Karen Billings, VP of the Education Division, joined SIIA 10 years ago, and has been involved with the CODiE Awards ever since. She even remembers the very first Education category – the Best Learning Product in 1986. Since then, the number of Education categories has grown at a steady pace, reflecting the advances in the ed tech industry. Karen shares her thoughts on this constantly evolving industry and what’s new in this year’s education CODiE Awards.
Tell us a little about the history of Education categories in the CODiE Awards.
The first year of the CODiE Awards, the one education winner was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, for the Best Learning Product. It was such a popular product, and I remember later on there were spin-off products, and even one called Where in North Dakota is Carmen Sandiego! It’s interesting because even today, Carmen Sandiego is still a product at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Even after a series of acquisitions and mergers, the company is marketing and selling an updated version of this product, decades later. The point is that a good education product with a good instructional design that changes with the hardware capabilities is going to have longevity and certainly, branding. It’s very possible that the teachers who are buying Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego today could have used the product when they were young. The CODiE Awards are in its 28th year and it’s amazing to think about how the very first education CODiE Award winner is not only in the market, but has her own Facebook page.
Why do educators and administrators judge all of the education categories in the first round of judging?
The Education Division wanted to have educators and administrators review the products in the first round because they are the real experts. They know what other products are out there, and they have probably used a number of different products in their category, so they have the expertise. They are the best judge of what is going to work in the classroom, and that is a big part of what we mean when we say a product is the best.
The Education Division is able to leverage its relationships with the professional associations and online education communities such as edWeb to reach the teachers. We partner with them because they can directly reach out to their members. For example, SIIA cosponsors a games channel on edWeb, so we can reach teachers who are active in the games-for-learning community. That community helps us find those educators who would be the best at judging the games category.
Why do you like having three top awards, for Best PK-12, Best Postsecondary, and Best Overall?
First of all, I think it’s very special to have some very high-level categories where companies don’t nominate but they are recognized. It’s a very special recognition. It’s a way to pull out the best of the best. In some sense we are following other awards programs. In the Oscars, they have lots of awards, but the most exciting one is Best Picture of the Year. We know that the winners have appreciated that award.
Why do so many education companies love to nominate for the CODiE Awards?
The number of products that are out there in the market have grown substantially for over 25 years. It’s followed the growth of technology, as schools have started to move from the use of print materials and transitioned to the use of digital. Twenty-five years ago, using Carmen Sandiego was a very unique and probably isolated event by a few special teachers who were excited about using that Apple II in the classroom. As access to hardware increased, the software market evolved, and professional development supported technology integration, educators and administrators started to see the benefits of using technology. They saw student engagement, and positive results. The market grew, and as the market grew, the CODiE Award nominations grew, the interest grew, and school budgets grew. It has been a consistent, steady growth for 25 years.
Many of the products that were submitted in the first 10 years for the CODiE Awards had been developed by teachers. Teachers themselves then ended up forming companies. Jan Davidson was a Language Arts English teacher. She wrote a program called Reading Blaster for kids to use in her classrooms on an Apple II. She started sharing it with other teachers, and her husband, Bob Davidson, decided that there might be a business in selling that program to other teachers. They formed a company called Davidson & Associates, which was an early member of the then SPA (Software Publishers Association.) I like knowing that some of the educators reviewing this year’s products may be designing a product that could be a CODiE Awards winner in a few years. It could be the next Carmen Sandiego or Oregon Trail!
Which category are you most excited about this year?
I’m always anxious to see who is nominating in brand new categories. This year, our new category is Best Personalized Learning Solution, which evolved from work we have been doing in the Education Division for the last several years. It started with a working group on personalized learning after our Education Board undertook this as a key initiative. Personalized learning is a new market. Legacy companies can incorporate those attributes as they modify their products, and so can the startups who are designing new products. The thing I look forward to most is seeing nominations come in from companies I don’t know yet. There are so many new companies each year, and some are so new I haven’t even heard from them. When I see their nominations come in, I go to their website and find out about them, and it makes me excited about the direction that education technology is taking.
How can small companies compete in the CODiE Awards?
I think that the small companies with brand new products are viewed very positively by judges. The judges like seeing something new. It’s great to see the start-ups getting the same amount of visibility as larger companies when the finalists are announced. And when the SIIA member companies vote in the second round of judging, every company gets the same number of votes in each category, no matter what size they are. When all of the winners are listed on the press release, some will be large companies, some will be small companies. Some will be companies educators will recognize, and some will be totally unknown. Hopefully when people see a winner they’ve never heard of, they will go to their website and check them out.
What makes the education CODiE Awards banquet so special?
We have so much fun at our awards banquet! It’s a very special event for our companies. They enjoy it. It’s another thing to look forward to at the Ed Tech Industry Summit. We held the gala for the 2012 CODiE Awards on the second evening of the conference and will continue the tradition in 2013.
It’s funny, before I worked at SIIA, I worked at various member companies for 15 years. I came to many of the conferences and even spoke at them, but I never attended a CODiE Awards event! I’m not sure why. The first CODiE Awards gala I ever went to was the first year I started working for SIIA in 2002-in fact it was my second day on the job! I discovered how much fun it was, and how special it is. I really have had fun every year since.
Wendy Tanner is CODiE Awards Coordinator. Follow the CODiE Awards on Twitter @CODiEAwards