9 ed tech developments to note from SXSWedu 2015

As you might expect, there was plenty of ed tech innovation on display at last week's SXSWedu in Austin, TX — ranging from game-based learning and satellites for STEM to a simpler solution for assembling citations. In no particular order, here are nine ed tech developments to note from SXSWedu.


One of 10 startups selected from over 100 applicants for SXSWedu's LaunchEDU competition, Zaption took home the top prize (and a $2,500 check). The company allows educators to create engaging, interactive video lessons by letting them add interactive elements like text, pictures, and questions to online videos that already exist. Basic accounts are free, though two levels of "Pro" accounts, for an individual instructor or up to 15, come with additional tools and features and cost an annual fee of $89 or $995 a year, respectively.

Global Learning XPRIZE

On Thursday, XPRIZE's Matt Keller detailed the organization's $15 million global learning prize, which aims to bring literacy to 250 million children worldwide. Over the course of his presentation, Keller detailed how the XPRIZE was conceived in the same spirit as past competitions that bred innovation, such as the $25,000 contest aviator Charles Lindbergh entered when he made his transatlantic flight. (It's also worth noting that an XPRIZE competition helped bring about SpaceX.)

That said, teams that register to compete for the Global Learning XPRIZE will be given 18 months to come up with a viable, open source, scalable solution for facilitating the self-teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic in developing countries. The top five teams will then receive $1 million each to field test their solutions in at least 100 villages before the top prize of $10 million is awarded for the solution that helps its subjects achieve the highest proficiency.


On-hand during a Tuesday luncheon with Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, GlassLab is an organization focused on helping students learn via digital games, and it has partnered with experts from commercial gaming and learning and assessment to further that goal. Counted among its partners are Electronic Arts, Zynga, ETS, Pearson, the Institute of Play, and the Entertainment Software Association. The company has also received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.

One of the posited benefits of game-based learning is that it places kids in a less-high-stakes environment where they feel more comfortable with making a mistake or failing, encouraging them to persevere until they succeed. The format also provides immediate feedback and can potentially be used to measure more qualitative things like the ability to think critically. Among the games GlassLab had on display during the luncheon were SimCityEDU, which is aligned to 21st Century skills framework and the Next Generation Science Standards, puts students in the mayoral office of a fictional city where they must balance its employment needs, the happiness of its citizens, and its environmental impact. Another game, Argubot Academy EDU, is focused on English Language Arts and has middle schoolers roleplay as citizens in a futuristic city on Mars where arguments, which must be developed with sound claims and evidence, are settled using robots.


On Wednesday afternoon, we met up with Michał Borkowski, CEO of Brainly. Based in Poland, the social learning network unveiled a new iOS and Android app focused on its peer-to-peer homework helper platform. We asked Borkowski what prevents students from simply using the platform to cheat and get the answers, and he told us that responses are monitored to ensure that its student users are indeed going beyond that. Take, for example, this physics problem, where the person answering goes into detail explaining the concept behind the answer. The platform is additionally gamified with a leaderboard, encouraging students to answer even more of their peers' questions to climb in the rankings. Borkowski says this also sets them apart from similar services offered by U.S. companies like Chegg. 


Ideaphora allows learners to break down digital content into a knowledge map to demonstrate the concepts they have learned. Currently integrated into BrainPop, the platform automatically identifies key concepts from content, which can be dragged and dropped into the map space. Screenshots and images can be added to clarify concepts, and students can click what they've dragged into the mapping field to go back to the relevant point in the video or text. "That's how the brain works," said Mark Oronzio, Ideaphora CEO and co-founder. "We link concepts together. That's how we remember things."

A standalone version is currently in the works.


What better topic to inspire STEM learning than space? At SXSWedu, we finally got a chance to take a look at Ardusat's cube satellites in person. The startup aims to facilitate STEM learning by giving schools a way to bring space into the classroom via small satellites that are piggybacked into space on larger launches. The bodies of the handheld satellites are 3D-printed and contain a chip with a microprocessor; an accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope sensor; and additional sensors for temperature, luminosity, ultraviolet light, and infrared. These provide data that can then be used for in-class experiments. As previously reported, the company recently raised $1 million that will be used for an "Experiment Platform" where data from these experiments can be published for the public.


With GoEnnounce, students create profiles where they can showcase extracurriculars, volunteer work, and a school-related resume for colleges and employers to create an e-portfolio. Additionally, they can connect with mentors who are alerted to each update they make to their profile. Naturally, we asked co-founders and sisters Melissa and Meghan Davis what makes their network different from LinkedIn. They told us that apart from this primary function, the site also provides students with a crowdfunding platform so they can raise money to fulfill various goals, from providing more art supplies for their high school to financing a semester abroad. The site also awards a monthly $500 scholarship, sponsored by Sallie Mae's Upromise, and is among finalists for EdTech Digest's 2015 Cool Tool Awards.

RoboKind's Milo

We got to see RoboKind's Milo, a robot developed to assist in teaching children with autism, in person for the first time at last year's ISTE Conference, but at SXSWedu, the University of Texas at Dallas' Dr. Pamela Rollins was on hand to detail her findings on the use of humanoid robots with children on the autism spectrum. Among the results shared by Rollins, who worked with RoboKind in developing Milo, were videos of children and therapists with the robot. The children were noticeably engaged, and the parent of one boy said she had never seen him come out of his shell like he did with Milo. Among the robot's capabilities: telling stories, reading a child's facial expressions, and teaching them how to remain calm when it senses they are feeling stress or frustration.


Nobody likes the complicated process of assembling citations on research papers. The order everything goes can be complicated, info for some resources is more difficult to find than others, and the numerous styles only confuse matters more. While there have been tools like Citation Machine to make this easier in the past, they still weren't always the most helpful.

Enter RefME, a free web and mobile tool that automatically generates citations, reference lists, and bibliographies for books, journals, websites, and more. Students can search RefME's database by book or journal article title, ISBN, ISSN, or URL,and they can even scan a book or journal's barcode, if available. The site is also compatible with over 6,500 reference styles.


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