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EdTech innovations that turn learning upside down

EdTech Innovations for October on OnlineSchools.com

Educational technology has infiltrated the mainstream: To support teacher involvement in collaborative networking and online learning environments, the Department of Education launched Connected Educator Month in August 2012. The many possibilities of "EdTech" have also attracted entrepreneurs, startups and investors, invigorating this already exciting community. These EdTech inventions go beyond subject matter instruction, offering techniques for data monitoring and reporting, behavior management and real-time communication. Listed alphabetically, these 10 forward-thinking innovators are rebuilding education with tools like smartphones, games, Web-based lessons and analytics software.

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  • ClassDojo: Smartphones, laptops and tablets become tools for classroom management and progress reporting. Teachers can reinforce good habits with feedback points, using real-time notifications to interact with students instead of interrupting class to address behavioral issues. ClassDojo captures student data and converts it to reports for parents and administrators, helping educators keep records without manual data entry.

  • ClassOwl: Students tame their schedules by tracking assignments and due dates, not to mention organizing their social life. Professors can save time updating course calendars online using a standard syllabus template, while notifying students about changes and important deadlines. Administrators can access an analytics platform that captures data and reports it to the people who need it. Schools can gather useful metrics, for example, monitoring the time students spend on assignments.

  • Education Elements: This company works with administrators and educators to integrate technology in their schools, blending online learning and assessments with in-person classroom instruction. A streamlined platform, the Hybrid Learning Management System, supports online education, with a student interface for accessing content as well as a teacher dashboard for monitoring progress.

  • Educreations: This iPad app seeks to break down barriers, allowing anyone to share their knowledge online. A recordable interactive white board captures voice and handwriting to produce video lessons. Students and colleagues can view lessons from their iPad or from a Web browser with Flash. The Educreations website shows some examples of effective lesson planning to offer inspiration.

  • eProf: Beyond brick-and-mortar schools, students and teachers can find each other via this online education marketplace. A virtual classroom provides a real-time venue where instructors teach. There's also a virtual hallway where classmates can talk before and after lessons. Online videos and tutorials complement this environment. The "e-teachers" set their own price for each class and can teach up to 30 students at once, but eProf notes that a class size of about 10-11 is typical for these online courses.

  • eSpark: This innovation for elementary school students builds on games and community. The individualized approach can capture students' downtime for learning. iPads can support diagnosis of learning levels and academic goal setting. eSpark challenges learners with daily quests and recommends appropriate games, apps, podcasts and other resources. The tool can report progress to parents and teachers, showing overall performance across apps.

  • LearnSprout: Founded by developers, this company offers tech solutions to help make student data accessible yet secure. Administrators have information loaded into the LearnSprout database and then can access it with an API key. LearnSprout handles not only the data extraction and integration but also updates. Schools can avoid manually exporting data and emailing student data with technology that is designed to provide privacy as well as convenience.

  • MindSumo: What's the answer to traffic congestion? How can resort hotels improve energy efficiency? On the MindSumo site, companies post practical challenges like these. Students submit ideas, and the companies select the best solutions. Winners gain rewards, prizes and recognition. Students demonstrate real-world skills and compete with peers beyond their classmates, showing off their talents and knowledge. Founded in 2011, MindSumo participated in StartX, the Stanford Student Startup Accelerator, and garnered backing from Silicon Valley investors.

  • Motion Math: Blending fun and instruction, mobile math games can help build an understanding of quantity, estimation, place value and mental arithmetic. The goal is to help children cultivate an intuitive mastery of math, encourage their delight in intellectual challenges and turn screen time into learning time. An experimental study on 5th graders playing an iPad game showed improvement in knowledge of fractions as well as learners' attitudes.

  • Top Hat Monocle: With this Web-based software, students' own devices serve as clickers for polls, quizzes and more. Doubling as an online homework tool, Top Hat Monocle helps teachers create open-ended discussions and interactive demonstrations using standard presentation software. Launched in 2010, this Toronto-based company has expanded to San Francisco. The firm estimates that more than 60,000 students in 70+ universities worldwide use this program, with professors claiming improved student retention and attendance.

EdTech is taking off: Investment in U.S. education technology companies rose from $52 million in 2005 to $930 million in 2011, according to a September 2012 Financial Post article. As more of these unique companies and ideas gain funding and support, education as a whole could benefit. Just as blogging revolutionized the dialogue about education, new technology could re-invent the learning experience.

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