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 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.

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.