U of Pittsburgh Takes on Role of Education Tech Incubator

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that University of Pittsburgh is hoping to build on its reputation as a hotbed of biomedical innovation by now offering its expertise to startups looking to enter the education technology sector. The schools' Office of Technology Management and Office of Enterprise Development have lent a hand to many young companies — and the two latest to benefit from the guidance are looking to make a difference in the classroom "instead of the operating room."

The first is called Panther Learning, which hopes to bring to market a software tool that would aid students in improving their writing skills. SWoRD Peer Review – a teaching program – might be rolling out to universities across the country in as little as a few months.

The software aims to make use of students to help each other by allowing each one to upload their writing to be critiqued and corrected by his or her peers. The corrected paper, with comments and notes attached, is returned to the submitter, who can then add their own notes and replies. What makes the program revolutionary is the artificial intelligence that kicks in after the rounds of correction and counter-corrections are completed. It will analyze the notes, and taking into account any found bias by the reviewers, assigns the paper an appropriate grade.

Development is ongoing, but by spring the company is planning to have a final version that will work – out of the box – with most learning management systems currently in use in colleges and universities around the country.

Panther Learning CEO Mark Limbach said the software already has been used by more than 4,000 students at universities and secondary schools, and has empowered teachers to assign more writing assignments — something that can be difficult when they don't have time to fairly assess hundreds of papers.

"One thing we learned is that writing improves when assignments are given over a wide range of courses," he said. "It's interesting to see how many times we see biology professors now assigning writing tasks when they could never possibly assign them in the past because they didn't have the time to grade them all."

The other company that has drawn the university's interest is CE Agent, a cell phone app that stores and manages accreditation information for nurses as they work towards their degrees. The program is supposed to help professionals who are working towards a certification in nursing to keep on top of the myriad requirements that must be fulfilled before a degree is granted.

The app will store this kind of information digitally and will even alert nurses to when a particular certification is close to expiration, needs to be renewed or is up against a deadline for filing.

"You take classes, get the education credit and it's a paper certificate. You take that certificate and it winds up on top of another certificate. Then the next time you need [to get] certified, hopefully you can find everything and hopefully you have enough hours," Mr. Chao said. "This brings organization and clarity to the process."

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