5 Tech Tools with a Creative Twist

If you've been following this blog, we don't need to tell you that tech tools are a great way to make learning fun. You already know this, and if you're a parent, teacher, caregiver or simply a lifelong learner, you probably have your own strategies for making the most of digital learning tools in your daily life.

Unfortunately, even the most tech savvy among us can fall into routines and ruts. We get so used to relying on the same devices day in and day out that when something new comes along, we’re too busy tinkering with our tried-and-true tools to notice. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. To help give you a healthy dose of new ideas, we fired up the Spark satellite and sent out a signal asking for your experiences developing and using tech tools for creative pursuits. Here are just 5 of the inspiring responses we received:

1. Weiv got the beat. Music is known as the “great equalizer” for its unparalleled ability to draw people from all walks of life together. One program is hoping to make that even more true by giving audience members the ability to participate in concerts and performances without even leaving their seats. The program, called Weiv, lets users create “visual music” with the help of wii controllers. As they respond to the music, their motions create movement and patterns that can be projected in real time during a concert or event.

“You don’t go to a concert to listen to a pre-recorded audio so why would you want to watch pre-recorded visuals?” says Josh Larson, co-founder of Weiv. “With Weiv, by waving a Wii controller you can create your own visual music. You don’t need a Wii console – Weiv is interactive visual software for Bluetooth enabled Apple computers. All you need is a Mac, Weiv software, and up to seven off-the-shelf Wii remotes. Weiv is powerful enough for professional VJs, but easy enough to use for youth groups.” From summer camps to in-school assemblies, it’s easy to imagine how this program could be used to make music even more fun and exciting for kids.

2. Giving artists room to grow. Many musicians show promise from an early age, but the talents and the opportunities available to them aren’t always equal. From scheduling practice to scoring gigs and even amassing a fan-base, aspiring musicians have a lot on their plates. To help these artists build their careers, Quotient Solutions, a leading technology service company, developed Artist Growth. The new app has become so popular among musicians that it was awarded the title Best Music App by the MTV O Music Awards.

John Curtis, the CEO of Quotient Solutions says, “Artist Growth is an amazing concept that gives artists access to expert knowledge about all aspects of the industry, from marketing to booking shows. We took that idea and developed it into an easy-to-use app for any working musician; it’s exciting to see that work recognized.” With music programs across the country constantly fighting for funding, this app could be a real lifeline for young musicians.

3. Positive reinforcement? There’s an app for that. Helping students learn important social and behavioral skills is one of the most important parts of being a teacher. It’s also one of the hardest. Constantly rebuking and punishing students for bad behavior creates a negative environment and can often work against parents and teachers when the stress of being constantly corrected gets to students and causes them to act out even more.

Caught Being Good appThankfully, a new app called Caught Being Good aims to solve this issue by giving adults a fun and simple way to track good behavior and offer positive rewards. The rewards can even be customized by age, gender and environment. For example, a typical reward a teacher may use might be “be the line leader” or “sit at the teacher’s desk.”

The app’s creator, Dawn Nichols, says, “This app is a great tool to keep learning on track and promote a positive environment. Having 2 kids of my own, I’ve seen first hand how well children respond to positive reinforcement in the classroom.” We think it’s definitely a creative way to use tech tools to make the learning environment a far more positive place.

4. What did you do on summer vacation? It’s a question teachers have been asking since the dawn of time (or the dawn of the traditional school year at least). A new digital curation tool is about to make students’ answers a lot more dynamic. The service, called Lifeables, gathers images and updates from across social media platforms to create a single story that children can share.

Here’s what Nicole Daly, a second grade teacher from Sterling, MA had to say about her experience with Lifeables: “Lifeables is a wonderful tool that children – with limited parental supervision – can use to find and organize pictures and stories about what they did over the summer vacation. However, it can actually be used the entire school year to collect and add videos, pictures, comments and even allow the recording of milestones, inside or outside the classroom. So while the parents are capturing their child’s story, the child themselves can create a virtual ‘All About Me Box’ that is always safe and secure because it is controlled by the parents, yet easily shared in the classroom.” This new tool sounds like a great way to give a back-to-school tradition a new tech-friendly twist.

5. A digital tool for discovering your voice. “When I brought home my first Apple computer in October 2009, took it out of the box, and turned on Voiceover, I literally cried,” says acclaimed mezzo-soprano and author Laurie Rubin. “When that voice spoke out of my speaker saying, “Welcome to Voiceover,” I knew that for the first time in my life, I would be able to use the same computer any of my sighted friends and loved ones would purchase which made a very important statement to me about equal treatment. Apple’s creation of Voiceover shows that they believe any person should be able to use any of their devices. I now have a Macbook Pro, a Macbook Air which I take with me on all my travels, and an iPod Touch.”

Rubin’s used Voiceover to write her memoir, “Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight.” She’s also read a number of books with the program and she even uses it to conduct voice classes with her iPod Touch using downloaded karaoke tracks she projects through speakers.

“The beautiful thing about Voiceover, says Rubin,”Is that I can go to any computer lab in the world, anyone else’s home with an Apple computer, and be able to use those machines because they will have my screen reading software of choice on them. There is also a way for me to import my customized settings for Voiceover onto any Apple computer I use, not only making Voiceover very accessible, but easy for me to use. Surfing the Net, writing posts for my blog, using Facebook, and any other task a sighted person enjoys with their computer can now be achieved very easily by me and other blind users.”

These innovative tech tools are just a small sampling of the new apps, programs and services changing the way we learn and interact. We’ll be covering even more creative tools and inspiring stories in the weeks to come. Have you had an experience with one of these tools? Did a different product or device improve your creative endeavors or change the way you live and learn? We want to hear about it! Share your story in a comment below and stay tuned for even more updates from the Spark network.

Published September 03, 2012