Lingual on Kickstarter: do's and don'ts

It’s not easy to get the word out on a developing language learning application.

Nor is it easy to raise funds for a project. However, there is an increasingly popular way of achieving these goals... Kickstarter. Kickstarter turned out to be the answer to our funding and marketing woes as our game Lingual was in development, but it also turned out to be a project in and of itself. For anyone considering a Kickstarter campaign, or for anyone interested in project development and organization, please take heed in these dos and don’ts (and applicable anecdotes).

Getting started -Do make a video that showcases your project, showcases your team, evokes an emotion and leaves potential backers with a call to action i.e. support us and pledge. -We watched a lot of Kickstarter videos for inspiration and originally wanted to go with humor, but it didn’t fit our project. In the end a genuine and heartfelt plea worked best. -Do write in detail on your project making your ideas and intentions as transparent as possible, and thereby making you worthy of financial support. -Too little information will make your project seem unprepared, unresearched and untrustworthy, so write it all down.

Rewards -Do create rewards in a plethora of price points to entice people to back your project. -We created reward packages for 24 price points ranging from $1 to $5,000. This let people know they could donate small amounts and still contribute and receive a reward. -Don’t give people so many choices that the rewards end up costing you the same or more money than you raised. -Since our language learning app will be available with English, Mandarin and Spanish, we decided to allow our backers to select their reward items of flash cards and posters in English, Mandarin or Spanish. We thought 1 language would be more popular than the others, but we ended up with even requests across the board. This made for quite a painstaking process! We had to produce 3 separate posters complete with illustrations and corresponding vocabulary. We also had to order large quantities of each poster in order to comply with wholesale standards. This all cost 3 times the time and money, and in the end we certainly wish we would have only offered the applicable prizes in 1 language. -Don’t create reward packages that don’t pack and ship well together. -We had 1 reward package in particular that combined flash cards with posters and when all packed in a large tube, the flashcards moved around and may have damaged the posters a bit. The moral of the story: think your rewards through from start to finish. -Do give your finished product as a reward. -A major reason people back your project is because they’re interested in the end result i.e. they want the end product as the reward. We were unable to do this because our product is app on the iPad and will be free with in-app purchases. We can’t give away something that is already free and Apple doesn’t allow the gifting of in-app purchases. With hindsight being 20/20, our app is not the best fit with the Kickstarter reward system. -Do remember that a picture is worth a thousand words, so include photos (and additional videos) wherever possible. -We included photos of our prizes, screenshots of the game, video of the game we had developed up to that point as well as a humorous video of Lingual (our game’s main character) playing pranks around our office. Many of these items were added as our campaign went on and made for great updates and marketing material outside of Kickstarter.

Marketing -Do thank backers as they pledge. -This will allow you to show your appreciation for their donation and will give you a jumpstart on quality customer service. -Don’t procrastinate on responding to all applicable comments and emails. -I mistakenly didn’t respond to a big backer in a timely manner, and he became understandably frustrated. I could have ruined all the good customer service work we had been doing, but luckily a nice apology email went a long way. -Do create an FAQ as soon as you start receiving questions. -You’ll start receiving similar questions over and over, so rather than writing the same email over and over just create the FAQ. -Do add updates on a regular basis. -A weekly update (we chose Fridays) will allow your backers and interested Kickstarter members to know what you accomplished for the week and what you intend on accomplishing for the week ahead. -Do market outside of Kickstarter. -Put together a timeline of email blasts, Facebook posts, Pins and Tweets that you do on a regular basis throughout your campaign. Kickstarter will feature the projects with the most momentum behind their project. A strong social media presence and press is the easiest way to prove and gain hype.

There it is, all the do’s and don’ts for a successful Kickstarter campaign taken from a group who did all the work and successfully funded a project. If you would like to check out our campaign, click here. Currently, we are still developing Lingual and plan on releasing in the very near future. Please visit to follow our development or to check out our other projects.

Edtech companies to watch in 2013

Edtech... buzz word, Twitter hashtag or emerging market?

While edtech is a buzz word and Twitter hastag, it’s quickly becoming a focal point in the tech world. It seems all new apps, internet applications and software must have an educational element mixed in with the entertainment and function. This is the case with these 4 companies who are doing big things in 2013.

Company 1: Duolingo - Mission: learn a language for free, while helping to translate the web - Product: language courses, listening/photo/recognition/speech exercises and games for your computer and tablet - 2013 EdTech prediction: “With time there will be more and more sophisticated systems. Already at Duolingo we have a pretty accurate model of what the students know and what they need to learn next. Over time, these models will become very accurate, allowing us to give highly optimized personalized education.”

