Democracy Prep Students Help Design Quill

A group of Democracy Prep Pathways students work with the Quill Cofounders to develop a grammar tool.

As a non-profit, open source organization, Quill partners with students and teachers to develop its exceptional learning tools. These tools are freely shared with everyone at

On Tuesday, December 22nd, Quill team cofounders Donald McKendrick, Peter Gault, and Ryan Novas met with Democracy Prep students to share the design of a new writing exercise. In this exercise, students complete a diagnostic which then generates a personalized learning pathway. During the design session, the Quill team works with a group of five students to test the diagnostic. Here is what they learned from the students, as told by Peter Gault.

Jasmine: Animate the Explanation

We presented the students with advanced grammatical concepts, such as parallel structure. This concept dictates how a series of items in a sentence are conjugated, such as using three verbs ending in -ing in a row. This sentence, for example, does not have parallel structure: Today I went hiking, climbed, and swimming. Some of the students had not yet learned this concept, but they quickly picked it up after a few practice questions.

We found that by animating the explanation, we could better explain the concept. While the online version will now include a graphic animation, we manually animated the explanations by circling and underlining the key ideas. Jasmine was able to rapidly understand new grammatical concepts through these animated explanations. Jasmine provided us with helpful feedback on the animations, and her feedback will be used to create richly illustrated explanations.

Rhashad: Let Me Compete

Rhashad worked with Quill cofounder Ryan Novas and breezed through the advanced materials. By answering questions correctly multiple times in a row, Rhashad achieved a winning streak and earned points for every correct answer. After the session, Rhashad and Ryan discussed ways in which Quill can help students feel a sense of accomplishment.

Rhashad was enthusiastic about the idea of adding new game mechanics. In particular, he was excited about the idea of adding leaderboards as a way of encouraging students to work harder. Rhashad loves videogames and used the leaderboards in NBA 2k16 as an example of the type of leaderboard Quill could emulate. For example, he told us that students should only start their winning streak once they have answered at least three questions correctly. This would make the winning streak feel like more of an accomplishment, similar to what Rhashad sees in other games. Based on this feedback, we plan to implement both leaderboards and winning streaks into the new app.

Alric: Make It Relatable

Alric enjoyed playing through Quill, but he felt it didn’t speak to his interests. Alric made the insightful point that unless Quill really grabs someone’s attention, it won’t have a strong impact. He suggested that we turn Quill into a basketball themed game. Each correct answer is represented by a basketball player dribbling a ball. Once you get all ten questions correct, you then unlock a mini-game in which you get to shoot the ball. If you get an answer wrong, another player steals the ball from you.

We really liked Alric’s idea, and while we don’t have the resources to build this now, we hope that we might be able to do so in the future. As an open source platform, our goal is to bring together students, teachers, and developers to construct a series of engaging writing tools. At some point in the future, a community member could take our app and create a Basketball themed version of it.

What’s Next?

With this feedback in hand, we are now designing a new version of the Quill app that incorporates the diagnostic, the animated explanations, and the winning streak mechanic. We are looking forward to showing the Democracy Prep students, including Alric, Rhashad, and Jasmine, how their ideas can impact hundreds of thousands of students. For the 100,000+ students using Quill now, we aim to launch these new features by the start of the 2016–2017 school year.