Adaptive learning is getting more personalized

NEW YORK–Last February 25, New York Ed Tech discussed adaptive learning with guest panelists Chaitu Ekanadham, managing data scientist of Knewton; John Rinderle, CTO of Acrobatiq;  Melissa Korensberg, managing director of Academics at Lightsail and Dr. Richard Simpson, associate professor of Computer Science at  N.Y.I.T.

The panelists took turns giving their own definition of adaptive learning. “It’s a personalized path that gives them the opportunity to learn what they are most comfortable with—learning by reading or video, and choose that path,” Simpson said.

Korensberg, for her part, said, “Adaptive learning is purely personal. We make sure students are getting what they need and that they understand the value (of education).”

Rinderle of Acrobatiq said he finds AB testing a vital part of adapting to learning mechanisms. The non-profit company focuses on helping poor, disadvantaged, immigrant and minority students graduate from college with market-ready skills.

Acrobatiq makes learning software that replaces college textbooks, tracks student progress and adapts to their learning styles. Activities assess a student’s ability to apply their knowledge in the real world.

Simpson agrees, saying he gives give them quizzes and tweaks the material if this will foster learning faster.

“One measure of success is to ask, ‘Are they doing better in their exams?’”

Assessing students can be a host of things that includes writing skills, their interaction with the instructor or educator and – most talked about – data gathering  Data that helps educators find out how to improve their teaching and children’s understanding of their lessons can go a long way.

Korensberg cautioned instructors about how they should still look at students as people than data. For content creation, she learned how exciting content may not necessarily translate to learning, but long-term useful content has in her experience at Lightsail.

LightSail Education, a creator of K-12 digital literacy solutions, offers adaptive reading program following a 4-month pilot in 12 New York City public and charter schools.

LightSail provides students with personalized tablet-based libraries drawing from more than 18,000 ebooks from top publishers. LightSail embeds assessments and analytics in students’ texts, monitoring their Lexile measures, Common Core progress and reading habits. Teachers receive real-time data along with tools designed to support best literacy instruction practices in classrooms.

Simpson also pointed out he makes sure to speak in front of his class for only 15 minutes, so the rest of his class can be directed toward more adaptive learning.


5 things you must know for effective content strategy

NEW YORK–At the Huge meetup last February 23 in Dumbo, Brooklyn, Kevin Nichols, renowned author of Enterprise Content Strategy and UX for Dummies, left the crowd wanting more only because he touched a nerve among content strategists who find that it’s not easy to pitch a content strategy in any organization used to instant results.

“The problem lies not just in understanding content as to be respected (for doing it),” he said adding that not many Fortune 500 companies are doing enterprise content strategies.

Making use of data like metrics and analytics may give it some respect, helping vet and validate the importance of content, as abstract as it may be for naysayers.

“People reward companies that invest in expected content experiences,” he said, citing how 20 percent of companies that were surveyed using a strong omnichannel approach have 89 percent customer retention rate and how 80 percent of those who don’t have only 33 percent retention rate.”

As Nichols tried to cram his book into a one-hour talk, Nichols covered several subjects.

The emphasis, he said, must be on eight basic phases of work–plan, assess, define, design, build, publish, measure/optimize and govern. “Continually measuring the optimizing the performance of content is essential to keep content relevant to consumers.”

On developing content strategy for enterprise, he suggests these five key takeaways: the consumer is always first; consumer experience needs to cross channels with strategy; operations and governance must feed consumer need and external realities; performance is everything and content experience requires a holistic approach.

Enterprise content strategy sets up and positions all content and tracks the consumer at each touch point, but it’s also about how it relies on performance and how it positions all content as business asset worthy of governance. He explained that the governance model is by committee like a visual style guide (produced by a team).

“Governance should incorporate cross-functional areas across the enterprise,” he said. The governance team can be individuals part of the brand, product, social, analytics, legal and technology departments working with those in strategy, operations, marketing, publishing, taxonomy and again, technology.

“Enterprise content performance defines future content priorities,” he said.

This was a valuable point that  Nichols raised, as sustained content campaigns is hard to sell to companies.

To better structure content, he listed the workflow as follows: (get) inputs, (hold) meeting and (produce) outputs.

In getting inputs, determine business needs, new products, new company, marketing campaigns, make content assessment, dig deep into industry insights and competitive trends; check analytics and metrics as well as sales data; generate new ideas from content teams and others; get inputs from users from their behavior or data.

