Weathering the Storm

Sandy, one of the largest northeastern storms in nearly a half-century, cut a considerable swath of destruction through six states over the last couple days. New York City –our home — certainly endured its share of miseries. Downed power lines, uprooted trees, flooded streets, evacuations, and, tragically, deaths all took their toll.

We sincerely hope all of you stayed safe and indoors during the inclement weather, and we wish you, your families, and your communities a speedy recovery if you live in an affected area.

As for us? Our team is spread out across the sprawling city: I myself am in northeastern Queens; our CEO and Outreach Director, Saad Alam and Kevin West, call downtown Manhattan home; our VP of Community, hails from eastern Manhattan; Jon Ceresa, our Director of Business Development, resides up in Spanish Harlem; and Lee Jokl, our COO, hangs out in his backyard and sleeps in Brooklyn.

So with the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) trains and buses out of commission, we have unfortunately been unable to head into Citelighter HQ in Manhattan for our usual meetings, strategy sessions, and product discussions.

But none of that has stopped our team from working hard to make work easier for students and teachers across the country.

Sheraz could’ve kept staring out at flooded FDR Drive, gawking at the previously-unheard-of absence of traffic and possibly scouring for sharks, but instead here he was working on community engagement and managing our Knowledge Experts.






He also looked after his two cats, which he tasked with those shark-watching duties…which they mostly shirked by hiding under the table. Storm hoodie optional.







Kevin could’ve been daydreaming of happier times that involve large bodies of water – like his hiking trip on the West Coast – but here he is, plugging away at his workstation and coordinating meetings with teachers and educators in Orange County.


And here I am, monitors pictured behind me. I suppose I made much the same face looking out the window during the storm itself, but at this moment I was pondering the no less pressing question of how and where to accurately deploy commas and semicolons for this very post.

As always, stay safe and stay dry, everyone.

Citelighter PR Director

Interview with Julia Ebel, Experienced Educator

Connecting with teachers and experts in the education space is an important goal for us at Citelighter. Sure, we believe we’re building great tools that will help students–but who knows more about helping students than those who do just that day after day?

Julia Ebel has been at it not just day after day, but year after year. She’s taught English, ELL, and history for grades five through twelve at various points for public and charter schools, and  in Oregon and Arizona, for almost 20 years. She’s now a Technology Training Specialist for the Dysart Unified School District in Arizona.

We asked her to share her thoughts, experience, and expertise on how Citelighter helps students, the role of technology in classrooms, the importance of collaboration, and more that we could all be doing.

Thanks for taking the time to talk, Julia! How did you first come across Citelighter?

The Dysart Unified School District was named a Salute Distict by the National School Board Association. It was a prestigious award that was presented to us because of our innovative use of technology in the classroom. Part of the award required us to host a site visit for educators around the country. While preparing for this visit, I was contacting sponsors and vendors, and met Kevin West through the Phoenix Coyotes. During our first meeting, he mentioned Citelighter, and I was sold immediately.

What about Citelighter’s fact-capturing tool most appeals to you in your capacity as an experienced educator? How do you think it helps students in the research and paper-writing process?

As a high school teacher, I found that one of the most frustrating and difficult parts of teaching research was the actual MLA or APA formats. Each college requires different formats, and it was difficult to keep up with the changes in the formats each year. It is hard enough to teach students how to choose valid information, and how to incorporate their research into an essay format. To add the citation process on top of that led to many blank stares on the faces of even the most intelligent students.

Citelighter makes it all so much easier. It takes away the guessing game of “Do I have the information cited correctly?” It also assists students in forming their paragraphs. They do not have to bother with messy index cards or several pieces of printed paper, which most of them misplaced. All of their information is in one place, and allows the students to focus on their content, instead of spending the bulk of their time trying to search for the author of a website.

What are your thoughts on Citelighter’s Knowledge Card database? Do you have particular ideas on new and different ways that you’d like to see those cards implemented – for example, tailored to teachers’ lesson plans for individual classes?

I really like the idea of Citelighter’s Knowledge Card database. It creates a safe and more manageable database of material for students that is guaranteed to be accurate. I was teaching about Manifest Destiny and the Wild West in American History. I received an entire research paper about Wyatt Earp’s son. Wyatt Earp didn’t have any children. The Knowledge Cards will ensure that students are not finding information that is inaccurate.

These cards also will save them time. I have found that many students spend so much time looking at pictures and video, instead of actually doing valid research. The Knowledge Cards will really assist them in managing their time by limiting the overwhelming amount of information they find on the Internet.

It would be amazing if Knowledge Cards could have Lexile levels so the kids know what reading level the article is. It would also be helpful to tailor Knowledge Cards to particular units, or if the cards were tied somehow to Common Core Standards.

Based on your extensive experience, what are your own thoughts about how technology tools in general can contribute to learning in the classroom? Do you see the education landscape changing significantly over the next 5-10 years as a result of technological impact? Or are you seeing it even sooner?

