Monday, 16 September 2013

Meet the edtech entrepreneurs - An interview with Hannes Klöpper

Despite a few announcements here and there, Europe has been slow to jump on the MOOC bandwagon. A German startup, iversity, has ambitious goals nonetheless.
The Good MOOC interviews +Hannes Klöpper, iversity Chief Academic Officer, Managing Director and Co-Founder.

  • Can you introduce yourself?
My name is +Hannes Klöpper and I'm the co-founder of iversity, a MOOC-platform. We work with individual professors as well as institutions of higher education on developing innovative teaching formats open to students from around the world.

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

We started to work on MOOCs in January 2012 after seeing Sebastian Thrun present at DLD. It took a while to convince the relevant players of the idea. But in early 2013 we could finally announce what we had in mind. We decided to approach the issue bottom-up. So instead of partnering with a handful of institutions we issued an open call for applications to professors from around the world. For this we partnered with Stifterverband, a German higher education think tank and foundation. Together we awarded ten MOOC Production Fellowships, 25,000 euros each, to ten professors so as to enable them to produce a high quality MOOC.

  • How did iversity evolve from its initial goals and what are you now hoping to achieve?

After the fellowships were awarded in June a number of professors approached us, saying that they would be interested in producing a course with us. We conducted two workshops in Berlin with the winners of the Fellowship and that second group of pioneers to discuss everything from video production techniques, to didactics and marketing. In October we are going to go live with a dozen courses. But I can already tell you that we have a lot more in store for next year. 2014 we aim to become the biggest player in Europe.

  • What's your business model?

We are looking at the same kind of options as Coursera and Udacity: certificates, licensing, recruiting. Because of the structure of European higher education, however, we will focus much earlier on providing courses for credit. We want students to pass an exam offline and earn ECTS-credit points that are recognized throughout Europe. We already struck some agreements regarding that point. For now all I can say is: Stay tuned.

  • Why do you have European ambitions (why not limit yourself to Germany or on the contrary aim for the World)?

We have no intentions to artificially "limit" ourselves to Europe. We already know that our students will come from all over the world. But we have to start somewhere and the EU, with its common market for academic credit, is a good starting point. After all ECTS credit points will not only be useful to students in Europe. Many of the countries that are usually described as emerging markets have enormous capacity expansion problems in the education sector. They just cannot keep pace. There are estimates that India would have to build 2400 universities in the coming years. That's roughly two a week. Even if they managed to build the infrastructure, who is going to teach there? Professors don't grow on trees. So these countries will have to rethink the way higher education is set up. I believe recognized credentials from Europe can be an important element in that equation.

That remains to be seen. But I don't think this is a winner-takes-all market. There will be big players and specialized niche providers.

  • Will you open your data to researchers?

We are definitely very interested in cooperating with the academic community on data analysis. We have this amazing opportunity to learn more about learning. Educational analytics are no panacea, but I'm certain that this will allow us to improve online pedagogy as well as the design of our platform.

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

It's booming. We are still in an experimental phase obviously, but one thing is for certain: it's not going to go away.

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

Offline is not going to go away. Nor should it. But it will have to change. Flipping the classroom will become standard practice. Tutoring and mentoring will become more important. Students will have a lot more choice. Competency-based credits will become the norms. Assessment and credentialing will become more sophisticated and better at measuring what matters. I think the fears that MOOCs will replace teachers, when everyone agrees that there are many things that they cannot do, is ill-founded. As long as teachers make a difference in student learning, which I believe they do, they are not going anywhere.

I have dabbled in different classes for a bit. But I haven't taken a full class. I just don't find the time as I am busy making sure we don't miss the train here in Europe.

  • Any particular courses you’re looking forward to then?

The Future of Storytelling and Design 101 promise to be a lot of fun. But I personally I will work hard to free my schedule for Contemporary Architecture.

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Monday, 9 September 2013

Meet the MOOC executives - An interview with Jose Herrera-Perea

MOOC platforms aren’t limited to the US big three (Coursera, Udacity, edX) and Open Universities Australia has been quick in launching its own platform.
The Good MOOC interviews +Jose Herrera-Perea, Open2Study Executive General Manager.

  • Can you introduce yourself?
My name is +Jose Herrera-Perea and I am the Executive General Manager of Open2Study at Open Universities Australia.
Working with disruptive technologies is a specialty area of mine, having created end-to-end strategies for start-ups, eBusinesses and global organizations. These included Fujitsu Consulting, Seek Ltd and Google.
I am an international graduate with qualifications from Monash University (Australia), Universidad Complutense Madrid (Spain) and Business Dublin School (Ireland).

