Community Spotlight: Kano World
The edtech industry has always faced a unique challenge in the tech space: How do you create an educational product that is teacher, parent, and kid-approved? Not many organizations have found a way to gamify education. But then, not many organizations are as innovative as Kano Computing.
The London-based company released the first “make your own computer” kit for all ages in 2014 to critical acclaim. By making their own computer, children learned how to code as they built. With fun, interactive tutorials that brought code to life, these kits were a huge hit and are now used across the globe in schools, libraries, and homes. They’ve since partnered with Disney, LucasFilm, and Warner Bros. to create Frozen, Star Wars, and Harry Potter coding kits.
Kano tapped into something fresh and new in edtech. With a combination of gender-neutral branding, a deeply ingrained sense of playfulness (their commitment to play is evident from the first glance at their homepage, with its bright colors and clean, simple copy), and creativity at its core, Kano Computing successfully attracted the attention and approval of teachers, parents, and most importantly, kids.
Living in Kano’s world
In 2019, they launched Kano Club, an online community platform for young creators. Following the same basic “build it” principles of their computer kits, Kano Club provides easy-to-use tutorials built by the Kano content team. Instead of building computers, however, young members build on the coding basics they’ve learned with art challenges, clicker games, music projects, and more. New challenges and tutorials are released every two weeks.
What’s different is that now, users aren’t just left with a product, but instead have something to share with their friends. Like other community platforms, Kano members can create their own avatar and share their creations with the community, who can like them, leave comments, look at the code, and remix it to make something new.
While it began life as a members-only experience, the team recently opened up Kano Club to everyone.
The decision to make Kano Club public while schools are closed was an easy one, says Executive Creative Director Aaron Hinchion.
“As soon as the lockdown started to look like it was going to happen, we thought, what do we have that we can give away for free?” he says. “And I realized that we have this community, which is a huge, never-ending source of projects and educational opportunities. I’ve got two kids myself.”
The team added coronavirus-themed challenges, including a diagram of a virus cell, a handwashing timer, and a social distancing simulator to demonstrate the exponential spread of COVID-19. The Kano community used these challenges as a creative starting point to build an impressive array of projects, including multiple “Stop the virus!” clicker games, artwork featuring instructions on how to stay safe and have fun during the pandemic, and tributes to NHS workers.
“We added the coronavirus challenges very quickly as a reaction to what was going on in the world. We wanted to demystify it a little, make it less scary, and see if we could defeat it with creativity.” Hinchion says. “Seeing users make their own games and quickly feed off each other has been really amazing.”
These COVID-19-themed projects are perfect examples of what makes the Kano World community unique. These young coders are not only learning valuable skills as they build their projects; they’re also helping each other through a confusing and scary time.
Kano’s commitment to creativity and community-building has allowed them to take the concept of collaboration to entirely new heights, in the form of Kano World’s coolest community feature — the Remix button.
A world of remixes
Every Kano creation includes a Remix button. Click it and you’re taken to the Kano code editor where you can view, learn from, and edit the code to make your own new creation. This unique feature places collaboration squarely at the heart of Kano World.
This is no accident, says Hinchion. “The Remix button is a huge part of the community,” he says. “People learn in completely different ways. Some people want to follow instructions, and some want to see what other people have made and see the code and creativity behind it. They start changing colors and changing text, and it makes them understand what a logic block does and what happens when they change the name of a variable. The Remix button can help them get over the fear of breaking things.”
Kano recently upped their collaboration game with the addition of Remix Tracking. This new feature shows users whose creation they’ve remixed, who remixed it before them, and so on.
The Remix button encourages users to work together to find solutions to tricky problems. “We sometimes see users say, ‘I made a game, but I don’t think it works yet,’” says Hinchion. “And then someone else will chime in: ‘What if you add this element to it?’ And you see how they cooperate and share ideas.”
Yet another unique facet of Kano is the creative way in which it provides young users with a valuable introduction to tangible skills.
“A lot of software was built by wonderful professionals that build on top of each other’s work,” says Shu-Ting Huang, Software Product Lead. “Communities have always contributed to each other’s work to make the system better.”
A safe and friendly environment
Another pillar of the Kano World community is online safety. A safe, secure, and fully moderated environment, Kano Club is also COPPA-complaint and has earned its COPPA Safe Harbor Certification from PRIVO. Usernames, comments, and even code are all moderated for bullying, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), abuse, and other harmful content.
“One of the best things about moderation is the ability to understand our community’s culture and identify its characteristics,” says Huang. “We are able to spot negative trends and address them in the first minute. This has empowered us to build a healthy online platform that encourages collaborative learning.”
As the community grows steadily during the pandemic — and it shows no signs of slowing down — Kano has maintained a safe and friendly environment. And the kids are playing their part.
“If the kids see a negative comment on someone’s creation, you see them jump in and say, ‘No, you’ve done a great job!’”, says Hinchion.
As the Kano World community grows, the Kano team is hard at work planning for the future. As always, creativity, collaboration, and play are at the heart of their roadmap.
“We want to continue to focus on creativity and not just computer science,” says Huang. “We also are looking at animation and making games. Our users go wild with their imagination. The future of Kano is to apply a studio approach with multiple access points for users. If you like to draw, then start with a drawing. If you like to make music, then start with composing music and we can link up all these different creations to compile a multimedia creation.”
Kano isn’t done innovating. But this time, they’re letting the kids lead the way.
“Kano is one of the most creative companies I’ve ever been in,” Hinchion adds. “We’re never short on ideas. And we see these kids as an extension of our team, so we want to involve the community and learn from them. They help drive the vision as much as we do.”