Off and Running with EdTech Startups

You have all heard of Pinterest, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Uber. What do these successful companies have in common? They are all startups and successful ones at that! A startup is a newly established business that offers a product or service to meet a marketplace need. Many ventures target educational technology (EdTech) and innovation. This is great news for teachers like me who are constantly seeking new and engaging techniques to enhance students’ learning.

Teachers and students use many tools and services from EdTech startup firms. Often users do not know (or maybe do not care) who developed the product and where. For months, I have used ThingLink in my library without knowing the corporation’s headquarters are in Helsinki, Finland where I resided for four months while on the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program. With ThingLink, you can turn any image or 360-degree photosphere into an interactive experience by embedding “targets” that take users directly to pre-selected websites and other rich media (i.e. music, video, images). You decide where on the image you would like each “target”, creating a layer of interactive links. Explore the ThingLink I created below by simply clicking on each “target”.

As you can see, ThingLink is awesome! I was eager to make contact with them once I arrived in Finland. During my investigation of the company and its contact information, I came across an article titled, 6 Finnish EdTech Startups You Should Know About. I was surprised to learn that Finland has many startups focused on education. What’s more, many were mere kilometers from my apartment in Helsinki. It makes sense that Finland is home to so many educational ventures. Finns have developed and sustained one of the world's most successful education systems.

After stumbling upon the web page about Finnish startups, I found myself fervently hunting for more. What I found were the names of several companies in Helsinki that are reinventing learning. I immediately sent the enterprises emails explaining who I am and why I want to learn more about them. In no time at all, I heard back from many firms. During my very first week in Helsinki, I visited four organizations who specialize in educational technology and 21st century learning. The opportunity to discuss each firm’s philosophy, products, and services gave me a deeper insight into the changes occurring in schools.

Here are some things I have learned from visiting Finnish startups.

  • Technology integration is a means to connect students with others and explore curiosities.
  • Learning can happen anywhere! Inside and outside of the classroom.
  • Students are spending less time studying theories and more time on real-world applications.
  • There is a focus on individual learning paths and developing students’ strengths.

Here is a list of Finnish startups you should learn more about. How can you integrate these programs into your PBL classroom?

Lyfta: (immersive learning experiences using VR and multimedia content)
    • Lyfta is a rich media learning experience from Finland that invites pupils to have memorable, immersive experiences with real human stories from around the world. Using desktops, tablets or VR headsets, students use 360 interactive stories, short documentary films, VR, AR and rich media articles to learn about the experiences of others. All media is short-form and the variety and of media used to convey information keeps the experiences interesting for children. 
3D Bear: (3D design and printing)
    • 3D Bear develops pedagogic learning modules for 3D printing, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) in the class rooms for K-12, vocational training, adult education and libraries/maker spaces. Students can create a 3D model with just their finger on a screen for using existing models. 3DBear offers gamified apps and an online learning platform. 
Seppo: (educational games)
    • With Seppo, teachers create game tasks which students solve in teams using mobile devices. During the game the teacher monitors the game, assesses the answers submitted by the teams, and gives feedback. The “game board” can be a background image with embedded content or a map which directs students to specific GPS coordinates. Earning points and working together motivates the students to keep going. 
Mightifier: (a tool for social and emotional learning)
    • Mightifer is a fun, simple, and effective app for mastering and measuring students' social skills in class. The peer communication software boosts social and emotional learning which is strongly connected to academic performance and vital to the success of the 21st century learners. Mightifer leads to improved class environment, less bullying, and a better focus on learning. 
Mehackit: (a course where students design and build technology projects)
    • Mehackit high school courses give students across Finland and cities in the Nordics and UK the chance to experience coding through art, music and hardware! The course includes web materials, human instructor, teacher's guide, and all you need for your 38-hour creative technology course. 

No one expects teachers to use every new educational technology that hits the market. That would be impossible. EdTechs give students the opportunity to explore new possibilities and learn new skills. That alone, make it worth the time and risk to discover new technologies and integrate them into the classroom. Above is a list of just some Finnish EdTechs. Many more are identified by the organization, HundrED who in 2016, found 100 great innovations from Finland.

Revolutions in education and technology does not stop in Finland. Countries from around the world are embracing innovation, which fortunately benefits students. Go to Twitter and follow startups in this blog post as well as the ones you know and love. Our professional journeys are just getting started.

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