UPDATE 11/19/2020: Exciting news! InSpace is offering two free trials for Engage Their Minds readers. If you are interested in entering a virtual raffle to receive a trial, please fill out this short form by 12:01 am on 11/22/2020. Winners will be announced on this blog and on Twitter on 11/23/2020.
When distance learning suddenly expanded from tiny pockets of academia into nearly every school around the world this year, technology companies scrambled to accommodate the new demands on their services. Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and other videoconferencing tools suddenly became lifelines for educators and their students. But these platforms were not originally designed for this type of use in education. Although they have attempted to evolve to meet the needs of their new clients, there are still significant hurdles that educators must overcome to conduct meaningful virtual classes. One company, however, has been designing a platform that is specifically targeted for education. They recently completed their beta testing, and are ready to sign up schools from Kindergarten to Higher Education. That company is InSpace.
I recently contacted InSpace because I had seen their promotional video and I am considering using it with future online classes. A member of their team immediately reached out to me and offered to schedule a demonstration.
When our appointment time arrived, I clicked on a link in the email and signed in with my Google credentials. (I was told later that this is not a requirement, so don’t worry if you are not a Google district.) There was no software to download. I was instantly on the conferencing page on my browser.
Note the background can be changed to whatever you like. Each participant is live in their circle, and those circles can be moved around. (The promotional video shows a warm and inviting study/conference space.) According to my demonstration host, the moveable circles are a deliberate design choice because, “Freedom of movement has been shown to be psychologically important to students.” Participants can also zoom in and out on the entire room. If participants have a question, they can click on an icon at the bottom, and a little raised hand appears on their circle.
One of the revolutionary features of InSpace is how sound is based on proximity. If you move your circle far away from someone, you can no longer hear each other. Want to do a Think/Pair/Share? Your students can pair up virtually on the screen and speak to each other without everyone else hearing it. You can see if people are speaking when a grayish circle appears around their circle.
How about Breakout Rooms? No problem. The host clicks a button and chooses the number of rooms, assigns students a room (or allows them to choose), and students just move their circles to the appropriate boxes on screen. Once in a box, they can only hear the people in their room. The host can see them all at the same time, pop in and out of the rooms, and broadcast to all of them if needed. “Time to start finishing up, everyone!”
Whiteboard and screen sharing can be done in Presentation mode. (They are working to include this in Breakout Rooms as well.)
There is a chat that all participants can use, but the company uses Artificial Intelligence to screen for inappropriate comments. I imagine unsavory language can slip through – but it can also be shouted in a physical classroom.
Privacy is very important to the founders of InSpace, so no personal information is stored, and they also claim that no “Zoom Bombing” will happen.
I was very impressed with the quick onboarding and intuitive design of InSpace. The most notable feature of this product and its company, though, is its commitment to teachers. InSpace was developed to be used in classrooms, and was initially beta tested with college students. There may need to be tweaks for it to be used with younger grade levels, but the company definitely seems open to feedback. Throughout our conversation, my host spoke about what is best for children and learning. That is a significant departure from other, more business-oriented videoconferencing tools.
Each InSpace chat can accommodate up to 50 participants. To find out more about InSpace, including their pricing tiers, you can contact them here: firstname.lastname@example.org