It is a little counter intuitive to go to an app to develop social interaction, but for children on the autistic spectrum it can be a safe place to practice. A playground is a socially complex environment with loads of distractions. We started thinking about how to highlight other children in the playground as potential playmates, and then how to reinforce the interaction.
We wanted to ensure the children recognised that the interactions need to be positive so making playmates smile is reinforced with stars/ ice cream/ appearance of fun pets. The game itself is a fun toy that is motivating for all children, there are bonus silly hats, a trip into space, musical bubbles and lots more to keep children engaged.
The game is gradated in so far that initially only one child needed to be happy, then 2,3,4, the penguin makes his own fun! In order to progress the child needs to identify the child looking sad and help to make them happier by helping them on slides, roundabouts etc. We included emotional facial recognition as some children on the spectrum need to practice identifying the emotional states of others.
The characters in the game can be customised to represent the children's real friends to help children to generalise to their peers. Rewards are also personalisable because children have different interests. Parents can record their own positive comment for when the children have played well.
Concepts of reinforcement are loosely based on an ABA style approach to autism, and the ipad does seem to be many children's highest reinforcer. We hope that this toy could be used in schools to facilitate group play and having play tested it extensively in both individual and group settings we feel it has some promise. The London Knowledge Lab has it on its list of potential masters research projects.
For now its a fun Toy aimed at both the neuro-typical and neuro-diverse. With feedback form the ASD community we hope to refine it to be a really helpful toy for children on the spectrum, so if anyone would like to try it for free I'm always happy to send out promo codes. Its called developing for a reason and feedback is everything! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pocket-playground/id720938347?mt=8
Educators often create whole lessons that are really aimed at just one or two kids in the class. A teacher knows that a child needs to 'crack', something before they can progress to higher knowledge and rather than single the few children out, a whole class exercise will do the job. And the reality is that the consolidation and sense of mastery for the rest of the class will be no bad thing, extension activities and giving out 'expert', roles will ensure that everyone gets something out of the activity.
We have been guilty of making apps with just those one or two members of the class in mind. Writing apps designed for dyslexia support but useful for all, and now pocket playground, a fun play toy designed for children with social communication difficulties.
Aiming for the 'edges', the non-typical, the neuro-diverse is not a sensible marketing strategy, but hopefully it is a good educational one.
One of the best bits of being a start up is developing skills in lots of different areas, however as an educator I have very limited knowledge of branding and marketing.
Jog took the time to look over our work before the meeting and in an hour and a half filled in some BIG gaps in our teams knowledge and expertise.
We had been thinking we would have to split into two projects, one for kids and one for the study apps, then there were the apps for teachers and the mix of SEN across the apps. It was all getting a bit messy!Splitting up the project would be a shame as there is significant value in having all of our apps under one roof. Happily Jog did not see this as necessary and likened MadeByEducators to the BBC (which was nice!). Robert suggested thinking of our ranges as channels under a broadcasting company, with one simple logo which could be adapted for the different channels.
Hetti had the business side covered and gave me some sound advice re pricing. I think as a startup we are still over the moon that our apps are selling and were not bold enough to match our competitors on price. Robert and Hetti were confidently united that this was detrimental to the projects success as it was important to build a reputation as making 'quality' resource early on.
There were many other suggestions that I would not have fully considered before; actually paying the teachers to make the apps rather than partnerships would really speed things up, creating an app to market our site as more effective than a site alone, potential sponsorship for our free SEN apps and ad's in traditional media just before mocks and the exams.
Getting expert input like this so early on (its only been 2 months since launch of the MadeByEducators project), will make a huge impact on where we grow from here and if we grow enough I hope to use Jog's expertise again in the future!
We may have taken Jog's advice about 'core', values rather literally!
Here are some of our ideas for new logo. The idea is that we could place the logo in each app with different ways to get into the core of the apple. Feels nice as lots of opportunities for problem solving and playful uses of the ipad's features.
Thank you to Jog Ltd for running their workshop on brand identity at Google Campus today. Robert Smith and Hetti Cheung kindly gave us their time and considerable expertise to get start ups thinking about unspoken branding.
Their work with several major brands highlighted the importance of identifying our core values and attempting to pinpoint a singular idea that reflects our project. I found the singular idea very easy, learning. MadeByEducators only came about as we saw a need to use the power of mobile / haptic devices to support self paced personalised learning, particularly for students with non typical learning styles.
Putting this singular idea into a non-verbal form was much, much harder, I previously posted on our logo dilemma which is still not settled. 'Proxemics', was also tricky as we are an app development company working out of my kitchen so no 'space',to style! Although we will take up the idea of a board or space which we can use to keep focused on why we are doing this in the first place.
Haptics were really my kind of challenge and got me thinking about how Pocket Playground reflects our core values better than any of our apps so far. You can 'play', with it making music, moving toys, tipping, building, you can even shout at it to make the sails on the windmill turn so its really tuning in to a variety of communication styles while attempting to be 'language', free.
We should really use elements of Pocket playground in our logo.
We also had group activities around considering the narrative of our companies, and incorporating our stories into our 'branding'. The story of MadeByEducators is largely one of necessity as traditional learning may well fail my child with special educational needs. Our story is also about a passion for allowing all children to access learning and embracing change,... not sure how to brand that.
The workshop also got me thinking about what a logo really is in this modern iOS7 sensory landscape. Could a logo be more haptic, more interactive, could it be embedded into our apps as an interactive feature?
Hummm... pocket playground is not released yet so still time!