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Computer Games, ‘College in the Cloud’ Among Finalists for 55,000 Degrees Innovation Prize

Thursday December 27, 2012

Eight tech-based concepts will compete for $20,000 award

A computer game that combines education and adventure. Phone apps that make college shopping easier. Cloud-based college courses for a world-wide classroom.

These are among the eight innovative, technology-based concepts chosen as finalists in the competition for a $20,000 grand prize for increasing the number of college graduates in Louisville.

Mayor Greg Fischer today announced the finalists for the 55,000 Degrees Innovation in Education Attainment Competition, a quest for knowledge-building innovations sponsored by the Gheens Foundation.

The finalists will spend the next three months turning their concepts into prototypes in hopes of winning the grand prize, said Fischer, chairman of the 55,000 Degrees movement.

“People are clearly thinking innovatively about their ideas,” he said. “Technology is a powerful tool that can help us reach our community goal — increasing the number of college-educated citizens by more than 55,000 over the next eight years.”

The finalists for the 55,000 Degrees innovation prize include:

  • An on-line computer game that encourages students to learn about college and careers while completing exciting missions;
  • Mobile phone apps that link students to college information, resources and social networks;
  • After-school computer-based learning clubs to encourage high school students to explore technology skills and opportunities;
  • A network of on-line, cloud-based college courses;
  • The expansion and promotion a college program that uses online options and worker-friendly scheduling to help adults with college credits to complete their degrees;
  • Mobile phone apps that allow prospective students to shop and compare area colleges and their programs.

Fischer and 55,000 Degrees announced the competition in late September and more than 90 people submitted ideas. A team of judges narrowed the ideas to the “elite eight” that will compete for the grand prize.

Mary Gwen Wheeler, executive director of 55,000 Degrees, said the competition is seeking the best idea to achieve two key goals:

  • Motivating and supporting students, both traditional and adult learners, to earn post-secondary degrees; and
  • Employing technology-based approaches to improve degree completion rates and attract more college-educated people to Louisville.

“The Gheens Foundation sponsored the $20,000 competition because many times the best ideas come from the most unlikely of places,” Fischer said. “This competition is an example of crowdsourcing, where an organization takes advantage of the public’s best ideas.”

Other cities or organizations have done similar competitions, which have led to numerous innovations.

In 2011, MeriTalk — a government IT community — offered $50,000 for the best idea to use IT to improve the quality of government. The recipient of this award developed a way to share unused assets through a nationwide database which minimizes the need to new purchases and reduces unnecessary spending.

The 55,000 Degrees finalists will be asked to develop and submit a working model or prototype of their idea by April 15, 2013. The $20,000 prize will be awarded to a minimum of one and maximum of two finalists.

The concepts will be judged on three main criteria:

  • Use of technology to make college access, entry and completion more cost-effective;
  • Use of technology to increase scalability; and
  • Functionality and completeness of the prototype.

55,000 Degrees will collaborate with the Round II winner to identify additional opportunities for implementing and deploying the model. The first Innovation in Educational Attainment prize is expected to be awarded in the first half of 2013.

For more information about the Innovation in Educational Attainment competition, go to www.55000degrees.org/prize.