Faculty Focus


Turnitin Acquires LightSide Labs to Support Formative Feedback on Student Writing

Turnitin, the leaders in originality checking and online grading, today announced the company has reached a definitive agreement to acquire LightSide Labs, an online service that uses machine learning to provide real-time, automated feedback on student writing. The agreement will allow Turnitin to integrate its leading originality checking and online grading features with LightSide Labs’ innovative approach to providing high quality feedback to students across the writing process. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

LightSide Labs was founded in 2013 by Carnegie Mellon researchers who employed machine learning algorithms to help instructors assess student writing. LightSide Labs’ technology uses machine learning to understand how instructors grade responses to writing prompts, and then provides automated feedback on-demand for students, suggesting revisions, providing both positive and constructive feedback directly in-line in student essays, and acting as an automated writing tutor. The service suggests scores to the teacher, who can then review student work and assign grades based on each student’s full revision history.

LightSide’s automated essay scoring engine received considerable attention when it was proven effective in a study commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation, in partnership with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and PARCC, and hosted by Kaggle.com. LightSide has received two grants from the Gates Foundation, after being selected as a winner of the Literacy Courseware Challenge. Later, LightSide was also awarded a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

“LightSide Labs is a perfect fit with Turnitin,” said Chris Caren, CEO of Turnitin. “Over 10,000 institutions rely on Turnitin to ensure original work and evaluate student writing. The addition of LightSide Labs’ formative writing tools gives Turnitin the ability to support instructors across the entire writing process, from drafting, submission, evaluation and grading.”

“We’re very excited to be joining Turnitin. They’re a proven leader in helping students become better writers,” said Elijah Mayfield, Co-Founder of LightSide Labs. “The efficacy of our ideas has been validated, and joining the Turnitin team will allow us to serve millions of students worldwide. This is going to accelerate our vision of using machine learning technology to improve student learning across many different education levels.”
Expected benefits of the agreement include:

  • Better Feedback – Provides students real-time feedback on writing that is aligned to instructional goals and mapped to standards and learning outcomes.
  • Engaged Students – Keeps students involved with writing as a process, automatically suggesting next steps and encouraging students to keep working – especially underserved populations who struggle with the stress of teacher intervention.
  • Relief for Teachers – Makes writing assignments manageable for instructors, who often feel unable to keep up the quality of personalized feedback and grading amidst growing class sizes and higher, shifting standards.
  • Greater Insight – Give instructors and school administrators better insight into the process that students work through and how they respond to feedback, giving information they need to support their students.
  • Support for Standards – Provides curated writing prompts and activities for teachers, aligned to support Common Core State Standards and helping to prepare for CCSS assessments, with meaningful feedback to support students directly.

The LightSide Labs team will continue to operate out of its offices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company plans to retain the entire LightSide team and to more than double the size of the Pittsburgh office by hiring engineering, user experience design, and data science talent.

About Turnitin
Turnitin is the global leader in evaluating and improving student learning. The company’s cloudbased service for originality checking, online grading and peer review saves instructors time and provides rich feedback to students. One of the most widely distributed educational applications in the world, Turnitin is used by more than 10,000 institutions in 135 countries to manage the submission, tracking and evaluation of student work online. Turnitin also offers iThenticate, a plagiarism detection service for commercial markets, and WriteCheck, a suite of formative tools for writers. Turnitin is backed by Insight Venture Partners, GIC, Norwest Venture Partners, and Lead Edge Capital, and is headquartered in Oakland, Calif., with an international office in Newcastle, U.K.