Category Archives: Interviews

Q&A with Edusynch Founder Sean Kilachand

EduSynchEach year students around the world spend millions of dollars trying to pass English exams. Now there’s a company that is trying to save them some money and make their learning more effective. I spoke to Sean Kilachand from EduSynch.

What’s your elevator pitch?

EduSynch is the world’s first affordable and adaptive training platform focused on English language proficiency exams, starting with the TOEFL.

Who is your ideal customer?

1 - analysis generalOur ideal customer is any individual looking to take an English language exam to get a better job locally or abroad, attain a degree from an institution of higher learning or looking to challenge themselves and take their English to another level.

To date, we’ve partnered with English language training institutions as well as schools, private companies, and corporations who need an affordable way to understand how proficient their students, teachers and/or employees are in English.  As a B2B focused company, we believe that the best way to scale is to partner with English training institutions, corporations, and other enterprises with the need to assess the English of their students/employees.

Why did you develop EduSynch?

EduSynch began as an assessment tool targeting general education, but after realizing the gap in the English language market in Brazil, the pivot had to be made. There are 19,000 physical English language training institutions in Brazil. After working in the education industry here for a year with another startup, I spent a lot of time learning the intricacies of these English language schools and eventually came to understand that students spend tens of thousands of reais over the course of 5 to 7 years taking classes at theses schools, only to do poorly on their exam. The schools often don’t have the tools necessary to train students for their exams, primarily due to the expensive paper-based materials. By definition, these traditional resources cannot cover the speaking and writing sections – the two most difficult portions of the exam. EduSynch was created to give every student the chance to prepare for their English exam and give them the individualized training they need to perform better on the exam.

How does EduSynch help schools and teachers?

EduSynch provides both teachers and administrators with detailed information about each student to make sure they get the training they need to improve on their weaknesses. With classes of 15 to 20 students, individualization is nearly impossible. EduSynch also provides insights into each student’s general proficiency levels according to the CEFR (Common European Framework) allowing them to assess the efficacy of their classes, the materials they use, and to help better place students. EduSynch also contains an equivalency table to show what each students’ score would be on a host of English exams. While many teachers have to spend hours evaluating students exams, EduSynch can take care of the entire process, including human evaluations for speaking and writing and detailed reports delivered in less than 72 hours. This leaves teachers more time to spend on actual teaching.Dashboard

 

The EduSynch materials are aimed at students taking TOEFL, so what value do they have for other students?

Students who aren’t taking  TOEFL but want to take another English language exam can use the platform to practice the four primary English skills at a high-level.

Using TOEFL as the benchmark, EduSynch not only processes the scores of each student as it relates to the exam, but actually provides detailed feedback based on the intricacies of the exam that can help students in terms of their general English language proficiency.

Could EduSynch be used with lower levels?

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 10.24.01 AM (2)As of right now, EduSynch only has TOEFL iBT/ITP content onboarded, so it caters to students with, typically, a B1 level in English or above. However,  we’ve designed the EduSynch system to be content agnostic, so as we expand we can start catering to lower age groups for these other English exams.

How do you ensure that the grades students achieve in EduSynch really do correlate to the TOEFL test?

Our content is provided by veteran item writers, editors and psychometricians with decades of experience in the business, as well as evaluators who are both BEC and TOEFL certified.

We will be piloting our timed simulation system and adaptive practice platform using various groups of students who have already taken TOEFL as well as a control group, allowing us to actually draw a correlation between the score attained on the EduSynch platform and the official TOEFL exam.

What was the most challenging part of developing EduSynch?

Our development team is from the Northeast of Brazil so for me, learning how to engage in high level development-focused conversations in Portuguese was quite difficult, although they have helped me tremendously along the way. Also, liaising with professors, administrators, and students throughout the country requires a different type of Portuguese mastery, so I was forced to learn quickly (and painfully).

Access to the EduSynch site and app are both free, so how does EduSynch make money?

