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.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Geography EdApps for Kids

GUEST COLUMN | by Karen L. Mahon

When we’re reviewing educational apps, we find that the toughest academic subject to find high quality educational apps for is Social Studies. It seems like there must be a million drill-and-kill flag apps, but really strong instructional content is much more rare than we’d like. To make your hunt for high quality geography apps a bit easier, today we’re sharing Balefire Labs’ 10 top rated geography apps. These apps have stronger instructional design than the bulk of the geography apps on the market that we’ve seen. Hope they’re helpful to you in finding resources and helpful to your kids for learning geography!

Here we go, starting with number 10….

#10 TapQuiz Maps World Edition

TapQuiz Maps World Edition app iconBy Rolzer, this app presents a printed name of a state, province or country and the learner must find that location on a map. This app does not have adapting levels of difficulty, nor is it mastery-based. But it does have error remediation and detailed performance reports. We recommend this app for ages 10-19+ years. It is available in the iTunes store only (Free). To see Balefire Labs’ full review of TapQuiz Maps World Edition, click here.

#9 GeoBee Challenge HD by National Geographic

GeoBee Challenge HD app iconBy the National Geographic Society, this app has three challenges: multiple-choice geography questions, tagging locations of printed names on an interactive map and tagging spots on a map that correspond to pictures of locations. Unfortunately, this app does not include adapting difficulty, error remediation or performance reports, but it is mastery-based, so kids can’t continue to the next, more difficult level without mastering the current level. Because it does not have error remediation, be mindful of giving it to easily-frustrated students to use independently. We recommend this app for ages 10-14 years. It is available on the iTunes ($1.99), Google Play ($1.99) and Amazon Kindle ($1.99) stores. To see Balefire Labs’ full review of GeoBee Challenge HD, click here.

#8 Capital Cities of the World Countries Quiz

Capital Cities of the World Countries Quiz app iconFrom Bogumil Sikora & Paridae, this app is all about learning world capitals. The app presents the name of a country and the learner must choose its matching capital city from an array of four choices. This app does not have adapting levels of difficulty, but it does have error remediation, detailed performance reports and is mastery-based. This app does include ads. We recommend this app for ages 12-18 years. It is available in the iTunes (Free) and Google Play (Free) stores. To see Balefire Labs’ full review of Capital Cities of the World Countries Quiz, click here

#7 Tiny Countries

Tiny Countries app iconBy TapToLearn Software, this app presents multiple-choice geography problems and the learner must choose the image, from an array, that correctly answers the question. The problems are grouped by continent and the learner cannot progress to the next continent until the current one is mastered. This app does not have error remediation, so again we urge caution when using with easily-frustrated students. It also does not have detailed performance reports. It does, however, have adapting difficulty levels and is mastery-based. We recommend this app for ages 9-12 years. It is available in the iTunes ($3.99), Google Play ($4.99) and Amazon ($4.99) stores. To see Balefire Labs’ full review of Tiny Countries, click here

#6 US Geography with Flat Stanley HD

US Geography with Flat Stanley app iconBy Flatter World, Inc., this app requires that the learner use an onscreen slingshot to fling Flat Stanley onto the target named state. The learner must then construct, letter-by-letter, the name of the state to which Stanley has been flung. We like that this app is mastery-based, but it does not have adapting difficulty levels, error remediation or detailed performance reports. As ever, we recommend caution in using an app without error remediation with easily-frustrated students working independently. We recommend this app for ages 8-12 years. It is available in the iTunes store only ($1.99). To see Balefire Labs’ full review of US Geography with Flat Stanley HD, click here.

#5 Intro to Geography – North America, by Montessorium

Intro to Geography - North America, by Montessorium app iconIn this app, from Montessorium, the learner is required to complete a variety of activities, including matching the shape of the country to its location on the map by dragging it, touching a country given its spoken name, matching a country name and its flag by drawing a line between them and matching a country shape to its printed name. This app has adapting levels of difficulty and is mastery-based, which will help provide motivation, but does not include error remediation or detailed performance reports. Our usual warnings about the lack of error remediation apply. We recommend this app for ages 7-12 years. It is available in the iTunes store only ($3.99).  To see Balefire Labs’ full review of Intro to Geography – North America, click here

#4 EdScout Europe

EdScout Europe app iconThis app, from iHomeEducator, presents the name and flag of a European country; the learner’s task is to touch the corresponding country on an onscreen map. This is a simple and easy-to-use app. It does not have adapting levels of difficulty, nor is it mastery-based, but it does have error remediation and detailed performance reports. We recommend this app for ages 11-16 years. It is available in the iTunes store only (Free). To see Balefire Labs’ full review of EdScout Europe, click here.

#3 EdScout World

EdScout World app iconThis app, also from iHomeEducator, works exactly the same way as EdScout Europe, but presents the name and flag of any country in the world. The learner’s task is the same; she must touch the country on the map that corresponds to the name and flag. As is the case with EdScout Europe, EdScout World does not have adapting levels of difficulty, nor is it mastery-based, but it does have error remediation and detailed performance reports. We recommend this app for ages 11-16 years. It is available in the iTunes store only ($3.99). To see Balefire Labs’ full review of EdScout World, click here.

#2 Earth Challenge

Earth Challenge app iconFrom Tegulan, Earth Challenge is similar to the EdScout apps in that it presents names of places and the learner’s task is to find and touch the location named on the world map onscreen. Earth Challenge does not have adapting levels of difficulty or error remediation (use caution, as usual), but it is mastery-based and has detailed performance reports. We recommend this app for ages 9-19+ years. It is available in the iTunes store only (Free) To see Balefire Labs’ full review of Earth Challenge, click here.

And the #1 educational app for geography is… US Geography by Mindsnacks.

US Geography by Mindsnacks app iconThis is our all-time favorite geography app that we have reviewed. There are eight different and fun activities in this app and it targets state history and culture, capitals and cities, state shapes, famous landmarks, flags, nicknames and mottos, and lakes, rivers and other landforms. That is a larger range of content than we’ve seen in any other geography app. But on top of that, US Geography by Mindsnacks has adapting levels of difficulty, is mastery-based and has detailed performance reports. The one key feature we’d like it to have is error remediation, which is currently lacking. But the adapting difficulty and high rates of responses required by the app will keep most kids motivated and engaged. We recommend this app for ages 10-13 years. It is available in the iTunes store only ($1.99). To see Balefire Labs’ full review of US Geography by Mindsnacks, click here.

And because we like it so much, here is a video preview:

We hope this list has been helpful to you in your quest for the best geography educational apps for kids! Please let us know what you think.

Karen L. Mahon, Ed.D., is the founder and president of Balefire Labs, an educational app review service for PreK-12 that evaluates apps for instructional quality. To learn more about the integration of educational apps in the classroom, watch the free webinars with Karen, sponsored by the Center on Innovations in Learning at Temple University, now available On Demand on Balefire Labs’ Professional Development page.  Balefire Labs is an online review service for educational apps for iOS and Android; they’ve reviewed more than 3,700 educational apps to date and evaluate them according to their instructional quality and usability, based on scientific research. To access all of the reviews available on the Balefire Labs website, sign up for a free account here.

Posted in cool tools, guest column, lists | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments