Category Archives: Reviews

Education product reviews

BETT 2015 – the Biggest and Baddest EdTech Show on the Planet

Editor’s Note: This post has first been published on the Media Taylor blog.


BETT 2015 was the biggest and baddest edtech show on the planet; forget FETC and ISTE (just for educators), GSV/ASU (for edtech startups & deals) and SXSWedu (parties and ….parties) – BETT is the bomb.

Continue reading BETT 2015 – the Biggest and Baddest EdTech Show on the Planet

StepUp.io Review: Loop Educational Videos until you get it

At EDUKWEST we have written a lot about curating existing educational content on the Internet instead of reinventing the wheel all over again by simply adding more content on the growing pile. There are startups like MentorMob, Learnist, Veri, Ginkgotree and others that enable educators to create curated lists or courses based on videos, articles or other freely available content like OER.

Pitch StepUp.io Edtech Innovator AwardKirsten recently spoke at the EdTech Innovator Award in London and StepUp.io was one of the six startups in the pitch competition. Although the team wasn’t award a prize, she found it an interesting idea worth to get covered on our site.

StepUp.io, a London-based edtech startup, fits into this overall trend of curation. What it does is to provide learners or educators with a tool that cuts educational videos into bitesized chunks that can then be learned at individual pace or repeated as many times until mastered.

There are a bunch of use cases one can imagine but probably two make the most sense to us: music and languages. Coming back to the point of a ton of free video lessons being freely available on YouTube, one have a good basis to learn an instrument or language from scratch. The problem is that most tutors who upload videos don’t have the skills required or patience to insert repetitive sections into their videos. Most of the videos deal with a problem but simply run through the explanation without repeating the concept enough times so that the student really gets it.

Of course, you can pause and rewind a video in the YouTube player by hand but let’s face it, it does not work very well and is kind of annoying. And this is where StepUp.io comes in.

You can embed the YouTube video you want to learn with on the StepUp.io platform and chunk it into bitesized learning modules. Each module can then be looped until mastered. You can also create your own learning curve by combining chunks, stepping up your game so to say, until you are able to watch the entire video in one take.

I think StepUp.io is a really useful tool for self directed learners and independent tutors who publish video lessons on YouTube. It adds a great learning experience to an otherwise pretty linear way of consuming educational videos.

The issues I see for StepUp.io are how to build a community that will create video lessons on the platform. In order to achieve this the platform needs to offer better ways to find and categorize learning content and also create learning playlists similar to MentorMob or Learnist.

All in all, I see StepUp.io in its current form more as a feature than an independent product. Adding more structure and building a community around the content might elevate the product into a real learning platform.

And having Bernard Niesner of busuu as a mentor through the Founders Forum for Good it will be interesting to follow StepUp.io’s progress in the months to come and to see Bernard’s potential impact on product and strategy.

 

Berlin-based Lingoda enters the crowded ESL Market with Online Language School Concept

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Berlin-based Lingoda is a new player in the online English learning space. The platform offers a mix of self-paced video based learning material, group classes and individual classes with a tutor. The premise is that the learner will be speaking English fluently within twelve months.

Lingoda has been founded by Fabian and Felix Wunderlich and seems to be an iteration of their other startup Easy Languages which offeres German and English classes with tutors via the Internet. According to Deutsche Startups, Lingoda has recently raised some funding from Global Founders Capital, the new investment fund of the Samwer brothers. It’s little of a surprise that the mentioned above Easy Languages received angel funding from people in the Samwer network, former staff and founders.

I have definitely noticed a lot of Google Adwords ads for Lingoda and Easy Languages recently, so the marketing machine seems to run already. Inevitably, being a former online language coach myself, I had to take a closer look at the new platform and compare it to earlier players in the space like Myngle out of the Netherlands, Learnissimo and Lingueo out of France or Shanghai based italki.

First of all, Lingoda only offers one language to learn, English. The other language learning platforms expanded very quickly in as many languages as possible. I guess focus on (one of) the most popular language to learn is a good decision though the market is of course pretty saturated.