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 10.24.17 AM (2)As we have only soft-launched the platform we have left it open for students to practice and for professors to use the teacher platform so that we can improve the product and fix any bugs they find. After piloting the alpha version of the software last year, we determined that students are very unlikely to pay for any practice platform based around reading and listening. The speaking and writing sections provide a much greater challenge. So we plan to sell simulations of speaking and writing exams. In the future, we will probably charge a nominal fee to get full test simulations too so students can gauge their overall score before setting foot in an exam center.

We also plan to charge institutions to use the teacher/administrator platform to monitor their student performance.  This would also allow the institutions to make money, by adding on a few dollars to the simulation packages and embedding this cost in the tuition cost of each student.

What has been your biggest milestone so far?

Moving from development to commercialization. After spending 18 months developing our platform we moved to São Paulo in May to start piloting our software. This transition from being behind the computer to getting pilots up and running has been a huge.

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

Thomas A. Edison said; “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I have made tons of mistakes along the journey, the majority of which had to do with how I mounted our team and got together all the pieces of the puzzle we needed to get up to this point. The lessons learned? Hire people smarter than you, for starters. Hire people with complementary skillsets. Hire people who believe in the vision and are willing to work towards it because they believe in it – not because of the paycheck. If it wasn’t for the mis-hires and ‘near death’ experiences, I can say with 100% certainty that EduSynch never would have had the ability to get to this point.

What are your plans for the future development of EduSynch?

fullAssessments and simulations are merely the beginning. We plan on developing a full fledged platform to provide a highly-structured pedagogical approach to improving scores across a range of English exams. The idea is that in the future, you take a full length simulation and afterwards we provide you with a detailed analysis of what your score would be in the exam and also provide content to help you improve on the questions you got wrong.  In essence, we become a one-stop-shop for students looking to score higher on language exams.

With the increased popularity of digital course materials that track students scores and interactions, some people believe that ‘testing’ will soon become unnecessary. Do you think this is likely?

‘Soon’ is the key word in this sentence. I believe that the proliferation of digital course materials will allow teachers and educators to get a better understanding of their students and pivot away from the traditional model of one-size-fits-all education – something that has plagued the education system since its inception, and something that technology finally lets us overcome. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of individuals is something that will forever be necessary in education as well as in the professional world, so while ‘testing’ as we currently know it may become obsolete, the need to understand learners’ individual weaknesses will remain paramount for educational institutions to improve learners’ abilities.

Sean-EdusynchSean was born and raised in Manhattan, New York City. After graduating from Brandeis University in 2011 with a double major in Economics and Computer Science, he worked on Wall Street for 6 months before landing a job at Forbes Media helping build the company’s famous rich lists (Forbes 400, World Billionaires List, among others.) He relocated to Brazil in January 2013 where he acted as the operations manager of an educational technology startup before starting EduSynch. In his free time, Sean likes to travel, hit the sunny beaches of Rio de Janeiro, and eat mortadella sandwiches.

 

Q&A With OurBoox Co-Founder Mel Rosenberg

In this Q & A I talk to Mel Rosenberg – a man on a mission to popularise the use of ebooks in education by allowing teachers and students to create and publish their own ebooks using his simple browser-based tool.

Ourboox___Create_a_Book_-_It_s_Simple__Free_and_Fun_and_OurBoox

What’s your elevator pitch?

Ourboox is the world’s simplest free platform for creating page-flipping e-books that incorporate not only text and pictures, but also videos, maps, quizzes, games, puzzles and much more. Our digital books can be created individually or in groups. They can be written in any language or combination of languages. They can be shared privately or with the world. They are educational, easy to create, and great fun. We launched in 2014 and already have almost 8000 books in twenty languages.English_Archives

Who is Ourboox targeted at?

Ourboox can be used by children (with supervision) and adults, writers, illustrators, educators, anyone who wants to share colorful content in e-book form.

Why did you create Ourboox?

Ourboox was originally envisioned as a simple platform for e-publishing children’s books and books of poetry. I write stories for children and my wife Shuli Sapir-Nevo (Ourboox CEO) is a poet. We had previously spent a lot of money self-publishing books that were very difficult to distribute. We hoped that a simple platform would bring together writers, illustrators, photographers. I found a genius web developer, Ran Shternin and the rest is e-history.

