Request for Help

How technology can fight campus sexual assault.

GUEST COLUMN | by Danial Jameel 

CREDIT OOHLALAOver the past year, gender related assault and misconduct on college campuses has, rightly, generated a fantastic amount of attention, action, press coverage, debate and punditry.

Whether or not the volume of incidents is growing on campus, awareness clearly is. And awareness and education, as well as more visible and pro-active support structures, are all beneficial and predictable responses and preventions. Nearly every campus has recently reviewed their investment in education and support services. And I’m sure every campus has some level of professional security or police as well as emergency call boxes and safe spaces. These are good things too.

A well-designed app, connected to the college community and part of daily student life already, could harness important resources instantly – even sending location information to friends or authorities.

But, surprisingly, real tools seem to essentially stop there. And that’s not good enough.

Technology can’t solve every problem but here, it appears to me, is a real problem with a tech solution which could have a real impact.

Every college in the world should integrate their existing sexual violence resources – emergency assistance, law enforcement, treatment and support – with their growing online, mobile campus communities. I’m shocked it hasn’t happened everywhere already.

Over the past decade, schools have moved several of their academic and social resources online. Nearly every college and university has an online portal for registering for classes, checking or submitting assignments, navigating the campus or learning about social events. Today, that’s pretty standard. And more and more of those schools are moving those resources from online to mobile – putting these resources literally at the fingertips of their students and staff.

At the same time, the only thing growing more rapidly than college resources moving to online and mobile, is the ubiquitous nature of smart phones on campus. Few college students are without them – and students do everything on them from order food and exchange class notes to RSVP for parties.

That’s the world I work in – helping colleges consolidate and migrate their resources into mobile app-driven communities and connect those resources with their students. It’s why I’m surprised that schools haven’t yet insisted that the sexual and gender-based violence resources they already provide be available through a mobile campus community.

It’s seems so obvious and easy. And, for the most part, it is.

When conventional wisdom says that a sizeable number of sex and gender crimes take place in apartments and dorm rooms or at parties, it’s downright foolish to not put crucial resources there – in the hands of those effected. A callbox down the block, while important, physically can’t be in the places where a timely call for help could do the most good.

Since people (especially young people) are inseparable from their phones already, that’s where help should be, at the touch of a button.

A well-designed app, connected to the college community and part of daily student life already, could harness important resources instantly – even sending location information to friends or authorities. It could also do that without the same situational burden of actually calling for help. Discretely touching a button to request help – as easily checking a text message or the time – could make a real difference in a host of situations.

I know that’s possible because we’ve done it already. We build campus safety alerts and support resources into our campus community app and it’s being used on 50 campuses right now. But that’s not enough. Every college president, dean and parent should be insisting that safety features like these be part of online campus life — wherever or however those are actually made available.

There’s no excuse that I can see for not doing everything that can be done to stop sexual, domestic and gender-based offenses on campus. Since this can be done, it should be done. And immediately.

Danial Jameel, cofounder of OOHLALA Mobile, the largest mobile campus community, was recently named Forbes 2015 30Under30 – Education.

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Raw Authenticity

Why crowdsourcing is upping the ante for academic publishers.

GUEST COLUMN | by Petri Rahja

CREDIT Scoopshot imagesUntil recently, user-generated content (UGC) was used strictly for marketing and news media. The ubiquity of smartphone cameras has made it easy for citizen marketers and journalists to participate in the exciting ad campaigns and breaking news of the day. Now, for the first time, academic publishers are exploring the possibility of crowdsourcing UGC photos and videos for their content. At a business level, crowdsourcing will capture visual content at a fraction of the price a professional photographer would charge. From an educational perspective, UGC will improve the quality of learning materials in three distinct ways. 

Now, for the first time, academic publishers are exploring the possibility of crowdsourcing UGC photos and videos for their content.

First, UGC makes ‘native’ content possible. Rather than relying on the same stock photos for every market, publishers can cost-efficiently source images from students’ own countries and local communities. This means that all students will finally see images and videos that depict people they can relate to personally.

Second, UGC can build stronger engagement with academic materials. For example, reading about an historical event is one thing – seeing mobile videos crowdsourced from eyewitnesses is a far more captivating and authentic experience. At the recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the Charlie Hebdo marches in Paris, and the refugee crises in the Middle East and Ukraine, millions of images have been taken by everyday people who, unwittingly, will shape historical memory. They can now shape the next generation of educational content, too.

Third, crowdsourcing enables publishers to be more adaptable. Yes, publishers can collect visual content as events and discoveries unfold, just by incentivizing local eyewitness to capture images. This model has been proven in marketing and news media. But publishers can also be creative. They can challenge thousands of mobile photographers to capture the emotions, social situations, nature, industry, technology and aspects life that we see in textbooks. These photographers can capture life in ways that surprise and delight viewers.

The results will resemble the raw authenticity that students appreciate in Instagram feeds and Facebook posts. The deluge of UGC content will also allow publishers to rapidly update their digital materials far ahead of paper editions.

Image crowdsourcing will differentiate publishers from their competitors who rely on generic stock photos. UGC presents an opportunity to improve the quality of educational materials and make the experience far more relevant and personal for students. The human experience can now be taught through the perspectives of all people who bear witness to it.

Petri Rahja is the founder and CEO of Scoopshot, a leading mobile platform for photo and video crowdsourcing with over 600,000 app downloads across nearly 200 countries.

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Innovation Takes Center Stage

Nine startups selected for Launch Pad at ET4Online.

GUEST COLUMN | by Karen Pedersen

CREDIT ET4OnlineWhen the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and MERLOT kick off their 8th Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium (ET4Online) next week, in Dallas, innovation will be center stage. Online education practitioners will have the chance to experience the latest in EdTech, with hands-on workshops and a range of sessions highlighting emerging practices and practical applications of technology in higher education by educational institutions around the world.

Startups on the Launch Pad

Innovation will be evident among the nine startups that have been selected to participate in Launch Pad, a program at ET4Online that showcases qualifying EdTech startups focused on improving higher education. Each of these solutions was vetted by a dedicated group of professionals on the Launch Pad Sub-Committee.

Here’s a sneak peek at the 2015 Launch Pad startups.

7 Gen Games Logo7 Generation Games creates virtual worlds where players solve increasingly difficult problems in computation, data analysis and statistics concepts.

Players receive immediate feedback with reinforcement in the form of prizes earned for correct answers. The program analyzes incorrect answers and routes the player to appropriate instructional content. Instructional methods offer options of online games, quizzes, videos, animation and virtual manipulatives. Instructors receive reports on individual and class performance, with links to recommended online examples, videos and downloadable resources. Currently for Mac and Windows with native iPhone/iPad app coming this fall.

web_horizontal_blueDropThought offers a platform for capturing formative feedback from students on their learning and experience per assignment or content item throughout the term/semester. The platform is free for instructors, students, and institutions.

GoReact LogoGoReact is a cloud-based video software for providing time-coded feedback, grading and critique of speeches, presentations, lessons and performances.

Think of it like game film for communicators. Courses previously thought to require in-person instruction, like public speaking or ASL, can now be effectively taught online. With asynchronous video, students report a stronger connection with instructors—even in courses with huge numbers of students. Teachers respond with comments like, “students improved more in one week than they usually do in an entire semester.”

junction-logo-web-transparent-largeJunction curates the best online resources – videos, assessments, readings, flash cards, simulations and more – wrapping them into an intuitive, engaging course experience perfect for flipped and hybrid courses. It saves instructors time, students both time and money, while delivering an affordable, interactive learning experience.

logo_0Matific helps students, teachers, and schools reach their highest potential in Math using advanced technology and constructive, hands-on pedagogy. It offers a portfolio of educational apps that support the math curriculum at elementary schools, while allowing students to develop, deeply understand, and experience hands-on conceptual learning. The product was designed to engage students through both practicing and learning math fundamentals. Matific has versions created for the educator and consumer market, aimed to support math instruction according to the local curriculum and is available in more than 9 languages. It is available through a browser, native Android and iPad apps.

notebowl-master-logoNoteBowl is a social learning platform for higher education that simplifies classroom communication and organization. It gives students, professors and administrators one location where they can access information, communicate with each other and engage with their university.

