Q&A with Study Bundles Managing Director Declan Sweeney

studybundles-logoTargeting an app at schools and institutions is a brave  move, but Study Bundles believe they have the right product to help educational institutions reduce their overseas and domestic student drop out rate pre-arrival and help them deliver higher levels of customer satisfaction and acculturation.

What’s your elevator pitch?

StudyBundles AdminWe help educational institutions secure more student enrollments by enhancing the means by which recruitment and admissions teams communicate with their prospective student community.

Who is your ideal customer?

It is the Director Admissions or Head of Marketing at a given education institution.

Why did you develop StudyBundles?

As teachers working in supporting new students into UK universities and colleges, we saw first hand the challenges students faced in making the transition. The academic,  linguistic, cultural and social changes involved in the transition to university or college can be overwhelming. We felt there was a real opportunity to do more for students during the pre-arrival wait period.

How does the app help students?

My-social-programme-2Students are invited to join at the application/offer stage, at which point they can begin to find out more about the college or university. By completing an initial profile piece it ensures all subsequent correspondence is personalized.

How does the app help the schools?

By using CampusConnect schools can
Increase their enrollment rates
Provide a better overall student experience
Operate more effectively.

What are the biggest challenges when developing an app for schools?

Managing expectations. The app provides significant operational improvements but it does require our clients to think carefully about its communications strategy and, potentially, to reorganise accordingly.

How do you overcome these challenges?

We present a very clear development roadmap at the outset, with key milestones presented. We are also clear about the methodology being applied (agile in our case).

The StudyBundles app is free for students, so how do you make money?

The institution pays for the service. They benefit from increased enrollment.

What has been your biggest milestone so far?

Without a doubt, securing our first customer, the University of Limerick, was a major step forward. It provided validation that there was a need for this type of service in the sector.

What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?

Underestimating the challenge in integrating a new system like this. Particularly as it involves a change in the way certain things were done. So change management essentially!

What are your plans for the future development of StudyBundles?

My-skills-2Roll out to different markets including, the EFL sector, and the UK independent school sector. We are also exploring how the app can add value as a tool to support early student retention, which is also really exciting.

Increasingly MOOCs and other online courses are gaining recognition in the educational world. Do you foresee a time when physical schools and universities will cease to exist?

No. Having completed a fully online course myself, I understand the value of face to face teaching and feel it will always have a place. The online component augments what happens in the classroom but cannot replace it.

Declan SweeneyDeclan Sweeney is a graduate of the Unviersity of Manchester and a qualified learning development specialist with over ten years’ experience working in Higher Education and Further Education colleges in the UK, Australia, and Poland. He holds a BA (Hons) and PGCert in Applied Linguistics. Based in Sligo in the beautiful Northwest of Ireland , with cofounders based in the UK he has overseen the founding and development of Study Bundles Limited. He enjoys rural living and spending time with his young family. Contact Study Bundles

Q&A With Kotobee Founder Ayman Abdel-Rahman

logoI was looking for a free tool I could use to publish ebooks to the Android platform when I came across Kotobee Author. I downloaded a free copy and discovered how easy it was to use and how versatile. In this interview Ayman CEO of Vijua talks about the Kotobee Author, its many features and how it can help aspiring writers, publishers and educational institutions.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Kotobee is a comprehensive solution for creating interactive ebooks and libraries in different formats, supporting all platforms.

Who is your ideal customer?

multiplatform-1Well, Kotobee really fits anyone wanting to create an ebook, putting aside all the tiny details. But ideally, our customers would be educational institutes (training, universities, schools) and ebook distributors.

What are the pros and cons of producing an app version of an ebook as opposed to a standard ebook for the iBook Store?

We get asked that quite a lot actually. For an app to work as an ebook, an embedded-reader is required. That is, an engine responsible for running the ebook file, providing common functions like search, note-taking, bookmarking, etc. That’s one of the things offered by Kotobee. Having an embedded-reader gives you the advantage of doing whatever you like with the interface. You can control the design, layout, functionality, etc. An app can have your own logo and name, hence stronger branding – something that is not possible with standard ebooks. The embedded-reader however increases the size required for download.

Library CustomizationA standard ebook for Apple’s iBook Store will give users the luxury of accessing all their ebooks from a single app, i.e. Apple iBooks. Publishing to the iBook Store is free, in contrast to the App Store, which charges $99 annual. Ideally it would be best to publish to both formats.