What do you feel is special about Ourboox?

Ourboox_-_Create_a_bookFirstly, there is no other platform that is easier to use when it comes to creating free digital picture books.

Ourboox facilitates  ‘reverse literacy’.  Until recently, a book was something that you interacted with passively, as a reader. Ourboox enables everyone to experience the exhilaration of being an author.

When I was in primary school, I wrote projects about the animals and plants of Australia and New Zealand, the beautiful sites of Quebec city. In high school I wrote essays on Shakespeare. I would love to have these works to show my own children but they are gone forever. Now there is a simple way for students to create, share and preserve them online.

Finally, because our books are free, we do not hide any of the text from search engines. As a result, they rank our books very highly in search.

What can Ourboox do that you can’t do with a paper book?

On Ourboox you can write about your favorite rock band and embed a video from Youtube or Vimeo right into the book. You can write a story about your grandmother and embed a map of where she was born. You can embed a padlet and ask your readers to comment within the book itself. Paper books can’t do any of these things.

eTwinning

 

What’s the business plan and how does Ourboox make money?

We don’t have a business plan and we don’t make money. Actually, Ourboox loses money. The books are free to publish (no matter how long they are and how many you make), and  free to share. There is no advertising on the site. So there is almost no revenue to speak of. Nevertheless, I am not worried.  I believe that we will be financially successful. I just don’t know how yet.

How would you like to develop Ourboox?

We want to attract more quality books written by teachers and students worldwide, in dozens of languages.   We are eager to have children writing books about their culture, their family, their grandparents, their aspirations. We need to develop further in this direction. We would love to team up with a publishing house to find a home for the manuscripts they reject, some of which are excellent, but not necessarily commercial.

We also want to create the possibility of allowing readers to donate a small amount to the authors of books they like. This will keep the books free, yet create a revenue stream. I believe that teachers and professional authors will be able to make more money through donations than through the paltry royalties they receive elsewhere.

What have been your greatest milestones so far?

Our_Story_Book_-_eTwinning_project_-_OurbooxI guess that if I had to pick two milestones it would be the recognition by the local Ministry of Education and the beautiful e-Twinning books coming out Europe which have been viewed many thousands of times.

Teachers have been slow to embrace ebooks and e-publishing. Why do you think that is?

I think that is starting to happen now. Most of our current books come from schools! Previously, educators everywhere (myself included) have clung to their love for books made out of paper, and rightly so. And paper books will continue to exist. But versatile e-books that teachers and children can create and share online are the future, and I think that this will catch on in the coming school year.

What can we do to persuade more teachers to use ebooks with their students?

We need to spread the word, and show teachers the kind of things they can do, and just how very simple it is. Here is a short e-book on that very subject: OurBoox for Teacher & Teaching

Mel RosenbergMel Rosenberg is a Canadian-born scientist, educator, inventor, musician and writer.  For most of his career he was professor of microbiology at Tel Aviv University. During this period, he invented a two-phase mouthwash and several other products for hygiene and microbial testing. Mel is a musician and singer, and has produced two CDs of jazz standards. He has taught at all levels, from kindergarten to university, and has written many books and films for adults and children on subjects dealing with science, creativity and self-improvement.

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.

Q & A with Edorble CEO Gabe Baker

Edorble LogoI’ve long been interested in the potential of 3D virtual worlds for online education so I was delighted when I first found Edorble. I had my own 3D virtual classroom set up within about 5 minutes and was ready to start inviting students and trainee teachers. I think Edorble has huge potential for education, so I was really delighted when Gabe Baker – CEO of Edorble agreed to be interviewed.

What’s your elevator pitch?
edorble-infoWe want to make online classes and meetings more personal, playful, and powerful. We do this with Edorble, a private 3D world that is purpose-built for online education and collaboration. Online, it can be difficult to have a sense of togetherness and to do simple things like break into small groups, raise hands, or watch videos and content together. We make all of that, and more, easy in Edorble.

Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customers are teachers and team leaders who want to have a class or meeting online in which participants have a sense of togetherness and a sense of shared space. Teachers with classes that rarely or never meet in person would particularly benefit from Edorble, since it fosters a sense of community that can be crucial for educational success.

How are teachers using Edorble now?
edorble-videoTeachers currently use Edorble to have synchronous online learning sessions with their students. These sessions are often discussion-based, but sometimes teachers use Edorble to give more traditional lectures or presentations followed by Q and A. Language teachers use Edorble with their students as a more casual way to hold conversations or do role-playing activities. Video chat can put people on the spot in a way that isn’t particularly conducive to experimentation and playfulness. Edorble tends to put people at ease with it’s game-like, playful environment. We’ve found strong usage from teachers that do global, cross-class collaborations in Edorble. Teachers using Edorble range from middle school to university level. Some teachers are using Edorble to conduct research into online learning, and others are using it with handicapped students who are unable to physically meet in person but who still want to come together online for learning interactions.

Is Edorble only for users with very high speed internet and powerful computers?
Definitely not, and we pride ourselves on this fact. Edorble is far less bandwidth intensive than video chat, and users can customize their graphics settings within Edorble so that older machines can run Edorble smoothly.  Edorble can comfortably handle 100 users at a time, something that is impossible with most video conferencing technology. Although we don’t work on all old operating systems, we’ve done a lot of work to ensure broad compatibility with Windows and Mac. That being said, Edorble is generally more reliable with more modern machines and OSs, but we’re always improving our backwards compatibility. Users who use our upcoming build for Oculus Rift will indeed need a high-powered PC, but we’ll also be building for more lightweight VR hardware that doesn’t have these requirements.

What do you see as the advantages of learning in a 3D world?
edorble-island3D worlds provide a number of unique advantages and affordances. For one, it’s easier to bring a large number of people online in a 3D world while still maintaining a sense of presence and togetherness. Video chat is unwieldy with larger groups, and tools like Blackboard Collaborate or Adobe Connect don’t do a great job at making people actually feel together.  In 3D worlds it’s also easier and more natural to do things that typically use a sense of physical space, like breaking into small groups or using gestures (e.g. raise hand, sit down). Immersive 3D environments are more playful than other online learning environments. Using an avatar is fun and effective, and looking at content together in a 3D world is really easy.

How is Edorble different from platforms like Second Life?
edorble-classEdorble is different from Second Life in a few fundamental ways. For starters, Edorble is not a public ‘metaverse’; by default it’s private, so users claim their own private world and then invite others to it. Also, we make it easy for users to browse the web and display content during their sessions by including some nice screens scattered throughout the world. We have also figured out how to keep our costs significantly lower than Second Life, so when we leave beta people will be pleased to see that we can offer this service at such a low cost. In some ways, Second Life still has some more sophisticated features than Edorble, many of which are in development for us. We’ve heard from plenty of Second Life users, though, that Edorble is simply the easiest way to come together with students or colleagues in a virtual world. We also pride ourselves on keeping a clean, easy to use user interface. Research shows that Second Life’s complicated and crowded user interface is a barrier for teachers, who don’t want to have to spend time learning how to use a tool – they just want to use it. It’s still early days for Edorble, though, and we have some things cooking that Second Life hasn’t touched yet – and most of them are geared specifically towards education and collaboration, a focus that Second Life doesn’t have.