SmashFact_Logo_WebSmash Fact is an easy-to-use online tool for creating custom, study apps for students’ devices. Created with faculty and instructional technologists in mind, the website allows teachers to add text questions, images and audio to activities designed to engage students anywhere they want to study. Students use Smash Fact to collaborate and try to stump each other by using the tool’s Google Docs template. Instructors can track student progress as they play and export results to a gradebook. Since its release a year ago, SmashFact has been adopted by faculty at over 140 schools and universities across the U.S. and Canada.

LOGO  YELLOWDIG  smallerYellowdig is a SaaS platform that helps increase instructor and student engagement in and beyond the classroom – from freshman orientation through to career services and into active alumni networks following graduation. This low-cost private social network is specifically designed for, and collaboratively developed by, higher education institutions, helping them to transform the faculty/student learning relationship. It makes curating, sharing, enriching, and creating course-relevant content across instructor and students easy and fun. Yellowdig has completed software pilots in several top universities, including MIT, Wharton School, and Columbia Business School.

ZAPTION_LOGOZaption’s publishing platform turns passive video into active learning experiences. Teachers, trainers, and students use Zaption’s intuitive authoring tools to build their own interactive video lessons by quickly adding images, text, quiz questions and discussions to existing videos from YouTube, Vimeo, and private video libraries. These interactive “learning tours” are privately shared via a simple link or embedded in any learning management system. Zaption’s award-winning Tour Analytics track all learner activity so instructors get immediate, actionable data to improve instruction and personalize learning. Zaption works in all major browsers and has a native app for iPhones and iPads.

For higher education practitioners who are evaluating technologies for their online learning programs, ET4Online is a great opportunity to get hands-on experience with the latest solutions, platforms, and services. It also provides a chance to inform product development decisions through direct conversations with entrepreneurs and developers. It is through these conversations that we realize a more robust ecosystem for learning innovation. This will be my first ET4Online conference as OLC’s CKO, and I am very much looking forward to becoming immersed in the exciting tech innovations that will be featured throughout our three days in Dallas.

The OLC/MERLOT Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium (ET4Online) takes place April 22-24, in Dallas. If you are unable to make it to Dallas, OLC is offering a virtual pass that features 70-plus sessions live-streamed (and recorded for later viewing) for 50 percent off through April 21, 2015. Details are available here.

Karen Pedersen, Ph.D., is Chief Knowledge Officer for the Online Learning Consortium, where she gathers, curates and leverages OLC’s intellectual capital to create and enhance services and resources provided to members and the broader OLC community. Prior to joining OLC, Dr. Pedersen served as the associate vice president for Extended Campuses at Northern Arizona University. She previously served as vice president for Professional Studies at Southwestern College (Kansas), where she was responsible for envisioning and building an online program from the ground up and launching over 25 innovative online majors/degrees.

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Cool Tool | QwertyTown

CREDIT QwertyTownQwertyTown has reinvented how students learn how to type through a web-based keyboarding app that teaches typing and online communication skills. Students are driven to succeed by QwertyTown’s gamification features, social motivation, powerful teacher reports, and a deep understanding of how meaningful keyboarding and literacy skills are to their lives in and out of school. Keyboarding and online communication skills are recognized by The Common Core State Standards as essential to a student’s success. QwertyTown addresses all of these Common Core requirements. Students are socially motivated to progress through the platform because it helps them understand how meaningful keyboarding skills are to their lives in and out of school. By progressing through its keyboarding lessons, students unlock features that enable them to communicate with friends. Students share customizable avatars, send/receive messages, and chat in a secure teacher-monitored environment. The platform equips teachers, administrators, and parents with tools that make it easy to monitor users’ communications. Teachers can differentiate instruction by adding, removing, and customizing individual communication features such as instant messaging and emailing. QwertyTown offers detailed data reporting about students’ performance, SIS Roster Integration and Universal Single Sign-On. Check it out.