What ebook formats can be created using your solution?

The ebook formats supported by Kotobee Author, our creator software, are EPUB, Kindle (MOBI), HTML5 web apps, Mobile apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, desktop apps for Windows and Mac, and SCORM components for an LMS. All these formats are actually free to create on Kotobee, with the exception of mobile apps.

One of the services you provide is a branded e-library. What are the benefits of this service and what kind of customer is that aimed at?

Kotobee libraryThe Kotobee library solution is targeted at institutes who want to have their own platform for serving ebooks or courses to their users, instead of publishing ebooks individually. So the institute will have their own branded library app to offer to their students. The institute can then dynamically publish books to the library from a friendly administrator panel, plus they control users’ access to the library. User permissions can be assigned to specific books or book categories. Their library app would be made available for web, desktop, and mobile.

Our library solution is a significant investment and provides a full end-to-end solution for institutes.

With the library app you can:

  • Publish books dynamically (individually or in bulk) and edit them on the fly.
  • Collect statistics on book view and downloads.
  • Create book categories and genres.
  • Add users to the library, with different access permissions.
  • Limit the number of devices to be used per user, for security reasons.
  • Customize the look and feel, and enable only the components you need.
  • Assign different administrators and authors to your library.
  • Export the library to multiple formats.
e-Books have been slow to make an impact on the educational market. Why do you think this is?

Kotobee Reader AppThat’s a good question. We are actually seeing ebooks catching up really quickly in the corporate training sector, but not so much for large educational entities, that are long established and deeply rooted. Changes with such entities are slow. That explains why we are finding the majority of requests coming from small or new institutes, rather than established ones. Large entities are interested in having solutions that integrate with what’s already in place, rather than replacing it. Our SCORM ebook format is kind of popular actually even with older universities, because that simply plugs into their systems without any risk of change.

What do you view as Kotobee’s greatest achievement so far?

We’re proud to be offering the most comprehensive white-labeled ebook solution available today in the market.

What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?

Kotobee adA marketing mistake we had made in the past, is not providing a free value for users in Kotobee Publisher, Kotobee Author’s predecessor. Although we provided a free trial, this was not sufficient. To capture users and make effective exposure for your software, you really need to provide a free value to the users. This made exposure for Kotobee very slow. In Kotobee Author, we’re providing a good free package, for commercial or non-commercial use, without asking for anything in return. This has increased our customer loyalty and exposure through word of mouth.

How do you intend to change and develop Kotobee for the future?

Kotobee uiCurrently we are extending our ebooks’ SCORM components, to introduce new integration capabilities with LMS for universities and schools. We will also be creating support for built-in payments inside libraries, for example users can assign prices for ebooks and receive payments immediately into their accounts.

I know you are based in Egypt. Can you describe the startup scene in Egypt?

Egypt is a promising region for local entrepreneurs starting their ventures. The resources exist to initiate projects with zero-investment. These resources include various investment programs, co-working spaces, affordable offices, and a number of annual startup events to help network with key people. At the time of writing, a government-based fund exists to assist tech-based startups in different ways, leveraging up to 70% of their costs.

AymanAyman Abdel-Rahman is a digital publishing enthusiast with 10 years of experience in the ebook industry. He graduated from the University of Waterloo, Canada, with a Masters degree in Computer Engineering in 2006. Ayman spent his childhood in Kuwait, a few years in Canada, and currently settled in his home country, Egypt. He established Vijua in 2011, after the Egyptian revolution. Coming from a technical background, he is a certified project management professional (PMP) and is currently the managing director of Vijua, with particular focus on the Kotobee platform. Before establishing Vijua, Ayman was managing the Media & UX department at The Book Depository in Cairo. Ayman likes to write about ebook technologies in the Kotobee Blog and answers related questions on Quora.

 

Q&A With Off2Class Co-Founder Kris Jagasia

Off2Class-logoIt’s rare to come across a resource online for English teachers which is unique and empowering, but Off2Class is that rare thing. Off2Class provides high quality content for teachers who want to work online or in the classroom with digital materials.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Off2Class is a toolkit for ESL teachers. We combine teacher-led ESL learning content with a student management system. Part content, part software, 100% built for ESL teachers.

Who is your ideal user?

