The following article was published by Venture Beat on 9/18/12. It was written by Alicia Chang, a Cognitive and Developmental Psychologist working with Launchpad Toys to research how kids are learning through cartoon creation.
Big data. Quantitative metrics. Analytics. Play… One of these terms is NOT like the others! At Launchpad Toys, we’re building digital toys and tools like Toontastic that enable kids to create, learn, and share their stories through play. It might seem odd, then, for a startup whose mission is to inspire kids’ creativity to be throwing around these buzzwords. We’re the first to admit it. When it comes to toys and apps, these words make us all a bit squeamish – assessment measures are controversial enough in the classroom… what role do they have in the playroom?
Here at Launchpad Toys Galactic Headquarters, we’ve shied away from the topic of assessment thinking that “Creativity” is too ambiguous to measure and quantify – that is until a seemingly innocent summer Pilot Study smacked us in the face and inspired us to re-engineer our network from the ground up to support fine-tuned measurement of creativity metrics. Today, we’re excited to announce the release of Toontastic v1.8 and Phase 1 of our integrative approach to using Big Data to inform our product designs and provide constructive feedback to parents and kids.
Since launching Toontastic last year, we’ve talked to hundreds of parents, teachers, and kids around the world and have seen our global storytelling network grow to over two million cartoons created by 600,000 users from over 150 countries. Between half a million epic pirate tales and more than 1300 Justin Bieber covers, kids of all ages are blowing our minds with their ingenuity day after day. But it’s not just the kids that are innovating; teachers are using the app in imaginative ways to help guide students’ knowledge in diverse content areas from language arts to history to math and science.
Why does any of this matter? Well, quite frankly, we’re in a bit of a crisis. A “Creativity Crisis,” to be specific. Demand for creative professionals is rapidly rising in direct opposition to a steep decline in creativity scores for the first time in American history. This suggests that today’s kids will be woefully unprepared for tomorrow’s jobs. Up to one-third of the school year is lost to standardized testing and preparation, often in lieu of creative exercises that positively correlate to success not only in humanities and social studies, but the STEM fields as well. Thus, the dramatic drop in creative skills can profoundly impact the economy, which is just one of many reasons why we feel so strongly about encouraging creative play in kids. We created a video infographic to talk about The Creativity Crisis, and how it is time for us to rise above it. Please have a look, and help us pass on the message.
After hearing so many remarkable user anecdotes on creative learning with Toontastic, we decided it was time to take a more scientific approach and collect some data. In two small observational studies, we found growth in character development, language usage, and emotional expressiveness over just three Toontastic play sessions over the course of a week. While we’re thrilled with the results, we can’t exactly draw grand conclusions from this limited data set. So, emboldened by the creative growth of a classroom of playful storytellers and armed with an Amazon Cloud server of kid-created cartoons, we took a big gamble and rewrote our stack from the ground up.
With today’s release, we’re embracing large-scale quantitative analysis of millions of data points across our database – NOT PERSONAL OR IDENTIFIABLE DATA, but generic story-metrics defined in our pilot study like “number of recurring characters across scenes”, “diversity of emotions”, and “descriptive language used”. For the first time in the history of EdTech, we’ll have the statistical power to see how hundreds of thousands of kids are learning and developing, not based on summative assessment, but on the playful stories that they create themselves.
In addition to database analyses, we’ll continue to conduct research on smaller samples in informal learning environments (e.g. our play sessions at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco), and in the classroom, like the semi-structured play sessions we observed at Trinity School in Menlo Park. This way, we’ll be able to get direct feedback from our users and use qualitative metrics to complement our larger scale efforts and to provide important insights that a “big data” approach could not.
By combining advanced data analytics with traditional social science research methods, we’ll be able to create better learning tools for our users and provide them with constructive feedback to enhance their creative learning experiences. Today marks Day 1 of our battle against The Creativity Crisis. Care to join us? Get a jump start by downloading Toontastic to Create, Play, Learn, Share and… RISE!