Back in 2007 a report from Gartner said that 80 Percent of active internet users would have some form of 3D presence in a virtual world by the End of 2011. Why do you think this didn’t happen and is likely to happen now?
This didn’t happen because the dominant 3D world platform, Second Life, is not particularly easy to use and it also quickly developed a reputation (not entirely deserved, in my opinion) for sleazy, inappropriate behavior. 3D technologies are also not always accessible on low-powered machines, and they are not always easy to use. Beyond this, though, I think in a lot of ways tools like Facebook provide the social, online presence that lots of people want, and they don’t actually need or want more than that. Facebook, though, is making some interesting moves in this space, and it’s clear that they see 3D/VR as part of their strategy moving forward. It will be interesting to see if Facebook goes for a ‘Facebook 3D’ that tries to succeed where Second Life failed. We don’t think large-scale adoption of 3D world technology will happen until virtual reality hardware become more mainstream and the experience is easier to access, more immersive, and safer. Until then, 3D worlds will still be used by those who understand that they provide an extraordinarily effective and powerful way to come together online. It’s no surprise that many teachers are keeping a close eye on the space.

At the moment Edorble is free. What’s the business model for the future?
edorble-worldIn the future, we will switch to a ‘freemium’ subscription model whereby limited usage of Edorble will be free, but those that want worlds for more time and with more users can pay to upgrade their plan accordingly. Costs will be significantly lower than other 3D world solutions available. Beyond this, we also do custom development and design work for institutions or companies that want bespoke 3D worlds. We white-label these 3D worlds so that they look like our client’s product from end-to-end. There are other possibilities for revenue generation that we’re exploring, including advertising and a few other things that we’d like to keep a secret for now.

What do you view as Edorble’s greatest milestone so far?
Edorblehas hit a few notable milestones lately, and it’s hard to choose amongst them. I’ll briefly list a few. On Wednesday, May 18 users spent 3,100 minutes in Edorble, a record day for us. Also on that day, one of the gatherings in Edorble brought together students and teachers from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, North Carolina, California, and Italy. I had the pleasure of participating in this event and it was an incredibly powerful experience to see Edorble being used to give a global voice and audience to these brilliant students. We’re also thrilled to be presenting at EdTechXGlobal in London on June 16.

What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?
Not a week goes by where we don’t make at least a few mistakes, so there’s many to choose from. One mistake that sticks out to me is our rush to decide on base clothing for our avatars. We are currently working on avatar customization options, but until then users are stuck with our initial clothing choices. We’ve discovered that Edorble can’t be used in certain parts of the world because the clothing is considered inappropriate for student use. The lesson we’ve learned from this is: We have to think global, and we have to be more considerate of a broader range of cultures, preferences, and human experience. Edorble is often used as a tool to connect students from one country with students from another, and it has always been our intention to be ‘global ed-tech’. We’ve learned from this clothing mistake that we need to be doing more in order to actualize this vision.

How do you intend to develop Edorble for the future?
edorble-cedvrWe’re going to build Edorble for virtual reality headsets, and we’ll be building text chat and other web-based integrations that help teachers do things like integrate with their LMS, cloud storage solutions, and other ed-tech tools. We’re also going to create some class/meeting management tools that let the teacher or host exert more control over the world. Currently we’re working on a great system that will let teachers bookmark persistent links on the screens in Edorble, so that they can create galleries and presentations that stay in their worlds all the time. We’re also about to do a big overhaul of our avatars and avatar customization options. The future will see a lot of exciting exchange between the web and the 3D world, the details of which I’ll have to leave as a secret for now. We’re also going to be building other 3D environments that users can choose from. The next ‘map’ will be a bit more of a formal space that might have more appeal for higher education teachers and corporate meeting hosts. We can’t wait to show you what we’re cooking up.

Gabe bakerGabe is a Latin teacher by training, but after a few years teaching he went to graduate school and earned his master’s degree in education from UCSB, where he focused on online learning environments. After this, he moved to the Bay Area to work in the ed-tech industry and to plant the seeds for Edorble. A year later, he’s re-located Edorble back to Santa Barbara and is working on it full time. In his spare time, he writes instrumental music, reads Latin literature, and enjoys beautiful California.

Q & A with Wizer CEO Nira Mayorchik Sheleg

wizer-logo

Wizer is a fantastic free tool for creating simple digital worksheets that enable learners and teachers to do some pretty complex things.  When I first discovered the tool a few months back I was really impressed by how easy it was to create really engaging blended learning content for class or homework, so it’s great to be able to publish this Q & A with Nira Mayorchik Sheleg the Co-founder & CEO.

When and why did you start Wizer?

Auto Feedback WizerI founded Wizer two and a half years ago. I have dual passions: education and technology, but I noticed teachers were not being well served by the technology industry. Most of the edtech solutions are clunky, rigid and uninspiring. I wanted to build something that would delight and inspire, something that would make teachers’ job easier and more effective. So I went back to my academic research on teacher cognition and found that all learning content can be broken down into a set of core elements. We set out to build a tool that would let teachers build their own digital learning content in a familiar and intuitive way.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Wizer is every teacher’s bridge to edtech; an easy way to update teaching materials and strategies to maximize the use of technology in teaching. The open platform lets teachers create and share their own original digital teaching resources.

Who is your ideal customer?

Any teacher, school, district or organization that wants to embrace technology in teaching.

You have a great collection of interactions that teachers can embed into their worksheets including fill the gaps, matching exercises, open questions and even audio recording, so what are you planning for the future?

wizer-tasks

In the near future we will be releasing: matching questions, partial points for questions and feedback for each individual question. We release updates and new features on an ongoing basis.

As a former language teacher, the audio recording activity sound really interesting to me. Could you explain how that works and how teachers can use it?

Wizer AudioWe originally designed the feature for students requiring text be read out loud to accommodate their learning needs. We wanted teachers to be able to easily record themselves reading a text out loud and have it available on-demand for any student. Then we discovered language, music and teachers of very young learners were also using the feature in interesting ways, for example:

  • Listening comprehension: Recite audio text, then ask students to answer questions.
  • Improving reading: Add audio file so students can listen to text as they read.
  • Vocabulary and pronunciation: Pronounce new vocabulary words and recite examples of how they are used in sentences
  • Spelling: Recite words and ask students to spell them in the answer box. Great way to prepare for spelling assessments.
  • Accommodating auditory learners: Recite written texts, questions, answer choices.
  • Music instruction and practice: Teacher can record notes, scales or phrases of music to help teach and assess, For example, record a chord and ask student to write the name of the chord.
  • Keyboarding: Add audio recordings of spoken passages and ask students to keyboard the text.You can make a series of Wizer that gradually present longer, more difficult passages and increasing speeds.
What LMS features does Wizer have?

Wizer currently tracks time spent on worksheet, score and date of completion.

Are there any tutorials that can help teachers get started using Wizer?

Yes we have a range of blog posts and there are also some video tutorials on YouTube.

We can also schedule virtual training for groups of teachers if they get in touch with us through Twitter, Facebook or our website.

Do you attempt to control the quality of the materials which are shared communally through Wizer?

Wizer worksheetsWe believe in teachers and want Wizer to be a platform for teacher generated content. In the future, we may add more community quality control mechanisms. Just as Wikipedia has produced quality open-source information and replaced the old published encyclopedias, an open source platform for teaching content can reach the same level. We want to be the platform that makes that happen.

With any kind of community created content there is the potential for abuse. How do you monitor for this and is there any way user can report content or behaviour they feel may be abusive?

Any Wizer teacher can notify us of inappropriate content via the website or email. So far, we haven’t had any problems. As we continue to grow, we will develop reporting and controls as needed.

What’s the most important milestone you have achieved so far as a company?

Reaching over 45K users is obviously a huge milestone. The fact that we have already grown this big, without any marketing is particularly meaningful because it means teachers and technology experts are spreading the word themselves. For us, that is a strong validation that we are providing a valuable service that teachers need.

Can you share one point at which you feel you got something wrong and learned a valuable lesson from it?

As a Montessori teacher, I wasn’t focused on grades so we envisioned Wizer only as worksheets for practice time. But, many teachers also use our platform to prepare students for tests, so we added features for easy grading.

At the moment it looks like everything on wizer.me is free. Is that right and at what point and how do you intend to start making money to support the service?

Our current builder is completely free for teachers and students. Any teacher can create, assign and share as many Wizers as they wish. In the future more advanced features will be released and offered as premium paid services to the school or district. We intend to keeping our builder free.

