Increasingly, across the globe, educators are harnessing the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to bring change to the educational landscape. But it seems Australian educators are still reluctant to adopt new technology, compared to their Asian and US counterparts.
As eLearning matures as an industry, the focus is shifting away from simply delivering information online – i.e. posting lecture notes and relevant links in HTML format – to improving learning and performance. Learner-centricity is one of the key facets of today’s education system.
For many educators and innovators in the EdTech (educational technology) space, new and better ways of facilitating active learning and driving student engagement are derived from concepts such as knowledge-building, meaning-making, collaboration, and and student-centred learning.
Prior to advancements in technology, educators were employing a ‘top-down’ and ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching, which is very limiting when we’re dealing with a diverse classroom. But they are now recognising the benefits of capturing and analysing data at the student, classroom, school and cluster level – and using that data to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching practices and to create personalised learning paths for students.
In a new book by ACER Press, titled Using Data to Improve Learning, Professor Anthony Shaddock says that if educators could collect more student data from the ‘bottom up’, they would have relevant information about their students’ abilities and be able to adjust their teaching practices accordingly.
Unfortunately, particularly in Australia’s primary and secondary schools, paper is still keeping educators and students both time and data poor. Although students are using laptops, smartphones and tablets heavily in their lives, they’re still coming home from school with pile of paper and content they’re not engaged with. Teachers are still undertaking manual marking, using their red pens to scribble across paper-based assessments.
Launched in January 2013, Australian EdTech startup Literatu is set to change the way educators teach, without altering their pedagogy. The startup – which was a finalist in the US-based 2014 EdTech Digest Awards in the New Product and Assessment Solution categories, and winner in the Reporting Solution category – makes the collection of data from the ‘bottom up’ not only possible, but simple.
Using Literatu, educators can transform their digital or paper-based course materials into interactive online activities. By adding question response capabilities with supporting interactions such as guidance and media, the ‘activity’ is instantly delivered across iOS, Android, Windows and web-based platforms.
Delivered as a cloud application and fully integrated with Edmodo and Google Apps for Education, Literatu fits easily into existing school ecosystems.
Though it’s aimed primarily at students in years 3 to 10, there are no limitations to the types of activities (i.e. homework, quizzes, essays, etc.) that can be created across any level, language or subject – meaning that Literatu a viable platform for any educational context. As students complete activities, Literatu stores all student responses.
According to Literatu’s Founder, Mark Stanley, teachers not only engage students with their own pedagogical approach and materials, but also save over 75 percent of grading and feedback time whilst building Big Data analytics about their students.
“They became teachers to deliver their own pedagogy, in their own style, to make their own difference,” Stanley said.
“The fact that over 660 milion CAL photocopies were made in 2012 in Australia [according to the Copyright Agency] suggests that it’s obvious educators want to use materials of their choosing, but how much formative data is being lost through these paper interactions? Student responses and data insights disappear with paper.
“The best opportunity to collect data is through interactive online activities.”
With Literatu, educators have full control over course material, as well as how they would like to monitor student engagement and performance; but added to that is the benefit of metrication at the end.
“We’re not asking teachers to change. We’re not asking them to relearn a whole new way of authoring content. We’re simply embracing what they’re doing now, and giving them back information they don’t currently have,” said Stanley.
Interactive and instant data dashboards give teachers visibility and insights across all students. Data down to the question level is captured along with live monitoring capabilities that allow educators to see answers as they are being entered.
Literatu is currently used in over 1200 US schools, IELTS Language colleges and is in trial in Malaysian K-12 schools and over 20 Singapore and Indonesian Schools. In Australia, however, it’s only being used in a dozen or so schools.
When asked why he thinks Australians are slower to adopt the platform, Stanley was unsure. He suspects though, that there has been a movement of sorts in the US resulting in teachers (especially younger ones) delivering their curriculum via technology.
In regards to why Literatu decided to target the Asian market, Stanley said the idea spawned from the launch of SAMSUNG’s Galaxy Note 8 tablet, which came with a stylus pen.
“It’s a very tactile pen that allows you to write on the tablet screen. It’s like writing on a piece of paper … We decided to take a chance and customise our software for the Note 8, so that teachers could literally sit in front of the television while marking,” he said.
SAMSUNG was quick to notice Literatu. Impressed with the startup, they invited Literatu to a conference in Singapore. Since then, Stanley has been able to establish relationships with executives at SAMSUNG, as well as distributors in other parts of Asia.
“It’s amazing what they’re doing in Asia. They’re just leap-frogging – building 4G towers everywhere, handing out tablets to disenfranchised kids. They’re focusing on the social equity of education. The idea is ‘why shouldn’t those kids have access to the same technologies that we do?'” said Stanley.
He adds that in various parts of Asia, there aren’t any structured curriculums. Students often struggle with North American textbooks, due to language barriers.
“There are all kinds of dialect issues, so they need technology that offers flexibility. Literatu provides that, because they have the power to create their own content,” said Stanley.
So what’s Literatu’s strategy to get Australian educators to adopt the platform? For one, ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) has recently partnered with Literatu to release ACER Q-Central, which combines Literatu’s assessment platform with content developed by the ACER research team.
“ACER has white labelled the product, which is great because they have a very good reputation and big reach in Australian schools,” said Stanley.
The ACER Q-Central platform allows educators to collect formative assessment data directly from their own activity, assessment and homework materials, in any format. ACER has also released PAT resources, integrating suggested interventions and remediation activities for educators to close student skill gaps identified by the ACER PAT tests.
On ACER’s website, they articulate their mission to “create and promote research-based knowledge, products, and services that can be used to improve learning across the lifespan.” This is aligned with Literatu’s offering, and so the strategic partnership will help the startup saturate Australia’s primary and high school education market.
“Education is certainly an area of influence for ACER. All research that comes out of ACER talks about evidence-based data, and how teachers need to get a better handle of it. You can’t measure something you can’t catch, so it comes back to capturing data in the first place. Our technology allows that, without taking away their material,” said Stanley.
The technology has taken four years to build, and the venture has been entirely bootstrapped. Stanley says he and his business partners have over 27 years of experience developing software, and knew that investors don’t understand programming delays and the other risks involved with developing software from scratch. As such, they wanted to get “the heavy lifting out of the way” and may consider raising capital at a more aggressive marketing stage.
Embracing their value of simplicity, Literatu has employed a “per teacher per year” business model.
“We have experimented with a few different business models. At the end of the day, we had to make it really easy for teachers to attach to our platform. Literatu costs each teacher $20 per month, so $240 a year,” said Stanley.
“This is a very scalable model. After a teacher subscribes to Literatu, they start building a community of students. From there, it can expand across departments with more teachers coming on board. The platform can then be rolled across an entire school, and then multiple schools. It scales its boundaries in alignment with who the teachers are and where they work.”
For Stanley, 2014 is all about getting the Australian education system in a position where they are embracing their own pedagogy.
“The big publishers want to streamline education – with the same assessments and textbooks across schools. But that’s not what teachers are about. They didn’t become teachers to deliver somebody else’s pedagogy. They all have a messy bottom drawer, and know that they could save a lot more time if they were delivering their own material,” Stanley explained.
“I think there’s just got to be that tipping point when someone says, ‘You know what? We can actually manage content ourselves, and save a lot of time in the process.’ The kids get a much better learning experience too.”
Literatu is also finalising the sponsorship of Jesuit schools in Asia, connecting teachers and volunteers in Australia with teachers and students in poverty-stricken towns in Thailand. This project will kick off in July. Australian teachers will build pedagogically sound activities that volunteer and immersion students will deliver using Literatu.
More information is available via www.literatu.com.