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Science Central: Five questions for Choosito!

Choosito! helps students search better


For young students, the Internet can be a big, messy, cluttered, unreliable or even dangerous place. Choosito!, a University City Science Center startup, has devised a technological solution to help K-12 teachers find age appropriate resources for their students. The company's tagline sums up its mission: "Because the web is not a library and search engines are not librarians."
We asked co-founder and CEO Eleni Miltsakaki five central questions about his growing enterprise.
What is your big idea?

Although progress has been made in returning quality search results, the focus is on improving the relevance of results to the query, not the user, and on improving the online shopping experience. 
Choosito! is a web search filtering application designed to personalize search specifically for learners. To achieve this, we shift our focus from the keyword to the user.

Let's take the example of the query "polar bears." The user making the query could be a second or fifth grader searching for cool facts about polar bears to bring to class the next day; a group of middle school students working on a science project; a language teacher looking for a short story or news about polar bears at different reading levels; a foreign language learner; or even a polar bear expert.
The key to personalizing results for learning is understanding who the user is, what she wants to learn and what she knows already. Choosito is building technology that combines text analysis algorithms with statistical representations of each user’s current and evolving experience with the topic of the query to make adaptive recommendations of relevant resources.
What is your origin story?

I am a linguist and natural language processing scientist. In 2006, I started teaching educational technology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and was quickly confronted by frustrated teachers who were reluctant to let their students use the web because it was a distraction, took a long time to find something useful and was not reliable.
Co-founder Christos Georgiadis and I started operations in 2012. We are now surrounded by a talented team of educators, technologists and entrepreneurs dedicated to personalized learning.
What is your timeline for growth?

We launched our beta Choosito! Search and Learn in October 2014. Users can establish search criteria to filter websites by reading level and theme. Since our launch, we’ve gotten over 30,000 users.
On our first anniversary, we released our premium product Choosito! Class to help K-12 teachers integrate the teaching of information literacy into their curriculum. Choosito! Class also helps teachers assess the progress of their students’ critical thinking and information literacy skills by accessing quantitative data about their students’ methods of inquiry and evaluation of information.
In March, Choosito received a $1 million Innovation Award from the National Science Foundation. We’re currently at work to extend our machine learning text analysis technology by offering website recommendations based on what each student already knows and understands about the topic of inquiry.
Why does the marketplace need your company?

There is currently no other tool that can leverage the power and size of digital content to offer a sustainable solution not only for K-12, but lifelong personalized learning. Choosito!’s competition offers either automatically retrieved non-leveled resources or limited collections of resources organized by reading or grade level that become obsolete in less than a year.
What is your elevator pitch?

Choosito is a linguistic application that personalizes learning by making adaptive recommendations of resources that are not only relevant to the topic of interest but also relevant to the user and what they already know.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
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