Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hatching Tools for Education at the Innovation Incubator

This week I served as a judge for the Software & Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) Innovation Incubator program.  SIIA states that this program “identifies and supports entrepreneurs in their development and distribution of innovative learning technologies.”  The winning innovation will be awarded the Educator's Choice Award at the Ed Tech Industry Summit (May 5-7, 2013).
Overall I was impressed with all of the entries.  Each innovation seemed to offer a benefit to classroom teachers and most included tools to help with instruction.  Most entries focused on encouraging thinking skills and many innovations promoted the idea that students need to be allowed to operate in a flexible, real-world environment where they are not given the right answer, but have to utilize critical thinking and problem solving skills to arrive at a conclusion.  This is a direction that I have tried to take my instruction in teaching U.S. History and I know many other educators strive to meet this same goal, possibly even more so with the adoption of the Common Core Standards across most of the country. 
Below are my thoughts on each of the entries in the Innovation Incubator program:
Citelighter, Citelighter Inc
Citelighter is a tool to help students research and organize information to write papers.  The features of Citlighter that I found unique are its ability to open as a sidebar in Google Docs to allow students to have their research right there as they write and the fact that it generates reports for teachers allowing analytical data for the teacher to see which part of the process students may need help with.
simCEO creates an online market simulation allowing students to recognize key economic factors.  Students simultaneously run a business and invest in corporations controlled by their peers, requiring them to recognize the effects of various factors upon the economy.  Market conditions can be altered by the teacher and different scenarios can be set up to allow for the achievement of different learning goals.  One example given during the presentation was a scenario set in Boston in 1770 to demonstrate the effects of British taxes on colonial businesses.
Naiku, Naiku, Inc.
Naiku is an assessment program that allows teachers to guide instruction based upon data from formative assessments.  Naiku provides automated scoring and reports aligned to standards allowing teachers to adapt instruction to student needs.  I don’t know how unique Naiku is, but it seemed to have an easy-to-use interface and it is compatible with any web enabled device (desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.).
scrible, scrible
scrible is a web app that allows users to annotate websites for research.  Students are able to highlight, take notes, and annotate key information in addition to using scrible to organize and sort information.  scrible also generates citations for a research project.  I know of several products that serve similar purposes as scrible, but without conducting further research, I don’t know if any combine all of these functions within one application.
mAuthor, Learnetic S.A.
mAuthor allows users to create content that is viewable on any platform.  This service appears to be easy to use and does not require any programming skills.  mAuthor allows for the creation of original content or customization of existing content to allow for viewing on any device with any screen size.  This would be particularly useful for schools that have gone to a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach.  
See.Touch.Learn., Brain Parade, LLC
See.Touch.Learn is designed to help provide services for special needs students.  This application allows for assessment based on visual images and can help with learning names of people and everyday objects.  Lessons can range from identifying objects/people to higher-level categorization and associations.  See.Touch.Learn allows users to utilize existing content or create new content to meet the needs of learners.
ParentSquare, ParentSquare
ParentSquare is a little different than most of the other entries highlighted during the Innovation Incubator program because it does not directly relate to instruction, but it still offers benefits to teachers by attempting to improve communication with parents.  ParentSquare allows teachers or school officials to post announcements, requests, pictures, etc. online and to have messages emailed to parents.  Although I don’t know a lot of specifics, I believe there are other programs that serve similar functions.  Without knowing much about the other applications, I can’t offer a true comparison, but ParentSquare appears easy to use and it seems to serve the purpose it was designed for.
Shmoop, Shmoop University, Inc.
I had some familiarity with Shmoop before the Innovation Incubator program and Shmoop’s presentation confirmed some of what I already knew as well as informing me of new and upcoming features.  Shmoop claims to “speak student” by explaining concepts in a fun, interesting manner that students can relate to.  Shmoop offers material relevant to a number of different subject areas as well as test review materials.  Some of the new features of Shmoop that I learned about during their presentation include the development of short videos to teach key concepts and the creation of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses).  
Globaloria, World Wide Workshop
Globaloria is designed to allow students to create games.  As a game design platform, Globaloria seems to have a variety of educational applications and possibilities.  As educators, we know that programming skills are becoming more and more important and often pique student interest; Globaloria allows a platform to incorporate these skills into an existing curriculum.  I did not feel like I gained a solid grasp of how Globaloria works during their presentation, but the concept behind it seems beneficial to students and teachers.
zondle, zondle
zondle is another game based learning application.  zondle allows users to create games or use ready-made games that are accessible on web-based or mobile platforms.  Another nice feature of zondle is that it allows users to monitor their progress.  Users can compare their performance over time as well as seeing which questions they struggled with.  I see zondle primarily as a way to review concepts already studied in class and there are several similar products in existence, but zondle seems to meet its objective of using games to support learning.
I could envision ways that teachers could incorporate each innovation in an educational setting.  Although some of the innovations were not unique in the services they offered, each seemed to meet a need for educators/students and nearly all of them promoted critical thinking skills by students.
The winners of SIIA’s Innovation Incubator program will be announced Tuesday, May 7 at the Ed Tech Industry Summit.

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