October 6th, 2020

Innovations That Matter – Episode 11

As designers, we’re intensely curious about innovations of all kinds, and even more so when human ingenuity is borne out of sudden change. We decided to lend our expertise in highlighting and evaluating promising innovations borne out of the COVID-19 crisis. In this series, we’ll be using 3 different categories to rate these exciting ideas. First will be innovation, or how new or disruptive the idea is. Next, we’ll look at feasibility to check how realistic the idea actually is in practice. Finally, will be scalability, to see how capable an idea is to reach a wide audience.

In this episode of Innovations That Matter, we review:
1. A New Partnership For Online Tutoring [Link]
2. New Service Helps Parents Organize Families [Link]
3. New VR Tool Enhances Online Learning [Link]

Watch Episode 10 here.

Find more COVID-19 insights here.


Hey folks, this is David Bulfin, Senior Designer at BOLTGROUP and welcome back for our next episode of Innovations That Matter, where we explore, analyze, and rank exciting ideas that are creatively responding to COVID-19. With schools back in session, students, teachers, counselors and parents have all been contending with the strange realities of remote learning. For this episode, we wanted to pause and shed light on a few new and emerging services that are aimed at helping everyone adjust to these new learning challenges.

For many years, Khan Academy has proved to be a reliable and invaluable online learning resource. In similar fashion, the popular online project management tool, Coda has shown to be a solid platform for team collaboration among businesses of various sizes. While neither of these services are new, a fresh solution has recently emerged through an open partnership between these providers. A new website, found at schoolhouse.world merges the strengths of both services into a single student centric experience, deployed rapidly to serve at home learning needs this fall. Their free service connects live volunteer tutors to remote students via web sessions to dig deep and get personalized help on numerous different subject matters. What began only a few months ago as a closed pilot program has already blossomed, with over 800 live sessions taught over this past summer. For innovation, schoolhouse.world gets a 4 out of 5. We give big kudos to the teams at both Khan and Coda for creatively colliding their resources to produce something new just in time. We see great opportunities for future polish in areas related to user experience, user interface and branding, but beyond that, we’re excited to see such great hustle to introduce a new online platform to help students across the globe. In regard to feasibility, this platform is receiving a score of 3 out of 5. As an open and free service, schoolhouse.world is fueled by volunteer tutors. No tutors, means no service. We hope to see this platform thrive and expand, but that will only be possible if the pipeline of those willing to help, rises to meet potential demand. We’re also a bit curious how in the future this service plans to vet onboarding tutors. The site has a nice voting system in place now to rank tutors on quality, but time will tell if that’s adequate in the long term. Lastly on scalability, we’re giving this web service a 5 out of 5 score stemming from a vision of growth. By generously offering the service as a free tool, we think the schoolhouse team has eliminated some key barriers to helping people learn all over the world. Provided that their volunteer pool scales in proportion to the new students coming online, this tool should be poised to grow.

While remote learning is a deeply valuable strategy in helping to contain further spread of COVID-19, there’s also no doubt in the added toll being placed on families. For parents, the juggling act of keeping a household functioning well, has only become more challenging and more complex. While school systems work hard to create a functioning remote infrastructure while in motion, parents too are having to adapt and overcome for the sake of their children. A new online community and toolkit called Modern Village is seeking to empower overwhelmed parents as they wrangle a new set of daily realities. While still in a preliminary beta form, the service is looking to build a suite of online products and tools to better organize, manage and encourage healthy family living through the pandemic. Originally planned as a single unified scheduling tool to manage childcare pickups, the site is evolving to tackle today’s relevant challenges. At present, they offer helpful guides for getting remote learning up and running, some handy ergonomic guidelines for kids of various ages and scheduling tools to help parents feel sane and supported. On innovation, this concept is currently ranked at a 3 out of 5. With the website still in its very early stages, it’s yet to be seen how its collective offerings will be bundled into a seamless experience. That being said, we were impressed by the content published so far and can see this transforming into a one stop shop to help keep a family organized. On feasibility, we’re giving high marks at 5 out of 5. A unified web platform makes a lot of sense here and having one centered on thriving within our new normal makes it all the more relevant. Going beyond scheduling is what will take this concept beyond others in this space. We’ll see if this new COVID era offering can unseat incumbents like Cozi, Timetree and Picniic. We also hope that social emotional learning tools will help set this system apart. Finally, on scalability, our team is ranking this new startup at 3 out of 5. We’re hoping a mobile app will accompany the web-based system at launch. It’ll be a big plus to help this new platform reach an eager audience.

In the broadest of terms, COVID-19 has forced us to collectively reassess how we learn. For those in higher education, questions surrounding how to best use technology to enhance distance learning abound. While video conferences have become a ubiquitous daily norm, most current offering still fall short in replicating a truly engaging environment. Doghead Simulations, a VR company based out of Seattle is looking to shape that better experience. With virtual reality offerings exploding across various industries today, Doghead appears to be focusing in their efforts by making virtual education and training their key focus with a product called Rumii. They claim that by bringing back socialization and the feelings of achievement experienced in the classroom, Rumii can help cut down on the time needed to learn a complex subject. Interestingly, to help cut down on distraction and disorientation, the development team chose to make their virtual environments as real world accurate as possible, in opposition to the conceptually futurist or otherworldly experiences offered by competitors. For innovation, we’re ranking Rumii at 4 out 5. Our team liked that in a crowded field or VR offerings, Doghead is choosing to focus on educational fidelity over general flashiness. For those who’ve experienced immersive VR in the past few years, it’s common to be more engaged by the novelty of the experience, rather than the value of the content itself. By standing against this notion, Rumii seems positioned to disrupt at a time when it could evolve to become the most useful. On feasibility, this tool gets a score of 3 out 5. Like all quality virtual reality experiences, the value of the outcome is hardware and network dependent. While we’re not quite yet at the point where headsets and powerful PCs are standard issue for college classes, we could be there soon. We’ll be curious to see how solutions like this integrate or transform what it is that tuition funds are leveraged for. To that end, we’re giving this product offering a 5 out 5 on scalability. To counteract the aforementioned barriers to getting people started with VR, Doghead has smartly offered their solution as a cost per head subscription. A model like this generally scales very well, by packaging everything as a service and helping to mitigate startup costs. We’ll be very curious to see what institutions take them up on their offer of introducing VR not just as a tool in the classroom, but rather as the classroom itself.

That’s all for today. Be sure to check out our next episode where we’ll rate 3 more innovations you need to know about. Thanks for listening and see you next time.

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