After making sense of all these inputs, hold meeting quarterly or monthly with governance and content strategy in place. The participants should be the executive sponsor, governance members and content strategist.

The last workflow calls for prioritizing content areas– new content creation or archival of content, ideally with strategic intent, goals and high-level objectives as well as the identification of content owners, sponsor and shareholders in addition to alerting planning teams of new focus areas.

Efforts should include setting up content for success at all customer touchpoints.

In thinking of channels, Nichols could not stress user research enough, especially in building persona. Customer lifecycle requires journey mapping before content needs can be determined.

Quoting from emarketer reports, he said 46 percent of customers would purchase more if experiences were personalized.

“Put your consumer at the center of all content decisions — in omnichannels,” he said.

Brands that position content as its domain, or make an investment in setting up an operational model to support a holistic focus are emerging as leaders, according to him.

Nichols cited studies: 73 percent of marketers rate the impact of cross-channel interactions on conversion as “major”; 58 percent state cross-channel engagement as improving retention and 55 percent state cross channel ensures advocacy.

SoFi hands out loans without relying on credit score

NEW YORK– Last February 17, SoFI co-founder Dan Macklin held a special talk sponsored by Columbia Startup Labs in Soho West. Only last month, the modern finance company that’s fueling the shift to a bankless world announced that it is handing out loans without relying on a person’s credit score.

SoFi considers other methods to gauge who will repay a loan. It takes a detailed look at your payment history, income versus your expenses, cash flow, and your career stability.  However, it still looks into your credit report to ensure applicant has a good track record of paying bills.

For Macklin, FICO credit scores are no longer a good way of screening loan applicants–with more millennials today having “thin credit files or no credit at all.”

SoFi usually refinances college loans to undergraduates, graduate students and those who’ve finished college but it also provides personal loans and mortgage loans.. So far it has approved $7 billion in loans, most of which happened in 2015.


Looking back, Macklin remembers how SoFi was built in two months (it’s been around since 2011) with no marketing budget but lots of word-of-mouth traction.  


It has come a long way since getting millions to a billion dollars in funding which Macklin thinks is essential, “so we won’t be constrained in our ambitions.”

About 50 percent of SoFi borrowers are referred by a friend, with 300 companies offering SoFi to its employees.

Macklin also discussed how SoFi is transforming personal finance by combining technological efficiencies with strong customer relationships. By leveraging the efficiencies of technology, SoFi provides instant decisions to meet demand.

Macklin advises startups to look into “better technology than incumbents but not to forget customer service. “You need both.”

“It has to be a clean experience. People need to be able to get answers to their questions quickly,” he said.


Apps are becoming more humanized

NEW YORK– New year, new name. Last February 22, the NUI (Natural User Interface) Meetup on its fourth year became the HUI (Humanized User Interface) Meetup. It was said to be a more accurate description as “the advancements today enable apps and devices to interact with us like we do with other people,” the organizer Ken Lonyai and Debra Benkler said.

As the hosts, the organizers talked about where HUI is headed, how to best use it in projects and products and how to develop HUI-based user experiences as well as use the plethora of APIs available right now.

Differentiating NUI from HUI, Benkler said NUI  as coined by Steve Mann, are actions that come naturally to human users–the user of nature as an interface itself. For many, the definition has supposedly come to mean any interface that is natural to the user.

Natural is not without without its issues while HUI is said to unify human-like experience, reducing barriers to human machine interactions, extending the benefits of technology and engaging greater segments of the population.

“HUI is multi-sensory and bi-directional. It mimics real world interactions. It’s immersive. It can make devices effectively invisible,” the hosts said.

The hosts discussed HUI technologies from touch, gesture, voice, eye tracking, object/facial recognition, among others.

On touch, supposedly the most underdeveloped HUI technology, Lonyai talked about trends in haptics. “Future haptics will stimulate temperature and viscosity. At this point, screen touch will be considered an HUI for a telepresence, in-air haptics, conductive fabric and real-world objects.

On gesture, Lonyai said there will be more uses of body movements to interact with a system. Typically, it requires a specialized equipment: 3D depth sensing camera (Kinect); electromyography device (Miyo); and ultrasound transducers. 3D depth cameras are largely peripherals but that is said to change in 2016.

How do 3D depth sensing cameras work? They project a field of infrared points and the points are read by the cameras to determine depth.

The point data is processed and a primitive image is created. It can also be used for skeletal tracking using algorithms. Changes in position can be measured and correlated to mean or do almost anything. Depth sensing cameras can also track heart rates.

