This is my presentation from the British Council Teachers’ Day webinar event October 5th 2017.
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This is my presentation from the British Council Teachers’ Day webinar event October 5th 2017.
This presentation looks at five stages of becoming a self publisher:
I hope you find it useful.
This presentations was originally designed to be delivered for the IATEFL Materials Writers Special Interest Group.
Each 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.
EduSynch is the world’s first affordable and adaptive training platform focused on English language proficiency exams, starting with the TOEFL.
Our 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Assessments 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.
‘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 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.
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 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.
Ourboox can be used by children (with supervision) and adults, writers, illustrators, educators, anyone who wants to share colorful content in e-book form.
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.
Firstly, 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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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 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.
Targeting 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.
We 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.
Students 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.
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.
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 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!
Roll 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 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
I 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.
Kotobee is a comprehensive solution for creating interactive ebooks and libraries in different formats, supporting all platforms.
Well, 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.
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.
A 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.
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.
The 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:
That’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.
We’re proud to be offering the most comprehensive white-labeled ebook solution available today in the market.
A 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.
Currently 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.
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.
Ayman 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.
It’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.
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.
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 but 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!
My 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.
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.
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.
We 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.
Coming 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!
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.
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.
Yes, 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.
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.
Kris 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.
There 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.
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.
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.
I 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
Well, 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.
We publish 3 articles a week, and we’ll be increasing that to 4 articles over the next few months.
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.
Within 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.
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.
This month we received 16,000 visitors and we’re growing steadily month on month.
The 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.
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.
Well, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
I’ve been a long time fan of Apple’s iBooks Author. It’s great for producing interactive books and lesson materials for the iBook Store or to export as PDF for other platforms, but more recently I’ve become frustrated with the inability to publish interactive books for other platforms particularly Android and Windows.
I tried a number of tools but just wasn’t satisfied until I found Kotobee Author. Like iBooks Author it is free to download, but it will run on most platforms so you don’t have to be a Mac owner to use it, but what’s really great about Kotobee is its ability to export to so many different formats and platforms.
When you first download Kotobee it looks pretty much like any other WYSIWYG editor, but it has so many more great features.
You start by setting up your book structure and adding a cover image in the left side. This is simple to do, just write in the names of the chapter titles and click image editor to add a cover.
You can then add subsections to each chapter and start typing or copy paste in your text. You format the text as you would with any other text editor and it’s easy to change fonts, styles and add tables.
The real fun starts though with the right hand column of the editor. This is where you can start to add media such as images, audio, video and 3D objects and different types of interaction.
There are three different standard types of interactive questions that can be used within the Kotobee books. These are multiple choice, true false and multiple select. The questions are very configurable so you can add in feedback depending on students responses and also add in images to the questions types.
If you want to take a more professional approach to building in interactivity Kotobee supports a number of widgets as well as html5 content.
Once you have completed the content of your book the next step is to customise how your readers will be able to interact with the book. Again there are lots of option here to really enhance the way the reader experiences the book, such as text-to-speech, adding annotations copying parts to their clipboard and sharing through social media.
For me the real surprise comes when you have finished your book and you want to export it. You can export your book into most of the standard word processing formats such as Word, PDF, Epub and .mobi, but can also export it as a desktop application, enable it to run on an LMS such as Moodle and make it a tracked part of of a course, or make it into a web based application that you can upload to a server.
Kotobee books can also be exported as iOS, Android or Windows native apps and sold within their relative market places. For this you would need to have your own account on those platforms and there is a charge from Kotobee, but they will also help you get your app through the approval process and that can save you a considerable amount of time.
One of the final options Kotobee offers is the ability to create your own library for your students and add books to that library. This is a great option for schools that want to go completely digital with their course materials and books and the library can be branded for each individual school.
Basically I think this is a great tool for both the individual teacher to create interactive materials or for a school that wants to get away from paper course materials and move into the digital age.
I’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?
We 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?
Teachers 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?
3D 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 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?
In 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?
We’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 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.