Grammarly Spell Checker: A Review

Let’s be honest. We’ve all written something in error—either accidentally or negligently. Spell checkers and autocorrecters have become integrated into our digital lives, and not always for the better.

grammarlyRecently, Nik Baron at Grammarly, a spell checker company, reached out to me and gave me a two-week paid subscription to Grammarly to test and review it.

My first order of business was to read other reviews. I wanted to see what others had to say and find some interesting features to look for. Unfortunately, I was not met with positive reviews by grammar sites: “Grammarly doesn’t do all it claims to do” (Grammarist) and “$140 will buy a lot of well-written and edited books. Caveat scriptor.” (The Economist).

Test One: Pre-written Paper
My first test was uploading a pre-written paper. It was one I wrote and submitted to a college class about 10 years ago. This paper was reviewed by me several times prior to submission for mechanics (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.); but since it was just a reflection piece on a project, it was not necessary to have pristine mechanics like one would have on a term paper. Nevertheless, prior to running it by Grammarly’s checker, I thought it was pretty good.

After running it through the checker, I’m embarrassed to say I turned it in! My paper had a score of 78/100, with 16 “critical issues”. Right off the bat, 9 of them were now (10 years and two degrees later) obvious mistakes. These were mostly comma or hyphenated word errors. Whoops.  But there were still 7 of them that I didn’t really agree on.

Some of these critical issues were instances in which I purposefully broke style convention to make a point or word choice. In the instances of word choice, the checker wanted to exchange “aforementioned items” to “items above” or “items mentioned earlier” or “items as mentioned above”. Personally, I think “aforementioned items” is less wordy. Perhaps it thought I used too many syllables? It also did not like the phrase “their own strange group” and wanted me to delete “own”. Perhaps in the phrase it sounds okay, “their strange group”, but it sounds odd to me in the full sentence, “I thought they were their strange group that did not fit anywhere.”

Despite having a few issues with the uploaded document, I still wanted to like Grammarly. It found many punctuation mistakes that Microsoft Word did not. Unfortunately, when I downloaded my edited version, it opened in Microsoft Word with a bunch of comment bubbles, some indicating what I deleted, others just indicating deletions that I didn’t make. It seems like a waste of time to edit a document and then have to go through again and accept all the comment bubbles.

Test Two: Plagiarism
One of the comments in the reviews I mentioned above was that the plagiarism checker did not catch plagiarized statements. Or, if they did, it was from a published book. So, for my second test, I tested the plagiarism checker by thinking like a tech-savvy student. I copy and pasted the first paragraph from the To Kill a Mockingbird Wikipedia page.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on the author’s observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.

The software detected that the work was “unoriginal” and gave me a link…to Wikispaces. I guess the Wikipedia page has some un-cited plagiarism. Grammarly also gave me the MLA, APA, and Chicago style citations that I could use instead of rewording the unoriginal work. Neat.

But you know, tech-savvy students aren’t dumb enough to just copy and paste word for word…they use synonyms! Unfortunately, this is still plagiarism. I ran the same sentence with a few word order changes and synonyms that either Microsoft Word recommended or the first synonym that came to mind. I did not change any punctuation or check for grammar. This was the new paragraph:

To Kill a Mockingbird is a book published by Harper Lee in 1960. It was instantaneously popular, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a standard in modern American literature. The story line and characters are roughly based on the author’s own observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an incident that transpired near her hometown in 1936, when she was ten years old.

Grammarly found the second half of the paragraph to be plagiarized from “The story line…” to “ten years old”. It did not, however, recognize the first half as being plagiarized, even though the YouTube source contained it.

Grammarly’s website claims that its plagiarism checker “finds unoriginal text by checking against a database of over 8 billion webpages.” Huh…only webpages? A few teachers do require book sources now and then.

I grabbed the nearest book, Origin by Jessica Khoury, and randomly opened to a page. I typed a few sentences into the checker from page 83.

I watch his every move with fascination. Questions surge to my lips, batter at my teeth. I want to know everything about him. Where does he sleep? What does he eat? Has he been to a city? Does he have friends? But I feel unusually shy and don’t know what to say.

What do you know…Grammarly didn’t catch it. It just recommends changing “his” to “him”. Umm, no. A possessive pronoun is correct here, not an object pronoun.

Summary
Test one: FAIL. Test two: FAIL. I see no reason to continue testing, based upon my results corroborating The Economist and Grammarist reviews. If you’ve installed the browser add-on or the Microsoft Word plugin for Grammarly and would like to leave a review in the comments, please do so.

Unfortunately, Grammarly’s checker isn’t fool-proof. You still need to know what you’re doing and be ready to defy yet another spelling/grammar checker. It may be helpful for students and teachers, but I do not see the value of paying for Grammarly’s spell checker when Google and Microsoft are free and are already decent spell checkers.

