SBIR Phase II: Using Real-Time, Synchronous Collaborative Technologies to Support Elementary and Middle School Students in Developing Reading, Writing, and Collaboration Skills

Period of Performance: 08/28/2015 - 11/30/2016

$713K

Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

StarWalk Kids Media
4 Sheffield Road
Great Neck, NY 11021
Firm POC, Principal Investigator

Abstract

This SBIR Phase II project will fund the development of collaborative writing software designed specifically for children ages 14 and under. Producing well-crafted explanatory and argumentative writing using evidence, required in the study of Science and other STEM disciplines, is a challenging task for many students, and teachers often lack the resources, tools, experience and/or opportunities to integrate this kind of writing into everyday instruction. This project will provide a platform where elementary and middle school students can read, conduct research, take notes, make decisions, debate how to structure pieces of writing, and write collaboratively, with multiple students contributing to a single document in real time. Developers will help teachers to infuse best writing practices into their instruction by embedding multiple curriculum units into the software and providing professional development support. This integrated, collaborative learning environment enables students to learn critical skills required by the Common Core State Standards, to prepare for new standardized tests being given online, and importantly, to acquire the 21st century literacy proficiency necessary to succeed in higher education and careers. In preliminary testing with a prototype product, this software has been shown to improve writing skills, especially for struggling learners. There is no other software like this currently available to deliver a single-platform, comprehensive, literacy learning environment for elementary and middle school children. This project is a cloud-based, real-time collaborative platform for reading, research, writing, and publishing student work. It integrates multiple programs to work together seamlessly and with stability, even in classrooms with weak or intermittent Internet access. Engineers created proprietary plug-ins to enable a text-only collaborative program to work with HTML rich text and images, allowing users to select and copy text and images from eBooks and websites and paste them into a collaborative note-taking space or document with synchronous participation of all members of the group. In addition, every user is identified by a color so the teacher can see what each contributed to the project. Students can hear narrated eBooks read aloud (using pre-existing, proprietary software), using the information they are gathering to write collaboratively, in real time. By compacting the size of programming strings, project engineers are enabling multiple groups to use the program at the same time without exhausting server capacity. Phase II research will integrate robust curriculum and teacher support features and maximize the product's impact for students in low-proficiency schools. The project team will test features during a six-week in-school intervention, adapting on the fly to ensure effectiveness and ease of use. The innovative power of the project lies in the elegant sum of its parts.