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Archive for November, 2011

What a #SWEL party this is

November 29th, 2011 No comments

Last weekend I participated in Startup Weekend Education London (SWEL), the first Startup Weekend Education to occur outside the US. Held at the Free Word Center in London, SWEL is a startup ‘Vertical’, an event aimed at helping startups get from idea to company in 54 hours. I went along with Tiny Ears to see what I could see and hopefully to find some passionate collaborators to help bring the project into reality.

The format of the weekend was this.

6:30 Friday night, participants turned up and networked while eating pizza before taking it in turns to give a 60 second idea pitch before the entire room in what was termed ‘pitchfire’. Those that pitched then had to drum up enthusiasm for their projects by gathering votes for their idea in the form of post-it notes. Educators, being uniquely powerful at an event dedicated to education technology, had ‘power up’ pink post-it’s to give an extra boost to projects they wanted to get behind.

Votes were then totted up and the top 15 ideas got brought through as the ideas that were to be worked on throughout the weekend. Pitchers then had to try and recruit a team that would work on their idea for the rest of the weekend.

Finally, after all that hard work, the weekend culminates in the pitches, selling your idea to the panel of industry notables, business honchos and money types. These judges then decide who the top three startups are and the overall winner gets a goody-bag of awesome prizes.

Despite crashing on my pitchfire 60 seconds, I got voted through and managed to persuade a small group of 3 people to Tiny Ears’ cause. These were Stefan Kreitmayer, a game designer, David Jennings an educator and psychologist and, part time, Mike Mompi,  who actually worked for one of the sponsors but decided to join in the Startup fun.

Over the course of the three days we defined how we were to approach the learning experience that the app was going to use and built a small prototype based upon one of those theories. It was great to get going on a prototype and now there are lots of ideas to put into a series of prototypes that we can user test against real children further down the line. We also thought about the business side of things and put some actual numbers based on customer research against those ideas.

Sunday was spent largely preparing for the final pitch. Everyone worked really hard over the weekend, but it was during this period that my team really came into their own. Mike was amazing at helping to construct the pitch and listening to me fumble over it until I got it right. His feedback was invaluable and I’m sure it was because of him I didn’t crash and burn as I did during pitchfire. Stefan was a rock all weekend, but his last minute video editing, Illustrator and logo creation skills really helped turn the pitch into something that looked professional. And not to leave out David, who was unable to attend on Sunday, but spent Saturday doing all the research that we used during the pitch.

And what, might you ask, was I during while my team designed user interfaces and created pitch content? Well, mostly programming to be honest, as always. But also networking and selling the idea, talking to educators and feeding back what I learned into the UI and design of the prototype.

The pitches were great. It was inspiring to see so many unformed ideas from Friday night had morphed into fully functioning, well structured, feasible business models. Many of the teams gave really fantastic pitches, including the best pitch intro video ever from Youny. My pitch went well and I was really pleased with what we achieved over the weekend.

The judges deliberated over dinner and my nerves were on edge when we all sat down to hear the final judgement. To my joy, Tiny Ears came in 3rd, with really good feedback from the judges. It was just the enormity of the task ahead that seemed to weigh against the project, which was a perfectly valid point and one which I agree with totally. But as I’ve always said, I know it’s hard but that’s no reason not to try. And if we pull it off it will result in something amazing.

Second place went to Edevents, a startup around streamlining the process teachers have to go through when organising things, from simple form filling in to organising and communicating large school trips. The winners, completely deservedly so, were Night Zookeeper, an inspiring and fantastically executed creative learning world for children to enjoy both in and outside of school. If you want to encourage your child to learn through creativity, then I really do suggest you check them out.

All in all the weekend was well worth it. Tiny Ears progressed in leaps and bounds over the weekend, the idea was validated many times over and I made some fantastic contacts. There are a number of projects that I will be following closely over the next few months, as I know many will be following mine. If you have an idea and need help to move it out of the idea stage and into reality, I highly recommend the Startup Weekend experience.

Finally, here is a video of the Tiny Ears prototype that we built over the weekend. Once again, thanks team. I couldn’t have done it withut you.

Tiny Ears Prototype from Emily Toop on Vimeo.

Categories: Radical Robot, Startup Chile, Tiny Ears Tags:

Introducing Tiny Ears

November 21st, 2011 No comments

Last week I met with Ellen De Vries of The Copy House for a naming session. A naming session is where uncreative people like me get to sit down with a creative person who is good with words to try and come up with a name for a project/business/enterprise. And, lo and behold, it works! During the session we came up with a few different names that we were happy with then systematically eliminated a bunch of them. Elimination was due to a number of things, including the impact of a name, trademarks already being taken, companies already formed with a name and simply because the more we thought about them, or said the names out loud, the less appropriate they seemed.

After all this I was left with 3 names to take away and ‘try on’ for a few days. After talking with a number of people, and mostly because it just fit, we are now ready to introduce the world to Tiny Ears, the technology that will, hopefully, be powering your educational applications very soon.

If you’re struggling to name your projects or company, I highly recommend organising a naming session with someone. I would also recommend that you use Ellen as she made the whole process fun as well as useful.

Categories: Radical Robot, Tiny Ears Tags:

Storybook Project Overview

November 4th, 2011 1 comment

I recently wrote a basic overview for the Storybook project that I’m taking to Chile, and I’ve realised having it on here is probably the best place to put it, so here it is.

Project Overview of Interactive Storybook for iPad
from Radical Robot

The Interactive Storybook for iPad project is designed to create an educational storybook for children between the ages of 4 and 7 that will help them learn to read sentences while providing an engaging and entertaining experience. The age range is designed to target children moving from reading single words, to sentences.

Many interactive storybooks are designed to entertain and tell a story, but provide little towards assisting the child to read the story for themselves. In most cases, this assistance is provided by parents or learning professionals, however these people are not always available to assist the child when they want. This project will utilise Speech Recognition technology to listen to the child as they read the story out loud, so as to provide encouragement, feedback, assistance and rewards at the point at which it is needed. Face detection will be used to determine whether or not the child is reading from the app rather than talking to someone off screen and will therefore serve to provide more accuracy to the speech recognition. Speech recognition can be disabled for adult led enjoyment.

As the child reads the story, the app will listen to their progress. When the child reads a word incorrectly, stumbles on pronunciation or takes a long time to read the word (the app only ‘listens’ when the child is looking at the app). It will then step in and prompt the child with assistance using the Phonics learning system. When the child correctly pronounces the word, then audible (‘Well done!’) and visual (animations) feedback is used to provide rewards.

The app will monitor the child’s progress over time (between readings of the story as well as within a reading session) so that feedback can be adjusted to the child’s progress. This means that words that are consistently mispronounced will receive more intervention and greater rewards for success than words that are more often correctly read. The actual form that the feedback/reward system will take is currently in development.

As additional rewards, at the end of every page, the story so far can be animated and interacted with. These animations can be expanded into games that will assist the child with learning the words that they have been struggling with in a fun and interactive way.

The app is designed to be a fun experience whether read together with a parent or alone. When read with a parent then the speech recognition and face detection can be disabled so that mum or dad can provide the learning value and assist their child in playing the games. However, whenever the child wants to play and mum’s busy, then the Speech Recognition can be activated to provide the required assistance and encouragement during self directed play.

This app is still in development, with a working prototype expected around March. Development at this time is focused around creating the speech recognition technology for children.