EducationWeek Free Webinar—Smart Classrooms Need Smart Wi-Fi

I subscribe to EducationWeek. It sends me lots of emails and, unfortunately, most get deleted because I just don’t have the time to read them. Anyone else have this problem with awesome newsletters that you’d love to read but just don’t have enough time for?

I attempted to tackle the growing unread count in my box and maybe read one or two that jumped out at me. One did jump out at me…so much so that I’m passing along the information for a free webinar they mentioned. Please feel free to share your comments if you participated in it.

Smart Classrooms Need Smart Wi-Fi!

Incredibly powerful cloud-based services like Google Apps for Education, Microsoft Office 365, and other popular online tools demand the very best wireless solution. With so much at stake, deploying and managing this critical system must be as simple and reliable as a light switch without eliminating functionality and flexibility. Ruckus Wireless Smart Wi-Fi is the clear choice for simple, reliable, high-performing wireless access in today’s smart classroom.For years, technology use in schools had a limited role, primarily as a supplemental tool, sometimes only for computer science or word processing by students to type reports. Today, mobile technology access in schools is critical for educators and students to meet the most basic teaching and learning requirements. State standards like common-core online assessments mandate access to connected devices. Whether it’s Chromebooks, iPads, Windows laptops, or smartphones they all share the need for reliable high-performing wireless access.

Guest:

Erik Heinrich, national education manager, Ruckus Wireless; former director of technology infrastructure, San Francisco Unified School District, Calif.

This webinar will be moderated by GT Hill, director of technical corporate marketing, Ruckus Wireless

Register now for this free live webinar.

Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, 2 to 3 p.m. ET

Can’t attend? All Education Week webinars are archived and accessible “on demand” for up to four months after the original live-streaming date.

PlanbookEdu

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Paperwork.  We’re always doing paperwork.  Teachers are, by far, no exception.  There is paperwork before and after units, as well as the day-to-day lessons.

How much time does writing out lessons in your lesson plan book take?  Hours, I bet.  PlanbookEdu has a great 21st century, web 2.0 solution to lesson plan books drudgery.

Now don’t get me wrong—PlanbookEdu won’t eliminate the need for lesson plans or aligning them with Common Core and/or State Standards.  But what it does do is cut hours off your time writing it all down.

In their own words, PlanbookEdu is “the simpler, smarter lesson planner.”  Why?  “Your lesson plans are available anywhere and are simple to create.”  How simple?  All within the word processing-like editor for each lesson you can “attach files, Common Core Standards, print, export to Word or PDF”.  You can:

Oh, and if you have re-occurring lessons or activities (i.e. reading workshop, writer’s workshop, etc), just a couple of clicks after you type in your lesson will lead being able to repeat something without having to write it over and over and over and over and over again.

There is a small caveat.  Not all of it is free.  On PlanbookEdu‘s homepage, there is comparison chart of what is available with a free account and what features are only available through the measly $25/year premium account.  At first you’re probably thinking, $25?  No thanks, I’ll pass.  Before you do, did you:

  1. Realize that $25 is per YEAR, not month
  2. Calculate how much money do you spend on a lesson plan book?  About $10/book?  So it’s about the cost of 2 books plus tax.
  3. Look at what you’re getting for $25/year…the ability to attach documents, share your plan book, collaborate with other colleagues (and have one book!), embed your plan book on your website, printing and exporting capabilities.

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    Word Processing-Like Editor

So while it is true that you have to pay for the best parts about PlanbookEdu, you can still can create your own plan books, access them from anywhere (including your iPad and iPhone), and the ability to set the class rotations (i.e. A/B days).  And just in case you were on the fence about whether or not you might use these additional features, PlanbookEdu gives you an initial, free, 14-Day trial of the premium account.  Yup, just long enough for you to get used it, fall completely eraser over pencil tip in love with the features, but not long enough for you to change your mind.  Sneaky!

I’ve only had the account one day and I’m already planning on purchasing the premium account.  As a student teacher, I love the fact that I can embed my calendar onto my website and have the University and school staff who are observing me have my whole calendar in front of them.  It’s embedded into a page on my class Weebly site (which I have changed my mind on my opinion of Weebly), and they can quickly and easily see the Common Core benchmarks I am working on that day, download any documents they may need, and not have to feel like s/he is pestering me for the documents ahead of time.

But just like all technology, some things just aren’t as private as they used to be.  There are security measures I can turn on both at PlanbookEdu and on Weebly; however, I am striving for simplicity for those who are evaluating me.  Thus, I cannot put “pop quizzes” that I plan to give on PlanbookEdu because it is open to all.  I can restrict it by email address on Weebly (but that requires a pro account and I do not feel the need to pay Weebly for that service.  I can work around it) or I can password protect my plan book on PlanbookEdu and put certain email address on an “allow” list.