Nira

Nira is an education and technology entrepreneur. Before founding Wizer, she founded and directed ‘Children’s Way” a Montessori school and ‘ShellEgg’ a tech startup and discovery platform for architects and interior designers.  Nira’s research in Teacher Cognition inspired her to found Wizer, the first education technology company that starts with understanding how teachers think and work, then makes intuitive tools to enhance their skills.

An Interview with: Phil Wade

In this interview with e-Author  Phil Wade, we look at his journey into ELT materials writing and how he sees the future of e-publishing in ELT.

Phil has been in ELT for over 15 years and currently teaches at universities and in companies. He is interested in creating tailored courses for specific needs. He has the CELTA, DELTA, MA TESOL, a PGCE, certificates in Coaching and mentoring and is doing a Phd in Education.

Phil Wade
Phil Wade

You seem to produce a lot of work for free. Why have you decided not to charge for your books?

I get asked this a lot, mainly by course book writers. Well, I used a lot of free online materials and blogs for a long long time as a language school teacher and always wanted to give something back. I got into writing but never got to write what I wanted. My idea was to produce short titles about things I was interested in and to work with the people I wanted to. Thus, my ebooks were born and as they are quite quick to make, my contributors, Noreen Lam and Kati Alice Bilsborough kindly donate time for free and numerous other reasons, I give them away for free.

I’ve heard that you don’t want to produce paper versions of your books. Why is this?

Maybe I’m wrong but I thought ebooks were a response to too much photocopying, paper books and the growing rise of mobile tech. I don’t really see the point in making ebooks to print and copy. For me, I make them with the idea that people will use them on phones as most people use their phones for a lot longer nowadays. As a teacher, I put everything on my iPad and my students put all their docs and my materials on theirs or their phones. It saves time, is more convenient and free. My students and my department have $0 photocopy budgets.

Do you prefer blogging or books as a medium? Why?

I used to blog a fair bit but my blog kind of ran its course and I got limited by it, articles too. My writing evolved and ebooks seemed to fit what I wanted or rather HOW.

Some people are critical of those who give their work away for free and they say that it undermines our profession and makes people feel they should get everything for free. How would you respond to this?

Yes, I’ve been told this. I’d say to question who is saying it and why. Facebook seems to have quite a few people representing companies who are quick to either defend them or attack you if what you are doing seems to tread on their toes. I really don’t have to defend myself and neither do you or anyone else who is sharing a free worksheet or a lesson plan. You can make and share what you want. And also, as far as I see it, there really are not many self-pub ebook writers out there. Few publishers seem interested but the British Council does do some great free ebooks and nobody questions them.

My other response might be that if new and unpublished people can write ebooks that seem to detract or compete with professional ones, maybe the latter should be better. Healthy competition is always good though and it sometimes disappoints me that there is this kind of attitude.

What platforms and tools do you use to publish your ebooks? Why did you choose these platforms?

Just Word 2007. Nothing else. I just open Word, write then publish. Oh, I add a cover page too. Personally, I find Word very boring. It really does not inspire you to be creative. My current trick is to write on my phone or even on paper and then transfer it.

How do you market your books and make sure people find them?

I’m very boring. I don’t think about selling as I give books for free so I just post on FB and in a few groups. I soon get tired though. I’m not a fan of the hard sell to my PLN. I do a few posts and then sometimes I make fun images but soon get bored.

You recently won an award from the IATEFL Business English SIG. How important are awards and prizes for you?

Well, at the start, I won a OneStop one and a Language Point prize and then later the BESIG one. It was great to get some recognition and I tip my hat to BESIG for supporting a 100% freelance writer. In contrast, I entered the ELTons the year before but didn’t even get past the first stage. For me, it’s not about prizes or fame as they haven’t really changed anything for me. This is just a hobby. I generally finish a book and then move on. I never read them again. I hope some people read the ebooks and find them useful. A repost, a share or a review are very nice outcomes, in my opinion.