For Lonyai, UX Best practices on gesture must know system limitations; design large interaction areas; minimize gorilla arms, avoid customer gestures and avoid creating occlusions in addition to using contextual-based affordances and consider cultural issues.

With gorilla arms, he was referring to how you can’t have your arms hanging for long periods of time, pointing out how Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” even got tired having his arms up during the shoot of the film.

What about object/facial recognition? Since humans can distinguish over 30,000 visual objects in a few hundred milliseconds, it definitely makes object-facial recognition interesting to explore. He cited how 2D and 3D APIs can make determination of facial “landmarks.” This means that the minute details of your face can be captured–the distance between the eyes, the width of the nose, the depth of the eye sockets, the shape of your cheekbones.

“It’s going to be all about ‘authentication vs identification’,” he said.

Mental Canvas thrills with breakthrough 3D drawing tool

NEW YORK–“Prepare to be blown away,” a co-host teased an audience of 400 at the NY Tech Meetup last February 9. Mental Canvas did just that as the presenters showed how they drew on a tablet computer and it just came to vivid 3D life. It can certainly revolutionize storyboarding for a host of industries — film, graphic arts, comic books and advertising, just to name a few.

Mental Canvas was developed by two developers in only 4 months but after considerable research that took 10 years. It presented last among a diverse field of presenters such as Cognitoys, Didit, Funnster, NeverLate, NYC Councilmatic, Trade It, Shareablee, Virgil and Voodoo. Some of them, including Mental Canvas and Funnster, will be available soon. is ready to advance tech legislation and better track what’s happening in the NY Council, especially as it fights for the rights of its citizens, including freelancers. It reported that freelancers lose 6,000 in annual income for unpaid jobs. The site hopes to increase local engagement and public dialogue to better address concerns of New Yorkers.

Do we need another online brokerage firm? Trade It thinks you need not even go to one, if what it presented can take off. What if we told you that you could already start trading from the site you’re reading about a particular company? Trade It says it has pre=set APIs and SDKs and all the documentation you need to find out if it will work for you. It reportedly has security encryption.  

3D prints are everywhere these days, but if you wondered how fast you can print in high volume, Voodoo claims it can do the work in less than two weeks.

Are apps making our lives easier? Funnster is a platform that reportedly makes every occasion planning between friends fun, easy and simple. CEO Amnon Israel was almost unnerved by the technical difficulties in his presentation but he managed to make light of the situation which endeared him to the crowd. It helped that his app offers a solution to pressure on party hosts. With the app, invitees can figure out what anyone is bringing and paying for to make the party successful.

There’s Linkedin and then there’s scoring your career via Virgil, which aims to help you better navigate your career path. There’s DidIt NY, which offers you ways to create your own list of go-to places. There’s Shareablee now in its third year, measuring all social interactions, so you can find out the networks you need and those you need to discard.

From Coalition for Queens, NeverLate had the crowd chuckling. It’s an app to keep you from being late, because it commits you to paying a fine.

Making the rounds of New York is CogniToys and how how the smart toy, powered by Watson and a huge crowdfunding success on Kickstarter, learns and grows with your child.

Ceresnie of Orchard gives must-do advice for startups

NEW YORK–Last February 8, a huge crowd turned up for the fireside chat of Empire Startups’ Fintech meetup with Orchard Platform CFO and co-founder Angela Ceresnie at Rise in Chelsea. Orchard provides analytics to the marketplace lending industry.

Ceresnie shared her thoughts on what it’s like to start and manage a “smaller” company with his three other co-founders. She worked previously worked for big financial institutions like Citibank and American Express.

“There are people who work 70 hours and they can’t get things done then. There are those who work 40 hours (and make things work),” she said, adding how she liked tech startups, because it requires less face time. With fintech, (you) move away from your desk.”

Having grown from 20 to more than 40 employees, she said it was important to instill values with their team, especially when you know some people may not be aligned with your business.

“Once you get to 20 people, it’s important to have common language and guided principles,” she said.

Ceresnie said Orchard Platform now lives up to 3 values: honesty, orienting action to the future and succeeding together.

On success, she said it’s true measure is all in your mind.  

On what to watch out for, she says be wary of overtracking metrics.

On hiring, she said she looks for more diversity in skill sets. Not many may not know this but Ceresnie had an engineering background in R and statistics.

On job interviewing, she’s most interested in finding out the person coming in and knowing how much they are qualified.

