’s time STEM students, along with their teachers, enjoyed the advantages of digital assessment. Building a system for faster feedback has been long overdue. An end-to-end assessment and feedback platform, with everything in one place, removes bottlenecks.

Though difficult, the obstacles aren’t insurmountable. In fact, their very difficulty made the challenge all the more interesting to us here at Graide. And we think it’s a problem worth solving.

For teachers, digitising assessment is a huge time-saver. It allows AI to assist in the marking process. It also means detailed annotations given for one type of response can be quickly replicated at scale. Marking one question, rather than one student at a time, also speeds up the marking process. Furthermore, digital assessment facilitates troubleshooting students’ work and spotting common difficulties and misconceptions in the form of analytics, so that teachers can intervene and address them early on.

For students, digital assessment enhances the quantity, quality, and timeliness of personalised feedback. It means they aren’t waiting weeks for feedback on tasks that are, by then, long forgotten. In an ideal world, feedback would happen in a matter of days. Students can then implement the advice in the very next assignment. Consequently, they aren’t repeating the same mistakes from one task to the next. Read further here on Improving student learning retention and access to stem subjects


Interestingly, people have tried to create digital keyboards, but there are simply too many STEM symbols. An alternative was LaTeX, a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting. Based on the idea of separating the content of a document from its formatting, it allows users to focus on writing and leave the formatting to automation. This is done by using special commands and markup to specify the structure and formatting of the document, rather than using formatting tools like bold, italic, and font size buttons. To write maths symbols in LaTeX, you type, for instance, "\pm" for plus or minus, "\times" for times, and "\div" for divided by.

While it offers a lot of flexibility for encoding STEM information, it can be a little cumbersome and time-consuming and takes some getting used to. Furthermore, it usually requires downloading specific environments onto the user's device. To use LaTeX, you need to install a LaTeX distribution, which includes a set of programs and files that are necessary for creating and compiling LaTeX documents. There is also a range of cloud tools for writing symbols.

Better still, there’s now an intuitive maths entry system.

Intuitive maths entry

Why not simply type symbols with letters? Instead of trying to find the π symbol on a visual keyboard, you simply type "pi", and the character appears. Or there are alpha, beta, gamma, or any of the Greek characters.

You then have the flexibility of typing text, as well as the benefits of visual representation.

Graide’s STEM editor now offers this solution.

Cameras at the ready! Optical character recognition

We’re all used to taking photos with our phones. With Graide, students can answer on paper and then take a photo of their work. The “convert handwriting from uploaded photo” icon is on the right-hand side of the formatting toolbar. The STEM editor uses optical character recognition to digitise handwritten maths symbols, converting them to an easily editable format.

Handwriting recognition

Handier still (if you’ll pardon the pun!), students can now also write directly onto their device, with a stylus. This remains the fastest and easiest approach. Mistakes or messy writing are soon rectified with the “Undo Typing” command. Graide then uses handwriting recognition to pull out the mathematics.

handwritiing video

Chemical diagram drawing

But what about the representation of tables, diagrams, and suchlike?

While you can currently do this through markdown, we are working on more accessible, more intuitive ways for students to create them.

Tools like ChemDraw will make it easier to add chemical structures. A generic whiteboard for including standard shapes will help with diagrams.

Other diagram drawing tools

There are many diagram drawing tools that are suitable for STEM students. Some popular options include:

Microsoft Visio: Visio is a professional diagramming software that is commonly used in engineering and other technical fields. It has a wide range of templates and shapes for creating technical diagrams, as well as powerful features for customising and formatting charts.

AutoCAD: Around since 1982 and popular in schools, AutoCAD is a computer-aided design (CAD) software that is used for creating technical drawings and diagrams. It has a wide range of tools for creating precise 2D and 3D diagrams and models.

Final thoughts

Graide uses many of these tools in one intuitive editor. Specifically designed for STEM subjects, these tools allow teachers to create and administer assignments, and to grade and provide feedback to students digitally. Students no longer have to wait weeks, but instead, receive within days feedback which will inform their very next piece of work.

Find out more about how Graide works at www.graide.co.uk

Austin Tomlinson, PhD
Education Consultant
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I have had a passion for teaching for as long as I can remember. After finishing my PhD, where I won a PGTA scholarship to recognise excellent teaching quality at the university, I went on to complete a PGDipEd. I am a qualified teacher. With over 8 years experience in software development and high performance computing, I have a balance of teaching and software development experience.