ihub brings EdTech innovation to Niagara

ihub is a technological research and innovation hub located in St Catharines that works on developing new ideas and products surrounding the world of educational technology.

The ihub is largely focused around educational technology for students from kindergarten to grade 12. It is located at the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) Academy, a public school in Saint Catharines specifically designed for students whose parents did not graduate from a college or university program, and who would therefore be considered a First Generation student upon eventually entering college or university.

The ihub’s location at a public school creates a particularly unique environment, as the academy teaches students who are in the same age range as the target range for the technology that the hub produces.

“There has been a significant disconnect between companies and researchers developing educational technologies, and the learning institutions they’re developing them for,” reports the website for the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION). “Unique to North America, ihub is located in a K-12 facility, the DSBN Academy.”

The ihub’s relationship with the academy means that people who work with the ihub have a direct link to the school board. Considering that they are creating educational technology for K-12 teachers to use in teaching K-12 students, this direct link to the school board is a huge advantage for companies who work for the ihub.

Developers and companies are able to interact directly with the people who will be using and purchasing the products they produce, allowing them a unique insight into their target demographic of educators and students. This proximity also helps to fix the issue of disconnect that ORION identifies between the producers of educational software and the people who actually use said software by working to bridge the gap between the two.

The hub is run in collaboration between the DSBN, Brock University, Niagara College and Innovate Niagara. The space is designed to be collaborative, allowing developers and business to work together with the facilities in producing educational software and technology.

Inside ihub/ orion.on.ca

Inside ihub/ orion.on.ca

One specific example of education technology that has been worked on at the ihub is the use of the video game Minecraft for educational purposes. In November, the ihub hosted a “Minecraft Educator Roundtable,” which brought together prominent figures working on educational implications of the game together in one place to discuss how to use Minecraft in the classroom.

Around the same time, the hub hosted the Minecraft Niagara Hackathon, which saw the launch of the Niagara Minecraft Map. This map used Minecraft to create a virtual interactive representation of the Niagara region. Students were then given the opportunity to work with this virtual Niagara in order to modify, interact with and “hack” the landscape and features of the map.

In addition to their work with the businesses that use their services and facilities, ihub also has a strong dedication to the Niagara community. The hub participates in outreach initiatives (such as the Hackathon), provides scholarships and bursaries, hosts after school programs and professional development programs for educators, and generally works to give back to the community in which it is located.

In December, the hub participated in “Hour of Code week,” a global initiative designed to encourage students to take a one-hour introductory course in computer science that helps “demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics.” The initiative was created in response to a need to help more students learn about computer science and to increase interest in the field.

During Hour of Code week, ihub hosted several sessions. Working with professionals and students from Brock and Niagara College, the hub hosted workshops designed to introduce students to coding and help them become more comfortable learning about computer science. The ihub also engaged in outreach that convinced DSBN schools to participate in the week, and the ihub’s blog reports that this participation lead to the equivalent of 759,574 minutes (or over 500 days) of coding education for students.

On March 22, ihub will be hosting an event called “Digital Literacy Resources to Support Student Engagement.” The event is free and is designed to allow attendees to interact with digital resources, programs and educators so that they can discover new tools to help teach students literacy.

Presentations at the March 22 event will include a presentation by Matthew Vandervoet about connecting graphic novels and gaming with literacy skills and using these tools to encourage reading, and a presentation by Rochelle Tkach on how to use iPads and tablets to improve digital literacy. Specific technologies featured at the event will include interactive literacy education tool Lightbox, magazine reading tool Flipster, eBook service Capstone Interactive eBooks and LiveInk interactive reading tool, amongst others.

The ihub’s core goals are focused around supporting technology in education, developing the Niagara region and helping students and educators. The events they run and the projects they support are all related to this dedication to the region and to the field of education, and the impacts that educational technology can have on them.

“Ihub industry and community partners are united under shared goals, as they participate in and help grow the EdTech innovation network in the Niagara region,” reports ORION. “Together ihub and its valued partners will foster an entrepreneurial, collaborative ecosystem in the Niagara region and improve the local economy through increased job creation and retention.”

For any educational technology innovators who want to work with the ihub, the services they offer are numerous. Besides the built-in advantage of being connected directly to the DSBN, the ihub offers support with everything from financial planning, to marketing support, to data collection and prototype development.

For anyone interested in working with the ihub or attending any of their upcoming events (including the free literacy technology event coming up on March 22), they are located at the DSBN academy on 130 Louth Street in St Catharines. More information is available at their website ihubniagara.ca.

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