Company 2: JogNog - Mission: provide competitive learning games that motivate players to learn more, faster, better - Product: a competitive quiz game for your phone and tablet with a library of over 60,000 multiple choice questions written and checked by teachers. Used by teachers and students to learn and test for the curriculum standards. - EdTech prediction: “We believe that with the correct tools, people can learn much faster and remember for much longer than they can currently. Within 10 years, there will be an order of magnitude improvement in learning speed that will have a greater impact on humankind than the Internet provided with information access.”

Company 3: LearnBoost - Mission: create easy-to-use, beautiful and free software to benefit educators every day - Product: easy-to-use online gradebook software with grade book, lesson plan, attendance and calendar tools for teachers - EdTech prediction: “Technology has a large impact in our everyday lives, but it has not fully impacted education. A strong technology team could enable educators to spend less time on administrative work and more time teaching students. The best solutions should be available to every educator in the world.

Company 4: MindSnacks - Mission: commitment to making an engaging learning process for all ages - Product: mobile learning games available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad - 2013 Edtech prediction: “We predict that 2013 will shed new light on gamification and its limits. One of the most important “discoveries,” we believe, will be a renewed appreciation of the difference between the gamification of education and educational games.” So bookmark their Web sites, follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook because these companies are on our edtech watch list for 2013!

Is your toddler ready for globalization?

We read and hear a lot about globalization today, but it appears that very few people are preparing to be active participants in this burgeoning global society.

Let’s start with the basics by isolating and identifying a need through the following statistics:

  • As of 2011, only 10 states in the US have a foreign language requirement for graduating from high school.
  • In the US, the average starting age for learning a new language is 14.
  • Of the 25 leading industrial countries in the world, 20 of them begin teaching foreign languages in elementary school.
  • 56% of Europeans are multilingual, whereas less than 10% of Americans can make that claim.
  • Funding to foreign language programs has already been cut by 40%, according to data gathered in 2011.

If you're worried about globalization, start your child learning Mandarin Chinese Today.

Parents universally agree that language, and all of its splendid complexities, is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. Nevertheless, we consistently underestimate the value of preschool language studies and verbal communication with our children. People often have the misconception that children learn language passively; nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, language acquisition is the product of active, repetitive and complex interactions. In the first six years of life, a child's brain is learning and changing more during language acquisition than during any other cognitive ability he/she is working to obtain. Parents who make a conscious effort to engage their child by introducing a foreign language see measurable results almost immediately.

Regardless of what a child decides to do later in life, mastery of languages will be an asset. According to François Thibaut, who runs The Language Workshop for Children, it is common knowledge that learning a foreign language is easier for children than it is for adults. He also notes that children who are exposed to other languages early in life tend to do better in school, score higher on standardized tests, are better problem solvers and are more open to diversity. Thibaut is an innovator in foreign languages for babies and children as well as the author of Professor Toto, an award-winning home-based foreign language curriculum for parents and children.

When children begin learning languages at birth, they have the capacity to learn many languages at once without becoming confused. Research has shown that the parts of the brain responsible for languages are very malleable, and as the brain develops so too does the ability to efficiently separate one language from another.

These studies and statistics have inspired us at Tiny Factory to stand up to the challenge and address the need to promote language instruction in an informal, fun and very effective way. We have developed an app for introductory English, Spanish & Mandarin Chinese language instruction.

7 ways iPads boost education

Teaching methods and tools are no longer restricted to textbooks, blackboards and chalk.

Across the globe technology, and particularly the iPad, has triumphantly invaded the classroom. It is now possible for teachers to go paperless and still take attendance, give exams and share interactive presentations with their students.

The iPad and similar devices have rapidly become a popular and powerful tool in educational environments. Not only do they have the ability to immediately engage students, but they are also improving efficiency and setting new teaching standards. Here are 7 examples of how iPads are enhancing education:

  1. Field trips – With so many budgetary cutbacks in education, the field trip was one of the first casualties. Nevertheless, thanks to virtual technology, students are now taking exciting field trips to other countries. One 5th grade teacher in Virginia took her class on virtual field trips to the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth, England and Yellowstone National Park using the Skype app for the iPad. She projected the tour of the Royal Navy Museum onto her classroom SmartBoard, and the students were able to interact with the museum guide and even ask questions. Read the full article.

  2. PE – A health and physical education program called SPARK, has an app for PE classes. Some PE instructors in California use SPARK to record their student's physical activity and show them how to refine their movements, set goals and track their progress.

  3. Special needs – It’s no secret that various types of technology have proven highly effective in bridging the communication gap with special needs students. Some of the programs being used effectively are Proloquo2Go, which helps students who have difficulty speaking, and thanks to Mad Math Minutes students can have fun while learning math basics.

  4. Digital textbooks – According to Project Tomorrow, 27% of middle school and 35% of high school students use digital textbooks. In addition, the Pearson Foundation reports that 58% of college students actually prefer their textbooks in a digital format. As digital textbook usage increases, the costs for physical textbooks will decrease. This conversion will translate into an expense reduction for school districts already strapped for cash.