So my three choices are

  1. Pay Weebly and password protect the page the plan book is embedded on
  2. Pay PlanbookEdu for a premium account, restrict access (vs. open access) to my plan book, and write down the email addresses of those who I will allow access to it.
  3. Do nothing and figure out another plan.

I have chosen Bachelor Number 3.  I have formal unit plans and lesson plans that are very detailed.  The one downfall of all of those lesson plans is that I am unable to get a “week-at-a-glance” big picture when I’m swamped down explaining every detail of every activity.  But if I combine the strengths of both PlanbookEdu and my elaborate Word document unit and lesson plans, I can get the best of both.  The premium account lets me print directly from my browser to have a “week-at-a-glance” printed out and on my desk.  I can then make some handwritten changes on it as the lessons progress and then changed them on the plan book.  Most likely, since the high school has wireless internet, I’ll be able to change the lesson right there on my iPad.

There is so much more I could explore: bumping lesson from one day to the next due to unforeseen circumstances.  Curious as to what the embedded plans look like?  Check below to see my embedded lesson plans for my student teaching.  Another option is to see what it looks like on my class Weebly site.

**Please note.  I no longer have a subscription to PlanbookEdu so my embedded plans are “invalid”.  I have left the embedded frame here to illustrate that they can be embedded.**

Do you have a shared and/or embedded plan book from PlanbookEdu?  Comment with the link and I’ll definitely check it out.  Do you use another plan book website?  Sound off your opinion in the comments!

Prezi: The New PowerPoint?

stick figure high-fiveSome people can make some visually striking Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.  Others….cannot.  PowerPoint has an abundance of bells and whistles to liven up presentations and while each edition makes attractive presentations more and more “idiot-proof”, there are still people who put white text on a blue background with the most ridiculous clip art and Comic Sans or Courier New typeface.  Perhaps in 1995 those presentations looked professional, but not now.

But one of the biggest shortcomings of PowerPoint is compatibility.  If the computer you use to create the presentation will not be the computer you use to present, there is a good chance something won’t work correctly.  You’d have to double check versions,  operating systems, links to media files, etc.  It’s a headache.

Prezi is completely cloud-based.  This allows a user to create and edit a presentation from any computer without needing to install software.  It works perfect for collaboration (“group projects”) – the creator of the Prezi can grant certain users access to edit a Prezi.  Several users could be editing the presentation together as if you were all meeting in the same room, but you could be across the world!

Prezis are iPad friendly.  You can download the Prezi Viewer for iPad (it’s free!) and since Prezi is cloud-based, your Prezis will automatically sync to your iPad.  The viewer also lets you download them so you have access to them when you don’t have internet.  And it’s not just a viewer…you can edit it to fix those typos.  On top of that, if you have an iPad 2 (or 3), you can connect it into a projector.

In the site’s own words, “Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software that opens up a new world between whiteboards and slides. The zoomable canvas makes it fun to explore ideas and the connections between them. The result: visually captivating presentations that lead your audience down a path of discovery.”

Zooming is Prezis claim to fame.  Prezis aren’t made up of numerous slides like PowerPoint, instead, Prezi has an infinite-sized canvas in which you can zoom in or out.  You can even spin upside down.  But be careful – you’ll make your audience dizzy if you overuse effects.  Equate it to how much you enjoy the one-letter-at-a-time effect in PowerPoint…for large amounts of text…every slide.

So the question is…is Prezi better than PowerPoint?  My answer is: it depends on what you define as better.  There still is a learning curve.  It isn’t plug-and-play; however, it is relatively simple, especially with an abundance of how-to videos.  PowerPoint…is familiar.  I can make a great looking PowerPoint in a third of the time it takes me to make a Prezi.  But I’ve made hundreds of PowerPoint presentations since 1995-ish.  I’ve successfully made 1 Prezi, collaborated on 2, and abandoned a few.  Both PowerPoint and Prezi allow for crappy and insanely good presentations.  Prezis advantages of having a zooming canvas and being completely cloud-based aren’t enough to jeopardize PowerPoint’s life.

Let me put it this way: Prezi is the young, hot, new “it” person that everybody wants to date.  PowerPoint is the reliable best friend that you can always count on and has been there for you for the last dozen or so years.  My advice is to take Prezi out…go out on a few dates.  Perhaps you might find you’d rather just stick with your best bud, PowerPoint.  You may also find Prezi to be your soulmate.  But don’t worry if you’d rather stay just friends.  There’s room in your life for both PowerPoint and Prezi.

Here’s my one successful Prezi.  My license is for educational use only – thus, it is embedded here for you to see an example.  Explore user created Prezis on Prezi.com.