Charting paths to learning through technology.
Navigation North is uniquely positioned to exceed expectations in both technical ability and educational expertise. Our team members are directly involved in education and technology, which means your project will receive a balanced solution optimizing outcomes.
For over a decade, Navigation North has been building online communities of practice focused on professional development, curriculum development and educational innovation. With experience at every level of education, Navigation North creates effective learning tools and systems which align to teachers’ instructional practices and effective learning research.
Navigation North began as a team of educators and educational resource developers working to re-imagine and re-design:
- How teachers are supported in their practice
- How students learn in and out of class and
- How education systems can best support innovation
While much of our work involves implementing systems, resources, and communities of practice on statewide and national levels, we still regularly work directly in schools and classrooms to continuously assess and calibrate our thinking and design with site leaders, teachers, and learners.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Department of Education, SRI International, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, California Department of Education, American Institutes for Research, Council of Chief State School Officers
"Navigation North has shown consistent representation (or advocacy) for the user."
Navigation North began the engagement as a subcontractor, but they have since been awarded multiple contracts, including an extensive multi-year research and development initiative.
"Navigation North has shown consistent representation (or advocacy) for the user."
Jan 18, 2017
Navigation North has brought unique expertise and agility to the engagement. Although a small firm, Navigation North has had a flexible approach, growing and adding skills when needed.
A Clutch analyst personally interviewed this client over the phone. Below is an edited transcript.
Introduce your business and what you do there.
The Center for Learning and Digital Access is a central education and outreach office within the Smithsonian Institute. We coordinate with the 19 museums, the 9 major research centers, and the other programmatic offices of the organization (like libraries and archives) across the Smithsonian campus in Washington DC, New York, and all over the world. Our goals are to improve access to digital content, as well as to improve the usefulness of that content. We primarily focus on teachers and students in the classroom but also work on informal education, higher-ed, and afterschool programs. Historically, we've focused on ensuring that the Smithsonian is a useful tool for classrooms across the country.
I am the senior digital strategist of the organization.
What challenge were you trying to address with Navigation North?
Our first venture with Navigation North was while they were subcontracted on a research and evaluation project by which we were trying to better understand how teachers engage with online content. It was a multiyear, expensive project.
What was the scope of their involvement?
Navigation North was brought on by our primary contractor in order to do much of the work involved. It centered on working with teacher focus groups in understanding how they used existing Smithsonian digital educational resources. The Navigation North team was in residence in Washington DC for part of the summer, working with the team at the center on prototyping, helping us understand how to build a better infrastructure for using our material.
Navigation North was not only our research collaborator, in terms of designing the research approach for working with teachers, conducting literature reviews, and looking at environmental scans, but they were also our development partners. The technical side of Navigation North was also present in Washington, enabling us to perform some magical things, especially for the teachers with whom we were working. After being given input on a certain feature of the project at hand, the Navigation North technical team could make the teachers' suggestions into reality by the next day. It was a rare and special opportunity which other web development or research teams could have never brought to the table.
Since the launch of the project that research helped to define, Navigation North has been managing an aggressive 2-week release cycle for updating the user interface, as well as managing a subcontracting firm which is helping with the work. We have a separate but related research project with Navigation North, looking at how students engage with our platform and its content.
While our original project was mostly focused on teachers and on how Smithsonian resources could be used by them for constructing the student learning experience, it didn't specifically focus on how the students themselves engage with the material. Navigation North has been hired separately for another grant-funded project which involves examining literature and ed-tech environmental scans, as well as leading some in-class prototyping and workshopping with students in California, in correlation with our own researchers.
How did you come to work with Navigation North?
Navigation North had been involved in a previous project. There was a hiatus while we were raising money for building the Smithsonian Learning Lab project. When we obtained the funding, we put together an RFP [request for proposal] and sent it to 8-10 firms, mostly large web design and communication firms in New York and San Francisco, different to the Navigation North model in terms of classroom expertise and education policies. Navigation North competed against those firms with both a written response and an in-person interview with a panel of Smithsonian educators and technology experts. They won that contract, partly due to their experience with the research that led to the project, but primarily due to the deep understanding that Navigation North's team had about how teachers and classrooms engage in digital spaces. Since that point 2 years ago, we have been working with Navigation North on building, testing, launching, and revising the project.
How much have you invested with Navigation North?
I cannot provide this information.
What is the status of this engagement?
We started working with Navigation North 2 years ago. The beta version of the project launched in the fall of 2015, while the official launch was in the summer of 2016. Since that time, we have continued to do extensive work with Navigation North in building out features based on beta testing and input received from users.
Could you share any evidence that would demonstrate the productivity, quality of work, or the impact of the engagement?
In general, we've been pleased with Navigation North's work from a qualitative point of view. We continue to extend contracts with the company.
Because of the combination of expertise within our own institution and that of Navigation North's team, we have created a piece of software which is unique in the museum space. It's been acknowledged as such, winning us a number of awards from the leading EdTech press and being included in top-10 lists. The Smithsonian's resources have been put into a space which is clearly reflective of the needs of teachers. This is the closest thing to a quantitative metric that I could put on Navigation North's involvement in our project.
How did Navigation North perform from a project management standpoint?
Navigation North has a fairly small team, which we've compared to the larger web design firms we were considering in the beginning. The trade-off was between size and the experience and flexibility that Navigation North has brought. The team grows and shrinks as needed, without necessarily having dedicated project managers, quality assurance testers, and so on. This ability has been a huge benefit for us because we're not paying for services we don't need on an ongoing basis.
What did you find most impressive about Navigation North?
The uniqueness of Navigation North's offering, especially in our space, and the reason for selecting them for our big contract, was a combination of advanced technical skill and their ability to grow the team and bring in the right people for the job when needed. Navigation North has experience in understanding the realities of education, both the day-to-day classroom and the evolution of the ed-tech space. This includes everything from statewide education policies, teacher development needs, to work with the Federal Department of Education on understanding the bigger trends and where education dollars and policies are moving. This is something which we didn't have at the same breadth; there are educators and researchers with a variety of backgrounds within the center, but the federal-level experience brought in by Navigation North was unique.
Navigation North has shown consistent representation (or advocacy) for the user. Everyone working on these sorts of projects has gotten deep into things, making it easy to lose sight of whom we're ultimately working for. Navigation North has challenged us about how good certain decisions are for the average teacher trying to find quick resources for a classroom. We try to do this as much as possible, but Navigation North has been the one constantly reminding us of it.
Are there any areas Navigation North could improve?
Navigation North likes to be a small firm, which makes the group desirable in many ways. They're a de facto part of my team in many ways, so that nimbleness and flexibility is important. It also means that Navigation North doesn't have dedicated project managers, accounts people, or other resources which would make the business processes a bit smoother. As they grow and receive larger projects like ours, this is likely something that Navigation North will have to consider. From a certain scale, it becomes obvious that elements like this require special attention.