We started by working with freelance ESL teachers tutoring both online and in-person. We’re now also working with classroom ESL teachers and languages institutes. We love working with both user types buVideo_Tutorials_-_Off2Classt my personal favourite are our freelance teacher users. There is a ‘can do’ attitude that a lot of freelance ESL teachers possess making them fun customers to work with!

Why did you build Off2Class?

Off2Class Old WayMy business partner, James Heywood, had ventured into online ESL teaching and was frustrated that there was a lack of high-quality, teacher-led ESL content that was properly animated for an online classroom. We soon realized that it wasn’t just online ESL teachers that were frustrated, but lots of teachers were now teaching on screens and were finding it hard to access ESL content that was suitable for these new environments.

How many lessons do you have in Off2Class?

Our ESL Lesson Plan Library contains over 500 lessons and we add to the library every month. Our latest additions include our Listening Activities (which contain audio recordings of graded, authentic native English) and our Business English series.Off2Class resources

Is there a particular pedagogical paradigm or learning theory on which the lessons are based?

Our philosophy has always been to complement ESL teachers. Our lessons are designed to be teacher-led (i.e. taught and adapted live) and follow the communicative approach. We’ve paired our content with some powerful annotation tools and an online whiteboard that teachers can use to build on our lessons as they teach.

Do you suggest a specific pathway through the materials?

Off2Class-PlacementTest-2We recommend that teachers have their students sit our ESL placement test. For every student that sits the test, we will produce their gap analysis and individual learning plan which outlines a pathway to target their language challenges and fossilized errors using our materials.

Can teachers author their own lessons or customise the lessons in Off2Class?

Off2Class-Teacher-Logo-2Coming very soon! We’re in final testing of our lesson editor which will allow teachers to customize our lessons. We realize that every student is different and that teachers know their students best. We’re excited to release this next stage of customization!

Off2Class looks very much like a product aimed at teachers, so how have catered to what students need?

We believe that for meaningful secondary language acquisition (for 90% of learners) students require a teacher. There just aren’t that many students out there that can maintain enough motivation to learn a language entirely through self-study. By supplying teachers with the right, adaptive resources to guide their students through the language acquisition journey, we believe that we will be catering to what students need.Off2Class-library

Does Off2Class work on mobile devices such as tablets?

Absolutely, we work on any device or screen. We’ve gone to great lengths to make sure we can cater to any digital learning environment. Students can access their learning portals on any internet-connected device including mobiles and tablets. For online lessons we integrate with all major videoconferencing systems and for classroom teaching we are projected using IWBs, TV screens or projectors. We have many teachers that frequently use Off2Class in different environments, e.g. one day for an in-person tutorial on a tablet and the next day for a classroom session on a projector.

Do you use the data from Off2Class to improve or rework your materials?

Off2Class-newYes, we are constantly updating our content based on teacher feedback. Teachers can leave us feedback from within the lesson content itself. There’s a big ‘Give Us Feedback’ button at the bottom of our classroom which means teachers can give us commentary right when they think of it but without having to disrupt a lesson. We also prioritize our content releases based on data showing us which lessons are being used the most.

How do you plan to develop Off2Class in the future?

We’ve recently taken steps to increase the level of customization features on Off2Class and the teacher feedback has been tremendous. So most of our plans for development will follow this course – increasing opportunities for teachers to customize Off2Class so it better matches their own teaching style and preferences.

Off2class-AvatarProfilePic-01-Colour-KrisKris is in charge of customer satisfaction for Off2Class. In this role he gets to work with a variety of ESL educators teaching in both freelance and classroom environments. Kris launched Off2Class with his business partner James Heywood, who was frustrated that he couldn’t find any good, teacher-led digital content for his online and in-person ESL tutorials.

 

Q&A With EFL Magazine Founder Philip Pound

EFL_Magazine-1There are lots of teachers around the internet publishing their own resources through blogs and ebooks and this form of fast self publishing can be overwhelming for readers, so it’s great to see a new magazine stepping into the role of mediating the quality of online content for teachers and helping new writers get the support they need to get published.

What’s your elevator pitch?

is the magazine for English language teachers. The goal of EFL Magazine is to bring great content from great people to English language teachers, worldwide. And to help those same teachers to inspire and empower students.

Who is EFL Magazine designed for?

