The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that about 80% of US high school students aren't "proficient—let alone advanced—writers," which is a slightly shocking statistic—shocking enough that it's prompted a Microsoft-backed company called Eduify to develop a technology-based student assistance package.
Eduify is also one of the first companies to utilize Microsoft's Azure Services Platform, a cloud-based application framework. Azure runs on Microsoft's servers and can be used to create fully cloud-based systems or enhance existing products with cloud data and connectivity. Eduify is essentially a suite of apps designed to help students research properly and provide them with writing tutorials and models (including for the evil five-paragraph essay structure). It was developed after the company's founder worked in placing high school and college interns with "business mentors" in Silicon valley for summer placements and discovered that even these high-flying students had great difficulty pulling together a summary paper at the end of their assignments.
The main benefit of using a cloud-based structure instead of a locally-installed application on student's home or laptop PCs is that it gives complete freedom to work on a project wherever and whenever the student can get internet access—that enables working at home, in institutions and even traditional libraries. And it's got anti-plagiarism systems in the form of an "originality and citation check" to remind students to properly attribute their sources and not simply cut-and-paste someone else's work (an increasingly high risk when the internet is the main research database for kids nowadays.) There's even a social networking angle which lets users share ideas, quotes and research between others, including via Facebook and IM.
Best of all from an educator's viewpoint, having the workspace and completed documents stored in a decentralized way means an end to "the dog ate my homework" arguments, though "get your head out of the clouds and get to work"-type instructions look set to take on a whole new meaning.
The public beta of Eduify goes live today.