  5. Lecture sharing – A part of iWork called Keynote enables teachers to share lectures with students. This facilitates on-the-go learning for students who can access lectures on demand and work at a pace most suitable for them individually.

  6. Math – iPads are now useful to teach algebra. Though the material in the textbook is basically the same, the iPad helps students understand the process used to arrive at the correct solution. Students can repeatedly view step-by-step problem solving videos which also explain the material.

  7. Classroom presentations – Nearpod, an iPad app that creates slide presentations, allows instructors to fill their presentations with text, images, videos and surveys while allowing them to control the speed and flow of the lesson as students interact with the material.

How Apple Distinguished Educators are modernizing the classroom

The concept of a global classroom where ideas, information and innovative educational techniques are shared is now a powerful reality thanks to Apple and its Distinguished Educators program.

Known as ADE (Apple Distinguished Educators), this program recognizes educators from kindergarten through the university levels who use Apple products to enhance and transform how they teach as well as how their students learn. There are more than 2,000 educators worldwide that have been carefully selected to take part in this program. These educators have made a name for themselves by being among the most innovative and creative in their field, resulting in the transformation of philosophies and strategies about 21st century teaching and learning. As part of the ADE program, educators are provided access to a learning-centered community where they share ideas, new technologies, successes and challenges as they introduce a blend of 21st century standards and Apple technology into the classroom.

The ADEs are accomplishing some remarkable feats as they incorporate Apple products to maximize learning both in and out of the classroom. An example of some of the successes around the globe includes these:

  • In England, teacher and student relationships are nurtured by creating an anytime, anywhere learning environment. A once failing public school in the UK has seen a fundamental shift at the heart of its culture. The dramatic redesign of the school’s learning spaces and the introduction of an iOS learning environment has led to their best achievement increase ever.

  • In Mexico, with iPads at their fingertips, the faculty is able to customize learning for every student and provide an interactive, bilingual-based curriculum using Multi-Touch books created in iBooks Author.

  • In Australia, MacBooks and GarageBand are used to direct student learning, culminating in the unique assessment of musical creation, composition and performance.

  • In the Netherlands, hundreds of medical students can study otolaryngology whether they’re at home or on the go with the use of iTunes U.

  • In the USA, Apple technology is used to open a world of opportunities for students with diverse learning challenges, and as a result there have been incredible gains with students on the Autism spectrum.

In addition, a San Diego California-based company called Tiny Factory is continuing to develop applications for iPads that teach a variety of foreign languages. As with all of the above mentioned innovations, thanks to Apple, students are able to continue advancing their language skills anytime and anywhere.

For more information on Apples Distinguished Educators and everything they are doing to make a difference in technology education visit their site at


iOS – an operating system designed by and for Apple products i.e. iPhone, iPad, iTunes

Otolaryngology – the branch of medicine concerned with the treatment and diagnosis of diseases of the ear, nose and throat

The new COPPA guidelines and what they mean for you

The more we use the internet as a tool to enhance the level of education for our children, the greater our concerns about protecting our precious ones from inappropriate advertising and online predators.

Back in 1998, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) passed a law referred to as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which is designed to protect children under the age of 13 from being targeted. These rules were set in place before networks like Facebook, MySpace, or the App Store existed. Smartphones or tablets had only been something of the future and services such as ad networks, third party tracking cookies, or geo-location were in early stages of development. It’s hard to imagine actually living without all that, but somehow we managed. Now that we, and our children, have access to these technological advances, COPPA has been given an update to their guidelines . Click here to review the FTC summary of revisions in their December 2012 release that will go effective July 1st, 2013.

In brief, according to the FTC proposal, the agency revised COPPA guidelines so that they will apply to:

  1. third party advertising networks
  2. app developers seeking to collect user data
  3. plug-in developers, and further
  4. modify the definition of “personal information”

The FTC explains that the new revisions “clarify that a plug-in or ad network is covered by the rule when it knows or has reason to know that it is collecting personal information through a child-directed website or online service.” These revisions are intended to strengthen the FTC’s protection of children’s personal information.

In addition, the new rules would allow sites with content designed to appeal to family groups to be able to “age-screen all visitors in order to provide COPPA’s protections only to users under age 13.” This sounds reasonable, but some people worry that it could have an unintended effect on sports or news related sites (which are typically directed at families) if those sites use any type of geo-location to determine the whereabouts of the user. For example, if a person visited a sports site and received an ad recommending that they attend a local game, that could be construed as using personal information for advertising and potentially be in violation of COPPA.

Those sites and services that knowingly target children under 13 as their primary audience must still treat all users as children.

