When two minds come together they are either likely to clash like planets or will fuse together to work harmoniously towards a bigger purpose. In the case of Jamey Heit and Robin Donaldson of Ecree, it’s the latter, an unlikely combination of two unique brains combining from different parts of the world to solve a unique problem,.
Jamey and Robin are the co-founders of Ecree and are based in what would be commonly known as ‘Silicon Valley’. Jamey is an American English Professor and Robin studied software engineering in Glasgow and Cambridge before going to Stanford University to do a PHD in Computers Sciences. During his time growing up in Glasgow (Bearsden) Robin struggled with writing essays which led him to discover he was dyslexic.
Jamey and Robin met in Las Vegas in 2014. It was during this time they founded Ecree and decided on a bold move. They agreed to create a software programme that could grade any student essay. Unsure if it was possible, they knew they wanted to give it a try. They wanted to create a solution that would help students build a solid foundation for writing. According to Jamey, ‘Good writing skills correlated very strongly with professional success.’ He believes the software programme is a crucial resource to assist students get the help they need to develop these skills.
From his own experiences as teacher Jamey accepts that teachers are over worked. It was in the classroom as a teacher that he realised he constantly struggled to help everyone whilst still trying to maintain the same standard of education for each student. Writing is a hard skill to learn and nobody seems to know the rules of grammar anymore – this is even more so for people with dyslexia. He knew asking parents to fill in the gaps for teachers wouldn’t necessarily be a good solution. The alternative would be to hire a tutor, but for many families the cost could be prohibitive.
The solution, he believed, was to build an appropriate, cost effective and easily accessible software. Jamey believed technology could give the support to students that he couldn’t provide himself This is what motivated him to build a virtual version of himself and this is where the partnership of Ecree steps in to help. Jamey’s expertise and input as a writing teacher was crucial and invaluable for the design of a product. Robin was able to bring his creativity as a computer scientist, using sophisticated technology to spearhead the project.
Robin, who is dyslexic, brought his own experience, insights and perspective to the product. With an intuitive mind, Robins was keen to find solutions to the problems presented by dyslexia. Early on he recognised that a virtual writing instructor would allow dyslexic students to engage with feedback on their writing at their own pace. Allowing students to write at their own pace and in their own time was essential. It acknowledged that one size does not fill all, creating a level of flexibility. But in all levels of technology this becoming competitive and fierce so you have to quickly retain the edge on your competitors