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The Coming Revolution in EdTech

There has never been a better time to be bold.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rusty Greiff

CREDIT 17761776 was a killer year for a start-up! In that 12-month span, and in the decades that preceded it, a community of ambitious entrepreneurs channeled unusual courage, conviction and a world-shaping vision into a working MVP – an independent American life. They were probably a little bit crazy – but their 250-plus year “pilot,” with its necessary pivots and A/B tests, has proven to be an imperfect but sustainable success story.

Our Challenge Cup series, held in over 16 innovation hubs globally, and growing to over 50 cities around the world next year, identifies the most dynamic education start-ups in the world.

Today, a new band of Jeffersons, Franklins and Adamses is launching start-ups that re-imagine how we learn and teach through adaptive and personalized platforms, engaging and interactive products, and sophisticated data analytics and assessment tools—in some cases in the palm of our hands.

We hear the bubble-bursting declaration from skeptics, but the Edtech Revolution is alive and still playing in a 5 million person open online course near you!

Last month I joined Washington, D.C.-based global incubator and seed fund, 1776, to identify and partner with these high-potential and performing teams to launch and help scale transformative learning companies.

Through my own efforts with phenomenal teams – at Grockit, Sylvan Learning and other edtech start-ups – in successfully scaling learning businesses, and through my failures in poor product launches and missed growth opportunities, I’ve learned that turning a great idea into a viable product and a sustainable company takes a lot more than access to capital. The biggest challenges facing investors and entrepreneurs in edtech remains product adoption, competitive differentiation, sales cycles and growth timelines.

Every month, well-intentioned and aspiring entrepreneurial teams are realizing that an ever-changing and overwhelming mosaic of regulations, powerful branded market leaders, and complex purchasing and delivery dynamics can impede growth at the global, local and state level by intimidating entrepreneurs, institutions, and consumers alike.

At 1776, we believe early stage growth is realized only when the best, highest-impact products and teams are integrated with distribution channels, expertise and relevant school and consumer relationships to validate their products and models. Through our evolving national network of decision-makers, funders and corporate and non-profit partners, we help promising companies cut though red tape and navigate conventional potholes.

Our Challenge Cup series, held in over 16 innovation hubs globally, and growing to over 50 cities around the world next year, identifies the most dynamic education start-ups in the world that we connect with senior government, education, business, investor and operating leaders to nurture edtech companies, often culminating into global corporate, consumer and institutional partnerships.

There are new revolutions to launch and we see compelling trends that should encourage edtech innovation including:

  • Increased for-profit educational spending – with over $125 billion spent in childcare, K-12, post-secondary, and corporate/life skill training – roughly 10% of the estimated $1.3 trillion education spending in the U.S. in 2014;
  • Impressive capital invested especially in seed and Series A – with over $1.3 billion invested in edtech companies in the U.S. last year;
  • New funding sources from global foundations, family funds, and philanthropic venture vehicles to new seed accelerators are, in many cases, thoughtfully channeling capital into for-profit edtech companies;
  • Explosive growth in the global educational consumer – especially in the Middle East, Asia and African markets – in core and supplemental products and services providing greater opportunity for U.S.-based startups and international edtech companies to scale in emerging markets;
  • A multiplying effect as life-long learners using mobile platforms and consumer devices offer new content, curriculum and personalized or collaborative instructional opportunities; and
  • The “science of learning” in data analytics, efficacy research and assessment is transforming the products and models impacting forward-thinking schools, institutions and their community of learners.

Educational entrepreneurs have extraordinary problems to address – from early childhood development, to closing achievement gaps in K-12, to teacher success and effectiveness, to improving college preparedness, retention, and graduation as well as 21st century skills and career readiness.

So patriots, unite! With such an array of important challenges to solve, there has never been a better time to be bold. We at 1776 are excited to partner with fearless teams, rule-adjusters, imaginative thinkers and doers, and a community of partners to launch the next wave of smart solutions that will transform education around the world.


Rusty Greiff is Managing Director of 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based global incubator and seed fund that helps engineer the success of the world’s most promising startups tackling important challenges in education and other areas.

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