EFL Magazine is designed for those working in the English language teaching industry. Everybody from pre-service teachers to school managers and owners, support staff, recruiters and language learners.

What inspired you to create an online magazine for EFL teachers?

EFL_MagazineI had originally planned on building a portal of ESL/EFL sites from around the internet, and to curate the free content to make it easy to access content in the form of articles and resources. Some of the way in, I got the idea of making a magazine. I then started contacting teachers, teacher trainers, authors and writers to pitch the idea. The response was overwhelmingly positive to the idea of making a magazine, and I became encouraged. We launched in April 2015

What made you think that EFL teachers needed another magazine and how do you feel EFL Magazine is different?

Teaching_Resources___EFL_MagazineWell, all our articles are free to access. We’re also focused on teachers around the world and not on a particular country or region. Some magazines are quite scholarly, but I wanted to make a magazine that was practical and could be used by the teacher in the classroom. I’ve seen and read other magazines and I’ve been very impressed by the writing. I think there’s a place for everyone and that competition is healthy.

What’s the publishing cycle? Is it like a regular magazine with weekly or monthly issues?

We publish 3 articles a week, and we’ll be increasing that to 4 articles over the next few months.

What’s the focus of the main content of the magazine?

At the moment, a lot of our articles are ‘how to teach’ but some of the other kinds of articles we run are book reviews, Interviews, articles on psychology, articles on ‘teacher conditions,’ recruitment articles and articles on CPD and education. We’re expanding and adding all the time. For instance, over the next few months we’ll be running a regular feature entitled ‘From the Student’s Perspective’ where we’ll be inviting students to offer their perspective on learning English.

How do you decide who writes for the magazine? Can anyone submit an article?

EFL_Magazine-writeWithin reason, yes. I’d love to hear from anyone who is involved in the world of teaching. I’ve had some articles from the bigger names, but I’ve also published articles from newer writers who’ve gained a lot of experience from working with the magazine’s editor Sean Newton.

What would be your criteria for rejecting an article?

Well if an article is ad hominem or potentially libelous we wouldn’t consider it for publication. On the other hand, I’d like debate within the magazine to be robust, and I won’t shy away from contrarian opinion.

How big is your reader base?

This month we received 16,000 visitors and we’re growing steadily month on month.

You promote quite a few independently published ebooks on your site. How do you think these compare with the quality of books from the established publishers?

EFL_Magazine-ebooksThe quality of ebooks I’ve seen are excellent and there’s a lot of great writers out there.  As I said above, competition is healthy.

It looks like everything on the magazine site is free, so how do you pay the bills?

My day job is doing that at the moment. I am starting to get a trickle of advertising enquiries though. I have a number of plans I’m working on to monetise the site, but I believe the content comes first. If I focus on giving the reader as much value as I can in terms of articles they want to read and use, the readership will stay and grow.

How do you see the future of EFL magazine 2 to 3 years from now?

EFL_Magazine-resourcesWell, I said when I launched the magazine that I wanted it to be the biggest magazine for English language teachers, in terms of readership. And while that’s still my aim, my real goal is to have a magazine that’s a treat for the returning or first-time visitor. I envision the visitor coming to EFL Magazine and being awestruck by the range and quality of content on offer, then using what they’ve read to really make a difference, ultimately benefiting the student.

If you were starting the magazine again next week, what you do differently?

I’d definitely concentrate a lot more on SEO. I’ve just started to take this seriously, and It’s taking a long time to rejig articles to make them more SEO friendly.

What’s the biggest challenge for you in managing the magazine?

I used to think it was money. That is, if I had more money I could expand the scope of the magazine and offer far more to the readers. But actually it’s patience. If I keep persisting and listening to what the reader wants, EFL Magazine will grow. I just need to remain patient and focused on unending improvement.

Do you foresee a time when you may produce a physical version? Why/not?

Never say never! But seriously, I know that the trend is against print media, and producing a print magazine for a worldwide audience is challenging logistically, and costly financially. Having said that, I’m sure that it’s possible. Why not!

Philip-PoundPhilip Pound is the founder of EFL Magazine. Apart from Ireland, Philip has lived in the U.K., China, and now Japan. He has had a variety of jobs throughout his career, Including being a chef, a cinema manager,and employed as a sales manager for a number of companies.Along with EFL magazine, Philip is engaged in a number of business ventures in the fields of recruitment, outsourcing and software development.