Monday, 29 July 2013

Meet the EdTech entrepreneurs - An interview with David Meulemans

What can bring an academic to set up a publishing company... and then launch  a creative writing tool to cure writer’s block?
The Good MOOC interviews DraftQuest CEO David Meulemans.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

My name’s David Meulemans. I was born and raised in Paris, France. I completed a PhD in Philosophy and worked at various universities both in France and the US. But, at one point, I felt that my desire to be an educator would not be satisfied by an academic job and I moved to the publishing industry. I founded my own publishing company, “Les Editions Aux forges de Vulcain”: I saw and still see books as the perfect tools to help people emancipate themselves. After a couple of years in this industry, I still think that everyone should read - but I also believe now that everyone should write.  

  • Can you describe what you're doing with DrafQuest?

DraftQuest is a very basic tool, designed to help its users overcome their fear of writing. But, my desire is to make writing fun again and provide a place and a series of tools that will make writing an exciting daily activity for everyone.

  • How did you come up with the idea and what are you hoping to achieve?

As an educator, and then as a publisher, I met many people who had a strong desire to write and felt stuck. This failure caused a lot of pain. It surprised me, for most of these people did not lack the skills that are needed to write. But something psychological was getting in their way. So I looked for ways to help them get rid of the fear and angst they felt. I found that putting the fun back in writing was a good way to start.

I want to help people free themselves from some self-imposed constraints. I want to help them be as creative and full of self-esteem as possible.

  • What's your business model?

Right now, we’re in beta mode. But we’re launching a premium version this Fall (at 5 euros a month) to enjoy the full DraftQuest experience that will help you write your very first novel

  • Has the experience yielded any surprising findings so far?

I believe in constant testing. So we put out several minimum viable products and had a lot of feedback. Two things did surprise me. First: I designed DraftQuest to help people write novels. But many users do not want to write novels, they just want to have fun and feel excellent about themselves 30 minutes a day. That’s one thing. Then: we have lots of users that use the tool to practice a foreign language.

So, basically, testing showed me two things. DraftQuest has a much wider audience that professional writers. And it is both a creative and an educational tool. For example, I was kindly invited to Bucharest by the “Institut Français”. I was in charge of a creative writing class for Romanians who already had a pretty good knowledge of French but were avid to get their hands on a tool that could allow them to practice their skills on a daily basis. It worked great.

  • What's your analysis of the current state of online learning?

I have a specific take on this question, being from France. France has a lot of very talented academics and educators. Many excellent educators were from France: Jacotot, Freinet. But, right now, we are still very old-school when it comes to online learning. I hope French universities will devise new ways to produce tools to help our students.

  • Is there an online 'edtech' tool that you particularly like?

I think Duolingo is one of the best tools ever-designed. I love it. All education tools should learn from Duolingo.

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future?

I really think that our duty, as a generation, is to provide to everyone free access to primary, secondary and higher education. It will end all wars. I do not know if our generation will actually do it. But it is our historical task to die trying.

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