When most people hear ACT, they usually think of the assessment test that helps determine which colleges they get into. But the organization wants to provide more than just an assessment.
Since changing leadership in 2015, the Iowa City-based company has made 10 deals in which it has invested in, acquired or formed strategic partnerships with educational companies.
“ACT is moving from being only a testing company to being a learning, measurement and navigation company,” said ACT’s Senior Vice President Alina von Davier. “And we have a very ambitious mission and has a strategy to get there. Our management team looks at all the capabilities that we have and the gaps that we have within our strategy in order to accomplish our mission. These investments and acquisitions are meant to fill these gaps.”
Most recently, the company invested in Open Assessment Technologies, a San Francisco-based startup that offers open-source tools for building and delivering digital tests.
In February of this year, ACT invested $7.5 million in Smart Sparrow, an Australian developer of adaptive courseware tools used in colleges and universities.
Smart Sparrow has become a partner with ACTNext, working to build new products. The two organizations can now share their existing research in adaptive technologies to create more effective online educational tools.
“It’s just a matter of putting the right pieces in the right places to accelerate development,” von Davier said.
In addition to making outside investments, ACT is also innovating from within.
ACTNext was founded in 2016 with the idea of being a multidisciplinary innovation arm of ACT. The group is comprised of experts in fields ranging from psychometrics and learning sciences to software development, AI & Machine Learning, and data visualization and is led by von Davier.
“What we plan to do is change and transform the learning and teaching experience by bringing in technology and allowing the technology to facilitate human and social collaboration,” von Davier said. “We would like social interactions, collaborated learning and collaborated problem-solving to be part of the learning and assessment systems that we are developing.”
ACTNext is hosting an event on October 3-4 at the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City, called the Education Technology & Computational Psychometrics Symposium (ETCPS), which focuses on education research and technological innovation.
The symposium is meant to represent the fusion of theory-based science of learning with the technology of artificial intelligence methodology.
“We chose to do the symposium in Iowa City because of our desire to partner with the local community,” von Davier said. “We are very much committed to being connected to the Iowa City community.”