All posts by Kay Alexander

Kay Alexander is the Managing Editor of EDUKWEST Europe and Creative Director of Winkler Media.

Lernstift – A Smart Pen that corrects Spelling and Handwriting

It’s not often that you come across a startup in the education space that isn’t building a SaaS product or platform but an actual device. Lernstift (learning pen) from Germany is one of the few that do. In order to create their first batch of products the founders are currently aiming to raise £120k via Kickstarter.

Though there is a lot of discussion going on about teaching handwriting or cursive on both sides of the Atlantic, pen and paper are still the dominant “education tool” in today’s classroom. Hence it probably makes sense to augment the process of learning how to write with some technology.

Lernstift is going to feature two modes. One that corrects the spelling and one that helps to develop better handwriting. If the student makes a spelling mistake or writes a letter that is not really recognizable, the pen will vibrate and therefore help the learner to recognize a mistake the moment she made it.

Lernstift technology

Of course, this is not the end but just the beginning. The inbuilt technology in form of a mini Linux computer will enable the pen to connect to smartphones and computers, opening a whole new set of possibilities like learning applications for grammar, social learning features and so on.

Developers will be able to write custom applications, accessing Lernstift over an open API. Lernstift will also get software updates over the air which means that even the earliest versions will always be up-to-date, similar to Android devices like the Nexus 4 or 7 by Google.

Another nifty feature: Lernstift also comes with exchangeable writing tips: pencil, fountain pen and ballpoint. At launch Lernstift is going to support two languages, English and German, but the team plans to expand the languages as soon as possible.

If you want to get one of the first Lernstifts make sure to pledge £99 on Kickstarter before Friday, August 9th. Remember, Kickstarter will only charge you if Lernstift reaches its funding goal of £120.000 – they are currently at £20.000 with 19 days left. The team estimates that early backers of the project are going to receive their Lernstift in December 2013.

The retail price of Lernstift once it hits the shelves is going to be £125. If you want to learn more about the technology behind the project, visit the Lernstift website or the Kickstarter page.

Is the European Commission about to kill Net Neutrality?

The latest draft of a proposal by the European Commission gets defenders of net neutrality up in arms. End of May Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, has sent out a tweet urging her followers to back her in defending #netneutrality


But according to the German blog that dug into the latest draft of a regulation that aims to

lay down measures to complete the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent

quite the opposite is the case. If the draft would pass as is in the European parliament and became a law, net neutrality as it is defined today would be dead in the European Union.

In case you are not familiar with the concept of net neutrality:

Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. (Wikipedia)

Under the proposed regulation Internet service providers could probably cut deals among themselves and also offer different data plans to their customers, treating services differently. For example French Internet provider Orange could throttle down the data packages of YouTube and deliver videos from Dailymotion (in which Orange has around 40% stake) faster. All of that would be OK, it just needed to be mentioned in the terms of service.

This way big brands like Google, Yahoo or Microsoft could cut a deal with Internet service providers to speed up their services, killing competition with faster results and quicker loading times which of course would make it very difficult for smaller competitors to gain traction. It is basically a death sentence for innovation as Tagesschau titled its report on the issue.

So instead of helping the consumer as proposed in the draft this regulation would eventually hurt us by making the Internet less competitive.

And it is bad for the education (startup) space as well. New trends like MOOCs are relying heavily on streamed videos or other bandwidth heavy features. With net neutrality down the drain Internet service providers could bully those kind of services into paying an extra fee, or else…

Interestingly we already see emerging partnerships of Internet service providers and education startups in which the products are bundled into the data plans. And under the proposed regulation this business model would be basically a must for education startups that plan to use a lot of bandwidth. A good way for Internet service providers to make money from both sides, the education provider paying for fast data delivery and the student paying for fast data reception. A real progress for the consumer and Europe as a whole.

Further reading:

Picture by click via Morguefile

More Investments in European MOOC Platforms to come?

In a press release last week the European Commission states that European Universities need to think global. With a new strategy named “European higher education in the world” the commission aims to prepare European students with the skills they need to work internationally and to attract more foreign students to study at one of the 4000 European universities.

According to the press release

… the number of higher education students in the world is expected to quadruple, from around 100 million in 2000 to 400 million in 2030, with particularly strong growth in Asia and Latin America. Europe currently attracts around 45% of all international students, but its competitors are rapidly increasing their investment in higher education. The largest providers of internationally mobile students are China, India and South Korea.

Besides promoting the long tradition of high quality education in Europe, the European Commission also believes that

… universities must also promote an international outlook among the 85% of students who are not mobile, so that they too acquire the international skills required in a globalised world. This means universities need to develop international curricula, promote language skills and expand digital learning.

To achieve these goals the European Commission is going to invest €400 million each year to support international student exchanges and increased cooperation between European universities and their partners worldwide.

This could of course lead to some significant investments in European MOOC platforms like iversity and FutureLearn which could help them to catch up with the heavily VC funded US-based competitors Coursera, Udacity and edX that all work on expanding their partner portfolio internationally.

Having the European Commission as investor would also give European MOOCs a strategic advantage in the way they operate. Other than VC backed MOOC platforms they would not need to focus too much on business models and revenue but could focus on pedagogy and partnerships.

On the other hand it is clear that MOOC platforms that are funded by VCs and run like tech startups are able to move faster as funding often comes faster and is attached to less restrictions which is of course an advantage for this kind of model.

Picture License Attribution Some rights reserved by tiseb