The new generation of kids do not know the world without technology. Technology tools, therefore, must be incorporated into the classroom. We need to be teaching our students New Century Learning Skills. Teachers cannot revert to what they have done in the past because technology is moving so quickly. If this is not done, students will not be prepared for the workplace.

We are preparing students now for jobs that do not even exist yet, and if technology is not introduced at an early age, the students will struggle in college and in the real world. The education landscape is changing, but it is not changing quickly enough. Technology changes at an incredibly rapid pace, and education does not change at the same pace.

There are still educators and administrators who resist change and want to still teach how they did 25 years ago. The education from the past is not working now, and will not work in the future.

How important is it for companies developing technology products in the education space to stay connected and work collaboratively with educators, and vice versa?

It is extremely important for companies developing technology products to connect with educators. First of all, educators do not have time to research the new technologies all the time, so companies keeping educators informed about new technologies helps immensely. Secondly, with the new development of most states in America transitioning to the Common Core Standards, which will make curriculum more standard across the country, the collaboration of businesses and education is imperative so that developers are familiar with the curriculum, and can create products that will support the Common Core.

Also, businesses seem to develop with the technological trends, and do not necessarily stay as stagnant as education does. Collaboration between business and educators will help to push education into embracing the New Century Learning Skills that we should be teaching our students.

A big thanks to Julia—and to all the other hard-working educators out there who are striving so hard to improve learning for millions of students.
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Citelighter PR Director

A Little Confused About the Election? We’ve Got Your Back

So, you’ve intently watched all three presidential debates, right? And you’ve memorized both candidates’ policy positions, scrutinized the fact-checking report cards to verify everything, and memorized where President Obama and Mitt Romney stand on all issues, foreign and domestic?

Yeah, neither did we.

And that’s why we’ve created a comprehensive, convenient, and interactive election guide (or “ontology”, if you want to get fancy), powered by our novel Knowledge Card system. Not sure how the candidates compare on energy use, Iraq, or trade? Interested in contrasting their personal and family lives? With our tool, you can dig into all that and more than 40 other topics with the click of a button.

While our Knowledge Cards are a great system for giving a “just the facts, please” fully cited and sourced overview, our ontology was very much a human-powered effort. Special thanks goes to our in-house team of Knowledge Experts, who worked diligently to pull together the massive reams of information, and then took it upon themselves to sit down together and make sense of it all.

Olivia Conetta, a public policy and economics major at Brown University, helped spearhead the effort. “Arranging topics is hard work, especially in topics, where all the topics are interrelated,” she notes. “There’s more than one good way to arrange information, but you have to come up with a general rule of thumb—like how we separated the personal and political—and stick with it.”

Olivia noted that the collaborative nature of the project was key: “We spent two hours or so in a conference room using both the whiteboard and the windows and talking the whole time to figure it out. None of us could ever have taken on such a project alone.”

Like the rest of us at Citelighter, she hopes that the project contributes to a better understanding of what’s going on in the world among both fellow students and the general public. “I hope the finished product encourages voters to pay attention to the issues at stake and make a decision wisely and not just based on partisanship…Putting political information in an easy-to-use and simple-to-understand format on the Internet, like we’ve done with the ontology, might make for a better vote.”

There you have it, folks. We really hope you enjoy using it.


Citelighter Director of PR

What is Citelighter?

What is Citelighter? Is it best described as  an automated citation tool? Or  a research platform? How about a knowledge library?

Citelighter features all those things. But as I’ve come to find out over the past couple months, here’s what Citelighter is really about: passionate and committed people coming together with the common goals of engaging teachers, helping students, and spearheading positive change in the tech-education space.

I joined Citelighter almost by accident: after spending years as a writer for newspapers, blogs, magazines, and non-profits, I wanted an inside look at a more entrepreneurial space. Citelighter’s CEO–my cousin–had for months been telling me with great excitement what his team had accomplished in just over a year: building a unique browser tool that allows anyone to quickly capture and organize facts with citations automatically saved, signing a major partnership with a large company in the academic space, and capturing awards for showcasing innovation in technology.

So when the opportunity arose to spend some time with the team to help out in a writing capacity, I jumped at it. The spirit of collaboration and camaraderie to achieve Citelighter’s goals was immediately self-evident, magnetic, and infectious.

Which brings me to the goal of this very blog: to bring you an inside view of everything our team is working on and thinking deeply about. Our core mission is to advance learning–helping students, teachers, and researchers–and our vision for doing so is participatory and inclusive. That’s why we think it’s important to share our passion with our audience: you.

In the coming weeks and months, we aim to bring you a steady stream of engaging and insightful content– whether it’s exciting new product features, passionate posts from teachers using our tools in the classroom, thoughtful interviews with leaders in education and technology, or examples of best practices for research and writing from students using Citelighter.

Our blog space has previously been in hibernation for some time, but that’s about to change. We hope you enjoy what’s to come—and I look forward to your feedback and recommendations for future content!

M. Junaid Alam
Director of PR