Ceresnie gave credit to Better Works for help them manage and set goals with their team. One of the things you must when running a business is “having your books and having products out of the door.”

The Orchard Manager Database is the first comprehensive resource for institutional investors to identify and evaluate a wide spectrum of marketplace lending managers. Listing their information in the database enables managers to securely and directly reach institutional investors interested in allocating capital to marketplace lending.

DaVanzo of Sparks mines cultural insights for UI design

NEW YORK– Sarah DaVanzo, Chief Cultural Officer at Sparks & Honey, an Omnicom agency, has many UI cards up her sleeve when it comes to cultural strategy. DaVanzo is known for researching, designing and piloting methodologies to mine cultural insights for brands and advertising agencies, thanks to a career in global marketing all across the world.

At the NYC Card UI meetup last February 1, she literally showed how UI cards has helped her take her audience to mega shifts and micro trends of cultures in easy, digestible chunks. Scrolling through her card designs to reveal insights about her work with Sparks, she revealed a unique approach to scoring and predicting trends.

She showed how cards are everywhere to inspire us to use it for presenting our ideas. From her mobile phone beamed to an audience, she went over one card trend over another — these days, the unusual popping of Tarot cards, in Pravda fashion, card fights, carded music, calling cards like Tinder, memory cards to remember passwords,cards as snackable educational content and cardistry athletic forms.

No one would argue about the need for “content to be parsed,” because we’re overloaded with content. DaVanzo said card-like designs allow for unpacking and modularization which makes it easy to share “structured serendipity” or discoveries out there. Now there’s snackable media/content, and layered and parallel storytelling.

In TV shows, she shows us how Orange is the New Black taps simplexity (simple and complexity) to make a drama series work. She elaborates how the 80s detective TV series, Columbo, cues us in or glues us to the story with his visual antics that may be considered showy or hammy acting by most if it wasn’t Peter Falk doing it.

DaVanzo uses Columbo to show us how you can apply the following to allow you how to go about imbibing Card UI in your system:

  • The prepared mind forms hypotheses
  • The prepared mind repeats the same process
  • The prepared mind has habits and
  • The prepared mind looks beyond the obvious

So how do agencies approach her “cultural foresight”? She laid her cards on the table.

“Clients tell us this is the challenge. We set up our system to listen to signals. Then we help them plan based on a specific trend,” she said.


$70K App Idea Awards launches at General Assembly

NEW YORK–For those who say they had an idea but did not know how to make one, you don’t have an excuse anymore. Last February 4, General Assembly hosted the Launch Party of the App Idea Awards with $70,000 worth of design and development costs at stake for anyone or a team to build their app with full ownership of the intellectual property of their idea and no equity ownership when they join the contest.

Nnamdi Okike, co-founder and partner of 645 Ventures, shared his thoughts and experience on the fundraising process at the launch. “Ask yourself what pain point (you are solving) The app is meant to improve the nature of the service,” said Okike whose firm’s portfolio includes Fly Labs, acquired by Google.

To join the contest, you must be all over the age of 18 with a good idea for an app or an app in early stage of development (less than 1,000 users). You could be students, developers, designers, product managers— even a team of ten or a team of one.

Criteria for judging is as follows:

  • General strength of concept
  • Monetization strategy
  • Entrepreneurial vision (and general ability to execute app’s proposed business plan)
  • User design
  • Team’s ability to execute

Okike’s talked about his company’s criteria, which may also be worth keeping mind during the contest. “(Ask yourself) what’s the impetus for starting a company. I’d like to see more unique and innovative thinking as well as the team.”

Okike’s 645 Ventures is one of the judging group consisting of Greycroft, Samsung Venture Investment, First Round, Oak Investment Partners and Norwest Venture Partners  

Deadline for application is March 31, 2016. However, the contest will be choosing finalists on a rolling basis. A select a group of 6 finalists will be chosen from the pool of applicants. After receiving mentorship from established entrepreneurs and investors, these 6 teams will polish up their presentations and pitch their app idea to judges in May 2016.

Every applicant will reportedly have an equal opportunity for success. There will be no barriers of financial resources, or locating technology talent. Also, the finalists will receive free classes, no matter what your background or education. The contest will provide online and physical classes about the following topics from experts within the mobile community:

  • App Design
  • UI/UX
  • Wireframing
  • Design Specifications
  • App Business & Monetization Models
  • App Marketing
  • App Advertising
  • App Product Management
  • App Analytics

The contest is being conducted by ROKO Labs, General Assembly, Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of NY, and Columbia Venture Community.