Andrew Monro is Apt613’s correspondent at Impact Hub Ottawa, writing about the many innovators that call Hub home. Hub is a co-working space at 123 Slater Street for projects with a positive local and global impact.
Most of the data that is collected about us as users and consumers is not easily available to us. While a lot of that data is used, rarely is it ever put to use for our own interest. Usually, it will be fed into algorithms built into platforms and systems, all in pursuit of profit, attempting to mimic an organic understanding of our behaviour.
Greg Clarke and Brian Berger want to change that status quo, and start putting data to work for our own interests.
Greg, a programmer and data science professional, and Brian, a college professor specializing in education for special-needs individuals, came together over Quantified Self, an international community centred around an interest of self-knowledge, and ultimately self-improvement, using numbers and data.
Brian, in his work, had identified that platforms like YouTube use algorithms that are often not helpful in an educational setting, guiding young students to consume content that was either not appropriate for their age or was unhelpful in an educational setting, guiding students away from content that was consistent with teaching goals. Realizing that there was a need for a tool that could help educators, especially those working with children with developmental disabilities.
“We want you to be able to find and show better content that isn’t working against you as an educator.”
“We need a tool that gives educators and parents control over what children see and for how long,” says Brian. “At the same time, we want to make use of user data that helps people with disabilities have more autonomy and require less assistance, potentially allowing individuals to lead a more self-sustaining life.”
Working out of Impact Hub Ottawa, Greg developed Memair, an open-source platform that they have used to work together to build a kid-oriented YouTube video recommendation tool that will allow parents and educators to both record student user data, as well as being able to guide and curate content students can view. This will also allow educators to create their own recommended content based on educational goals and student needs for school-age children.
“We want you to be able to find and show better content that isn’t working against you as an educator,” says Brian.
As of April—auspiciously, Autism Awareness Month, as children with autism are a major focus for the platform—they have begun alpha test trials with educators, gaining feedback and refining the algorithms for the platform.
“Algorithms should be working for us. You should be able to control the algorithms that affect you, not giving that power away to corporations that don’t care about your well-being” says Greg.
Brian and Greg hope to be able to not only be able to further develop the education-appropriate content recommender, but have big plans to develop ways of taking in all kinds of data for the user and put it work for those with special needs.
“We want to help people gain a better grasp of data about themselves, and then allow them, their teachers and caretakers, able to tailor it to their needs,” says Brian.
If you are interested in learning more about Memair and Brian and Greg’s work, they are especially interested in speaking to educators, healthcare professionals, especially those that support special needs individuals, and anyone with an interest in data science and the Quantified Self community, to get in touch. They can be reached by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @MemairApp, and via Brian’s LinkedIn @drbrianberger.