The FTC’s revisions will force an alliance between companies that furnish apps or plug-ins and those that operate the platforms from which the plug-ins run, making both parties jointly responsible for remaining COPPA compliant. The FTC said that “an operator of a child-directed site or service that chooses to integrate the services of others that collect personal information from its visitors should itself be considered a covered ‘operator’ under the law.” This will effectively close a popular loophole.

To get greater detail on the effect these proposed revisions will have on businesses, parental consent mechanisms and more, simply follow this link.

Tech advances in education: some terms you should know

Our educational systems and modalities are clearly in a state of flux.

Students’ use of technology allows them to learn concepts and gather information however and whenever it is most effective for them to do so. Some of the many technologies in use provide support for:

*AP (Advanced Placement) students, enabling them to set their own pace as they gobble up course work faster than the instructor’s ability to assign it. *Students needing remedial help in a subject can now take advantage of repetition without limit. *Research is no longer hampered by library hours of operation. *Motivated students can attend classes while simultaneously advancing their curriculum through online credit courses. *In today’s EdTech environment, everyone can have a private tutor.

With that in mind, here are some terms we should be familiar with as technology is welcomed into our classrooms at every level.

  1. MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): This is one of the fastest growing areas in education technology today. It allows for access to education anywhere in the world where there is online capability. Some professors at prestigious universities are hosting online lectures and producing videos of their course work. Anyone can tap into ivy league level instruction on their own time and at their own pace with little to no cost.
  2. Hybrid programs: These programs combine online instruction with the more traditional, face-to-face teaching methods. Two examples of hybrid programs are flipped classrooms and blended learning. Educators are becoming more creative in how they implement these methods. Flipped classrooms – In the most common model, students view multiple lectures of five to seven minutes each outside of the classroom. They participate in online quizzes, or activities which can be interspersed throughout the lectures to test a student’s comprehension. Immediate feedback, and the option to rerun specific segments of the lecture, goes a long way toward clarifying points of confusion. Instructors follow up with in-class discussions or workshops where students collaborate, create, and put into practice what they learned from the lectures viewed prior to class. This places the instructor in the role of facilitator rather than the traditional model of lecturer. Blended learning – This represents a combination of traditional in-class teaching methods with technology-based learning. Using mobile apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, students are given the ability to have access to more than 3,500 educational videos on the go. The range of topics covered is expansive and includes everything from math and science to humanities and the arts. This technique promotes and supports self-directed learning and ongoing professional training.
  3. Virtual participation at multiple schools – Though this is a way in which blended learning is utilized, the benefits deserve to be highlighted here. Currently in use at the Manchester School District in New Hampshire, this plan allows students to complete courses through a Virtual Learning Academy Charter School using remote classrooms. In this way a student can take part in courses offered at any of the districts high schools and receive credit.

This year will see many exciting advances in education technology at all levels and in ways previously unimaginable.

Language Learning Past and Present

For many of us, the idea of learning a foreign language is a romantic one.

With the simple memorization of vocabulary words and understanding of sentence structure comes the ability to impress non foreign language speakers, make a career as a translator and travel the world with ease. Like I said, the idea is romantic but the reality is vocabulary memorization is tough and grammar even tougher. This idea leads me to question, is it language learning itself that is so difficult or is it the method in which language is learned? I believe this question is best answered with a comparison of my language education past and present.

Past, 1997-2001, My High School Experience

I attended Eaglecrest High School in Aurora Colorado where in order to graduate, I had to satisfy a 3 year foreign language requirement. Being the overachiever that I was, I completed 4 years of Spanish and joined the Spanish Honor Society. All that scholastic glamour aside, the actual learning process was archaic and ineffective. I'm talking 25 kids in a classroom watching a teacher conjugate verbs on a chalkboard. Our only tools were flashcards, quizzes/test, textbooks (probably outdated), worksheets and Spanish Bingo.

Nothing against homemade flashcards and Spanish Bingo, but it didn't exactly teach me the Spanish I needed for real world application. In fact, this foreign language instruction was an edtech fail. Basically edtech, which Wikipedia defines as the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources, did not exist in terminology or in practical application. Smart phones didn't exist, tablets didn't exist and the only thing I remember using a computer for was typing essays.

Present, 2011-Now, My Professional Experience

I now work with Tiny Factory, an application design and development company in San Diego California. We are currently developing Lingual, a multi-language learning application with English, Mandarin and Spanish language offerings for beginners. Lingual's methodology is flashcard-like game play teaching vocabulary as well as geography and culture with ease. It aligns well with today's tech-heavy learning process including hardware, Internet applications, blogs/wikis and software.

Today, students and adults alike look to edtech, like language learning apps, for education along with entertainment. It seems everyone between the ages of 10 and 70 has a smart phone, tablets are on every coffee table and laptops are practically a school requirement. Therefore, it's safe to claim that the method by which language is learned has come a long way from Spanish Bingo with Señora Smith, and as we progress in technology, language learning will become less and less difficult.