Monday, September 24, 2012

Naiku: Ahead of the Learning Curve


The tech revolution has fully infiltrated communication and information consumption, but its reach has somehow glaringly missed the field of education. Now, one Minneapolis company is aiming to bridge that gap by bringing to the classroom the methods that make consumer services like iTunes and Facebook so effective and appealing.
Formed in 2010 by Corey Thompson, Adisack Nhouyvanisvong and Kevin Sampers (a former computer programmer, educational tester and marketer, respectively) Naiku is an interactive test and assessment platform that helps teachers engage students, collaborate with other teachers and better understand kids’ individual needs and strengths, while attempting to mimic more closely the way young people receive and interact with information today.
Naiku’s creators recognized that today’s tech-savvy students learn in a way that may render some testing methods obsolete or irrelevant. (Think: blue-book exams.) So, Naiku, which is being implemented in school districts across the Twin Cities, allows students to take tests and quizzes on computers or mobile devices, with files easily transferable between formats and media—features that make the testing process as painless as it can be for all parties and engage students in ways that are familiar to them.
“Many sites [students] are used to interacting with—Facebook, Amazon, Google, Foursquare—personalize the experience, and students expect this level of service,” Thompson explains. “Today’s students [better] engage with school when instruction is personalized to some degree.”
In addition to the benefits it offers students, Naiku offers something often lacking in standardized testing: an emphasis on teachers’ role in student assessment. (The company’s name, after all, comes from the Lao word for “teacher.”)
“The relationship a teacher provides is critical to help motivate and nurture the student,” Thompson says. Using the Naiku system, teachers can virtually create, administer, collect and score data for assessing students’ performance. They can then link that data with past assessments for a comprehensive, customizable look at students’ progress. Teachers can also collaborate using Naiku to create consistent exams and scoring rubrics, a feature that streamlines test-administration and grading processes, thus freeing up time for teachers to use elsewhere (like at the front of the classroom).
The benefits to time- and energy-strapped teachers is one of the reasons Edina recently rolled out Naiku in its schools. “Edina likes Naiku because it will make life easier for [its] teachers,” Thompson says. “[Naiku] will reduce the amount of time it takes to administer and grade tests and quizzes.” The company has also partnered with multiple educational organizations, including Technology Information Education Services, an education technology cooperative owned by 46 Minnesota school districts, in order to more seamlessly bring technology into the classroom to better both the student and educator experience.
If the recognition Naiku is receiving is any indication (the company won a High Tech Division award from Minnesota Cup, a statewide new-venture competition, and has been praised by technology- and education-focused publications), it seems like those little blue books may go the way of the Dodo—in favor of something a little more recognizable in the world of iPads and Androids.