Another difference to the earlier players mentioned above is that Lingoda is defining itself as an online language school whereas Myngle, Learnissimo and Lingueo took the approach of a marketplace for language tutors (they have since pivoted). This often led to discussions about the quality of the offered lessons and how much the platform was able to intervene in the different teaching styles.

To further distinguish the service from other players in the space, Lingoda offers a mix of three learning types combined with the promise to teach fluent English in twelve months. Interestingly the video lessons are provided by a startup we covered a couple of years ago on our mother site EDUKWEST, namely English Central.

English Central is offering a vast catalog of video content and a pretty nifty set of features that includes voice recognition and automatic correction for pronunciation. The aim is to offer content based on the interests of different learners and their level of English. Partnering with a startup that takes care of such a complex technology instead of creating it on its own is another clever step.

Learners also get a personal adviser that helps them to stay focused, organize the best learning schedule and motivate them along the way. This is something that is often missing in the mix, so again a plus for Lingoda.

The last ingredient are of course the English tutors on the site. Lingoda, like everyone else in the space, is touting that those tutors are well trained, certified and love teaching English. Back in the days I tend to get myself into the role of a unionist for online language teachers, decrying the dumping prices that got out of hand and left the tutor with pocket money for their work. As I get older (and maybe wiser) I promised myself that I won’t drive up my blood pressure about things like this, so I just state that if you want to teach for Lingoda, the hourly rate is €8.50.

Now, I would really like to let you know what a student has to pay per month to get access to the video library, unlimited 24/7 group lessons and private 1:1 tutoring. The thing is that in order to get the pricing users need to leave their name, email address, telephone number, age range and where they heard of Lingoda. Quite frankly, just to get a price chart that is too much data for my taste in order to get cold calls and emails from the marketing department. If anyone knows the pricing, please leave it in the comments below.

All in all, I think Lingoda get some important points right, but I really truly don’t like the compensation model for tutors and the data scraping in order to get detailed information about the product. Whether the startup is going to get significant market share in the online ESL space is hard to predict though the neutral company name would not prevent Lingoda from adding more languages later on.

The Education Foundation’s Facebook Guide for Educators

One could argue that Facebook is the original social network for education when we look at how the company had started out originally. Nowadays, however, this role has clearly been taken by Twitter and vertical networks like Edmodo and others. Still, Facebook started as a social network for Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard fellows, and this means that up to today there is some education DNA left.

On the other hand, Facebook has built up a quite bad reputation when it comes to security and privacy. So how can teachers make use of the world’s largest social network and all of its tools and features in school without jeopardizing the students safety?

There have been projects like Inigral, an application for colleges and universities, to (re)turn Facebook into a more learning friendly environment but what about teachers and students who want to use the “plain” version of Facebook without extra apps?

And that’s where Ian Fordham and Ty Goddard, co-founders of the UK-based Education Foundation, come in. Together with Wellington College and the London Nautical School they did some deep research, testing and workshops at the Facebook HQ all of which have led to a free Facebook Guide for Educators.

The guide wants to show educators in schools, colleges and universities how to

  • support subject teaching across the curriculum
  • support out of school hours learning
  • encourage informal social learning
  • enable easy communication between students, teachers and parents
  • support the development of digital citizenship skills

Besides the obvious features that all of us use on Facebook, there are a lot of “hidden” gems that are often overlooked as they seem to target users coming from the corporate space, not education.

The guide explains how teachers can use Facebook in a number of ways, including how to run projects based around Timeline, set up Groups to share resources, create Events for exams and deadlines, and enable language students to speak to peers overseas. The guide also addresses ways to overcome the challenges of using Facebook in school environments, including confronting some educators’ cautiousness about social media’s potential as a learning tool.

If you want to have a deeper, practical look into how to make the most out of Facebook timeline with your own class, I recommend reading my article from September 2012 about an Amsterdam-based grammar school that set up various interesting Facebook timeline projects for the history classroom.

Though the Facebook Guide for Educators was developed based on experiences in the UK, it is of course useable for teachers across the globe. That is one great thing about social media, it is global and hence has a big potential to connect learners and teachers through the different platforms, Facebook is an example for that.

You can download the free Facebook Guide for Educators here and you should also take a look at all the other activities of The Education Foundation.