You started an ELT eBooks movement. Can you tell us what’s that about and what it aims to achieve?

I’m not sure it’s a movement and if it is maybe The Round started it but maybe I just fuelled it a bit by showing that anyone can write an ebook for $0 money. As I see it, it is part of my teacher development. I design courses, teach them and then write ebooks. It is very good for reflection.

ELT eBooks

I did make an FB group but we were never very many. Every so often I get requests to ‘share my secrets’ and tell people how to make lots of money from e-booking. For some reason, there is this myth that it is profitable. Someone actually said that I’d be retiring soon on my profits. I won’t. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even made enough to get a first cheque from the one book I sell. When you tell people this, they soon back off.

What’s the long term business aim for you? Do you want to get ‘discovered’ by one of the established publishers, or are you happy to continue producing books for free?

Not at all. I worked for several publishers and then was offered some course books but they just aren’t my thing. I then asked about writing short ebooks but none were interested. After that, I asked schools and online organisations but again, no interest. I’m very stubborn so when people say ‘no’, I like to prove them wrong. As I see it, and some others, our ebooks fill a niche or niches. I very much doubt that publishers could make enough money from an ebook to even cover costs.

I started with a list of ebooks to write and I’ve more or less done them all and then some so I might do another and stop. My next goals are to write more academic articles, set up an innovative journal and to create some kind of hybrid medium.

How do you see the future of ELT publishing and the role of ebooks within it?

I haven’t bought an ELT book in years and I haven’t used one in a long time. The last ones I saw looked a bit samey. I stay creative by making lessons and courses and also never work anywhere that has materials. This could be infuriating for some but I love the freedom. Because all my courses are very specialised, there just are no books I could use, the students wouldn’t buy them too and even just getting enough copies would be hard. I work in France and from what I know, we cannot legally make students buy books and for 10 or 20 hour adult contracts, they aren’t worth it.

I really haven’t seen much real innovation in publishing. You hear about it and the term ‘groundbreaking’ but I think it depends on the writer. For instance, I recall that a dictionary won a big prize a few years ago. I wouldn’t say that is innovative but some would. It depends on your perspective. This though highlights something else in that we are stuck in the ‘x sells so make more of x’ mentality. Same for films. People won’t get something new which they might like or even want. This is why Google is good in that they have innovative labs and groups where they just design crazy things that are not meant to sell but will lead to something else that might lead to a viable product IF it’s sold at the right time.

Do you have any tips for ‘would be’ ELT authors?

Open Word or Pages, start writing, add a cover page, click on ‘save as PDF’ then share it. I initially started with the idea of ‘fast publishing’ in mind and a form of marketing, which I’ve forgotten the name of, where you make something, release it, get feedback and then improve and improve it. This is how my first books evolved. For me, I really find the process of publishing interesting and creating models for books and then experimenting with promotions. I also love working with a cover designer and have dabbled in it myself. I must here say that Kati, the very kind designer of some of my ebook covers, is very kind in that she listens to my ideas and then has a real talent in making what I think I want.

I am not, as many will notice and hate me for, a fan of editing. I like to have a style and I want people to be able to read it. I don’t want it to be steamrollered and to produce a bland ‘course book …. quality’ product. I have worked for a couple of tough editors who either just wanted a ‘mini me’ to write like them or gave me so many templates and stock phrases that I just ended up copying and pasted instructions and text.

Ebooks, as I see it, are in between blogs and FB so very very different to books. If I had to write like in course books, I would quit. Teacher manuals and teacher development books are different but generally more formal and much longer so very different. I may sound like a spoiled kid but I love writing, creating and publishing. I like to be involved in all of it. I also track ‘data’ i.e. downloads and distribution channels and also spend time looking for key words for titles, the structure of covers, fonts and other things. I have a degree in Marketing and occasionally teach advertising so this interests me. I also specialised in literature on my first postgrad and have that a bit too, so this hobby kind of combines both I guess.

Thanks Phil

You can download two of Phil’s eboks from our Free Stuff section and check out more of his books on Smashwords.