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.