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Pittsburgh: An EdTech Hive

By Tom Vander Ark — May 06, 2013 5 min read

My first job out of college took me to the coalfields of southwestern Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh was just starting to rebound from the loss of thousands of
steel jobs. The universities played a pivotal role in the development of a new economy based on technology, finance, and health jobs. In the last decade
city--driven particularly by Carnegie Mellon University-- Pittsburgh has become an edtech hive.

Last year, Pittsburgh Today ran a six part series on building the
entrepreneurial economy. The series quoted a Mellon Foundation report, “Pittsburgh is on the verge of reaching a critical mass in terms of the number of
successful start-up companies, entrepreneurs, availability of local early stage capital and ability to push and pull university technologies to market.”

Maker Hive.
The MacArthur Foundation selected Pittsburgh as the third city to host a Hive Learning Network (along with NYC and Chicago). Hive Pittsburgh
launched on Friday with a three month summer learning initiative. Hive Days of Summer activities will turn city sites into a “maker” camp for teens. The
three month initiative launched Friday. Summer activities will turn city sites into a “maker” camp for teens.

Hive Pittsburgh is just one of many innovative learning initiatives happening in Pittsburgh. Tweens and teens have access to maker learning in MakeShop, STEAM learning at Assemble, on-line literacy games at community libraries, multimedia training at the LABS at the Carnegie Libraries, a Robotics Academy at
Carnegie Mellon University, and even music remixing at Hip Hop on LOCK.

TechShop
, a big maker success from Menlo Park ( featured on Bloomberg last week), recently
opened a new location in Pittsburgh’s Bakery Square.

There’s also been a recent building boom of digital and maker learning spaces in public schools across the region:

And it doesn’t just end with students. The Allegheny Intermediate Unit is transforming professional development with TransformeED - a digital playground
for teachers to provide inspiration of how they can bring technology and maker practices into the classroom. And parents can get support through
organizations ranging from the Fred Rogers Center to WQED Multimedia.

Pittsburgh educators, innovators and organizations have come together to form the Kids+Creativity Network - more than 100 organizations, including public
school districts, non-profit groups, libraries, museums, afterschool programs and neighborhood community centers - which is committed to “remaking
learning” in the greater Pittsburgh area. Check out more of their programs and initiatives at RemakeLearning.org.

UTech.
CMU has been an edtech hotbed for more than two decades. The Human Computer Interface Institute (HCII) has a handful
of interesting learning research projects underway. With the goal of designing the future of
edtech, CMU recently launched a Masters in Learning Science and Engineering.

Founded by CMU cognitive and computer scientists, Carnegie Learning is a leader in secondary math
software. The Apollo Group acquired Carnegie Learning for $75
million in 2011.

Two weeks ago, the Oracle and Curriki announced an effort to
make CMU’s Alice software widely available to secondary school teachers and students. " Getting Started with Java Using Alice” helps students
learn basic concepts of Java.

CMU is home to the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Language Technologies Institute, and the OLI (Open Learning Initiative).

Elijah Mayfield developed the LightSIDE writing scoring engine as a grad student at CMU. His open engine scored
high in last year’s Automated Student Assessment Prize ( see case study).

Luis Tandalla,
the college kid from Ecuador that won $50,000 in the second Hewlett funded assessment scoring prize, is headed to CMU for his master’s degree. (I saw
Andrew Ng, co-founder of Coursera last week and told him that all three winners of the ASAP prize had taken his MOOC and the course was Tandalla’s
introduction to machine learning.)

Pitt’s
Learning Research & Development Center
was the source of the IP for SWoRD, a peer review writing assessment system that removes bias and is marketed byPanther Learning. Pitt is also home to Lauren Resnick’s Institute for Learning.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers daytime classes to seniors.

More EdTech.
Think Through Math
, formerly Apangea Learning, provides one-on-one math tutoring with live, online certified teachers.

Consulting giant Accenture acquired Pittsburgh-based training and development shop Maynard in 2007 and created Accenture Academy, a blended learning solution serving over 100 clients
in 140 countries.

Duolingo
is a language learning site that uses gamification and crowdsourcing to translate the web.

Saxifrage School
is an alternative to colleges for vocational careers which has gotten some traction.

OnHand Schools
, which manages large sets of student data, letting teachers drill down to the student level to cater to individual learning needs.

Fitwits
is “an obesity prevention and health literacy research project that uses games and character-driven narratives to transform unhealthy lifestyles into
healthy ones.”

According to Mayfield, “There are always people trying to build new ed tech startups, places like Fitwits (obesity
prevention), Geknowm, and a dozen other little 2-person companies.”

Startups.
In April Startup Weekend Pittsburgh saw more than 100 people participating in the third signature startup
event. Winners from the last few Pittsburgh startups have formed companies, hired staff and even gone through accelerator programs.

Deep Dive.
In 2009, the

Gates Foundation awarded a $40 million grant

to Pittsburgh Public Schools to implement the Empowering Effective Teachers plan. The Post Gazette said, “the district’s plan would put faculty members
on performance pay, give extra pay to those tackling especially important assignments, establish a teachers academy, overhaul the tenure system, broaden
recruitment efforts and take steps to improve discipline in schools.” The teacher evaluation system incorporates multiple measures including classroom
observations, student feedback, and student achievement.

Pittsburgh is a great example of universities being a source of learning innovation.


Thanks to Lindsay Hyman for her inspiration and contributions to this post. Elijah Mayfield, Gary Gardiner, Mark Limbach, Letitia Green, Sean Bengry,
Kemi Jona, and Patti Walker also contributed.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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