It's not easy to stand out among the giants of edtech like Google, Apple, or Microsoft. Still, smaller developers are innovating at a rapid pace and are creating some truly exciting tools. At education conferences in particular, teachers are constantly distracted by flashy booths, expensive giveaways, superhero characters, and other marketing gimmicks. It can be hard for teachers, tech coordinators, and schools to tune out the noise and focus on what's good for learning.
At the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference this year, there was a lot of fanfare and some really great products. But scouring the expo hall floor, I couldn't help but notice how much there was to see and how many tools were confusingly similar in what they offered. I wondered if teachers struggled to sort through the options and if they were able to make it to the booths of less-well-known tools.
Now that the conference is over, we've done some of that work for you: Check out these tools you may have missed at ISTE this year. Some are awesome as-is, and some have a ways to go, but each is trying to do something different to make it a must-have in your classroom. Once you're done, see our tips below for making the most of your conference next year.
This U.K.-based developer offers a student-engagement platform with formative assessment tools such as quizzes, interactive presentations, polls, and video discussion similar to Edpuzzle.
What's different: In addition to the normal assessment features, Spiral has a tool called Team Up. Aimed at building collaboration, teachers can group students through their devices into customized roles ready for group work. After brainstorming and delivering a final presentation, teachers can see the work done by each student -- even if it never made it into the final product. It's an interesting take on collaboration that's worth a look.
What's different: Binumi doesn't want to be one of the tools you use; it wants to be the only tool. They claim to be the only platform with powerful editing tools supported by thousands of pieces of royalty-free content ready for remixing, as well as robust publishing options -- a trifecta of resources to create the next great story. The demos of student work were impressive, and the creative possibilities seem endless; Binumi might just be a tool to watch.
Using Google Expeditions for VR? Take CoSpaces for a spin.
From Expeditions to NYTVR, lots of tools these days engage students with high-quality virtual reality experiences.
What's different: CoSpaces actually lets you make your own virtual reality movies in the classroom. Students can create anything from virtual exhibitions to scientific models to literature interpretations and then share and experience their creations in VR. A lot of teachers have started using CoSpaces in the classroom already, but here at ISTE they've launched an Edu version of the tool.
Other tools with potential
Here are some other tools that caught my eye for trying something different in their field. They may not be for every educator, but one might just be the hidden gem you've been looking for:
- Xplor Labs: There isn't much content here yet (they say more is coming), but Xplor Labs, like Defined STEM, is interested in real-world project-based learning. But it has a unique mission: solving problems through science and engineering to make the world a safer place.
- Silas: Apps like The Social Express II or Hall of Heroes attempt to help guide kids through social situations. Silas uses gamification, avatar creation, and (soon) VR to help kids record videos of their own situations and get teachers involved in feedback.
- Workbench: TinkerCAD hosts online places for students to share their created projects, but Workbench wants to help guide students through the steps of project-based learning and wants to be a platform that connects all students and teachers throughout the whole district.
- Studytracks: Part Flocabulary and part Quizlet, Studytracks puts curriculum to music.
- Ziro: There's Sphero and Ozobot and a host of other robotics tools out there. How's Ziro trying to be different? They're focusing on designing robots through motion-controlled hand gestures and letting the coding motivation arise naturally.
Tips for your next conference
In case you're looking to find that hidden gem of a tool, here are some ideas for getting through the tangle of booths at any conference:
- Avoid the lines: Developers at quieter booths will be much more willing to talk you through their tools.
- Go to the small booths like in the Startup Pavilion or booths at the far ends of the expo hall.
- Ask developers who their competition is, and then ask them how they're different.
- Talk to other educators -- everyone is usually excited to share one of their great "finds."