With the help of a locally grown business, Critique^It, California State University’s (CSU) online teaching credential program CalStateTEACH is preparing to launch a time-saving, user-friendly program to facilitate feedback and dialogue between the program’s students and instructors any time, anywhere.


Long Beach-based Critique^It launched in 2008 with the goal of creating technology to support a multi-media approach to feedback, allowing users to annotate, comment on and provide feedback on digital documents via text, audio or video.

Critique^It, an annotation technology firm based in Downtown Long Beach, is working to develop a widget to help CalStateTEACH students more easily provide feedback on video projects on multiple devices, including iPads. Pictured from left are: Sharon Russell, Ph.D., systemwide director of California State University’s CalStateTEACH program; Alexa Fleur, co-founder of Critique^It; and Ashley Bradford, Critique^It’s CEO. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Evan Patrick Kelly)


The original concept was developed by co-founder Alexandra Fleur, who, as a graduate student in an online creative writing program, found sharing her work with peers online to be tedious and time consuming. She approached Ashley Bradford, now CEO, who had similar issues providing feedback on student writing assignments as a city college instructor. “The technology didn’t exist,” Bradford said. “So we decided to build what wasn’t there.”


“We decided to create a business, and that I would do all the business end of the house and then he would do the programming,” Fleur said. “We pitched it to some people thinking that we would just get a loan for the original amount [to start up]. The people we had pitched sat us down and said, ‘We don’t want [to give] a loan. We want shares,’” she recalled. “Next thing you know, we have an attorney, share certificates and a board.” W.W. Norton & Company, a global publishing company known for educational texts, is Critique^It’s distributor to major universities such as the University of Chicago.


The company is headquartered in Downtown Long Beach and is backed by Long Beach investors, Fleur noted. Also headquartered in Long Beach is the California State University system, which Fleur saw as an ideal client to benefit from Critique^It’s technology. So three years ago, she cold-called Dr. John Ittelson, professor emeritus of educational psychology and instructional technology at CSU Monterey Bay.


“I called him up, demo’d the technology, [and] kept in touch for several years,” Fleur said, noting that she and Ittelson kept each other in the loop about the CSU system’s needs and the development of Critique^It. About a year ago, the company and CSU’s CalStateTEACH program, overseen by Systemwide Director Sharon E. Russell, Ph.D., entered into a contract.


While currently users have to upload content to a Critique^It program in order to share it among peers for feedback, at the behest of CalStateTEACH, the company is working on creating a widget to make this process even simpler.


The CalStateTEACH program primarily serves remote and underserved areas and puts an emphasis on mobile accessibility. “Candidates do 90 percent of their work on an iPad, and we want to make it 100 percent,” Russell said.


A roadblock to this goal is a requirement of the program called an observation event, in which a student-teacher must record a video of himself or herself teaching and upload it online for feedback. “You can’t upload video directly onto a website off of an iOS device. You have to take it to a laptop,” Russell said, noting that this takes more time. To solve this issue, CalStateTEACH is nearly ready to implement a new program to enable students to upload videos straight from their iPads.


Critique^It is developing a widget to allow its annotation tools to function on any document, including video files, without uploading it to another program. Rather than having to type out a lengthy reply to a document, instructors or student peers will be able to provide feedback via text, audio or video, and easily reference a specific point in the document. For instance, if a student-teacher uploads a video of recent classroom instruction, those providing feedback could apply responses to different timestamps or frames of the video.


Critique^It will be able to capture information about how their widget is used and send it back to the users in the form of infographics and other visualizations for review.


The technology is set to be launched during this fall semester. “Educators have a lot of roadblocks,” Bradford said. “Anything we can do to make it easier to give that feedback is great.”


“Moving forward, I see this benefiting our candidates and our faculty because it’s going to remove what we call the roots in the path – the root you could trip on,” Russell said. “But the real reason is deeper communication and reflection on the practice of teaching, using this to transform our novice teachers into better teachers.”