  • Can you describe what you're doing with Open2Study?
We recognise that MOOCs are a trend in Education which is revolutionizing the Industry. Our unashamed goal is to give students the best on-line learning experience possible. Although we don’t necessarily want to change the education sector, we do want to positively influence how people study on-line.
With the student experience in sharp focus, we have a strict quality criterion that drives our subject development process to provide people with the opportunity of further education. We interrogate everything from the course content, learning and design frameworks and production approaches. And that’s before we’ve even begun any production. We are extremely proud of the results as they achieve our twin goals of quality content and quality production.  We believe that our model is unique in the MOOC market.
Unlike some other MOOCs, we do not offer a platform to be used by a provider on their own. We work in partnership with our providers and work side by side with the lecturers and educators during the design and production phases. This means that Open2Study is always in control of the content to ensure we consistently deliver high quality courses.
We drive and shape the whole online learning experience from the student experience and teaching perspective.  Indeed, the Open2Study teams support and work hand in hand with the educators throughout the experience of developing an online course.

  • What's your business model?

Research and Development is the core of our current business model. Our business model is changing as we are testing and learning from Open2Study, our students and our relationship with our providers in the free online learning space.
Our business analytics tell us that Open2Study completion rates for its courses are almost four times higher than global industry standard. Our students achieved completion rates of 25 per cent or above in our first three cohorts (classes), compared to the MOOC industry average of approximately 7 per cent.
Surveying over 7,000 students from our first two cohorts showed us that:
·      More than 81% of students considered the subject content sufficiently challenging
·      More than 95% of students agreed that the Open2Study website is east to use
·      More than 96% of respondents indicating they would recommend Open2Study to friends or family

  • Why do you consider course completion rate as a key indicator of success?

Completion rates for us are an opportunity to learn how to make the online learning experience a better one for both the students and the lecturers.
We have designed and developed data models, analytical algorithms, reports and dashboards that work in parallel with your learning and development. Our learning analytics drive our understanding of our students, that is, their interests, experience, learning objectives and other information that helps us to improve our service.
At Open2Study, we do not see ourselves as competitors to international universities. Our MOOC ecosystem is designed such that the courses meet both the consumer demand and the digital environment. Open2Study is a natural extension of Open Universities Australia’s core business as an online educator. Online education isn’t an addition to our business, it is our business.

  • Will Open2Study always focus on 4 weeks 'package' or can you envisage longer courses being split in easier to manage four weeks parts?
Open2Study offers online “tasters” across multiple fields and disciplines. Our courses are self contained – all the resource materials, student community connections, videos and interactive quizzes are all readily accessible on the one page. As a fit for purpose product, Open2Study matches the learning objectives with the digital environment which is why we chose to focus on four week courses.
That being said, we also offer two courses which are on demand. This means that students can start anytime on our self paced courses (User Experience for the Web and Management for Competitive Edge).

As research and development is at the core of our business, we will be guided by feedback from our students and educational providers as to how we structure the courses.

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

MOOCs have the potential to radically change the experience of online learning and alter centuries-old distance education models. However, how free learning will change the online education landscape is still an open question.
The major concern for me is ensuring students are actually learning, the high academic standards are maintained and that student experience is a positive one.
I believe that free on-line education has a place within the education sector. MOOCs are just an extension of the democratization of information.
  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future?
I believe that MOOCs can have a positive impact on the education sector. Firstly, it has raised awareness of online learning as an effective way for students to meet some of their educational needs. Secondly, it has made learning accessible to everyone. Thirdly, it provides fertile ground for continued research and innovation to improve the delivery of on-line learning.

Yes. I have enrolled in few MOOCs in over the past few years.

  • Which are you favourite MOOCs so far and why?

Given the time and effort that goes into our courses, I will unashamedly say that my favorite is the Open2Study course in Astronomy. I have a tremendous interest in the universe and astrophysics. I found the course extremely engaging. With the fervent interest of an amateur astronomer, the course was able to give me a framework in which to place all my other knowledge. I also found the adaptive learning simulator offered for free in this course made a big difference for me. It helped me to put in practice basic knowledge of Astronomy.

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Monday, 2 September 2013

Meet the edtech entrepreneurs - An interview with Alison Johnston Rue

What do you do you’re alone in front of your computer, struggling with the concepts of a difficult MOOC? Wade through the forums? A company believes it has a better solution (albeit at a cost).
The Good MOOC interviews InstaEDU CEO and cofounder +Alison Johnston Rue.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I grew up in Portland, OR and both my parents were teachers, so education was always a primary focus. I moved down to Silicon Valley to study at Stanford, and quickly got involved in the startup scene. After working at a handful of startups (Box, Aardvak, Nextdoor), as well as Google, I felt ready to start my own company. My brother Dan and I initially started an in-home tutoring company as a side project, and while that was successful, we realized how much more could be done in the tutoring space by leveraging technology. At the end of 2011, we started working on InstaEDU.

InstaEDU makes it super simple for any student to get great academic support at any time. We have over 3,000 experienced tutors who students can connect with at a moment's notice -- 24/7. Our online learning space (complete with video chat and lots of collaboration tools) makes working together online as efficient and effective as learning in person.

  • Who is using InstaEDU and for what purpose?

We see a wide variety of use cases on InstaEDU. We have a strong base of high school and college students, as well as adult learners, including MOOC students. InstaEDU is actually a really naturally complement to MOOCs -- they're making great academic content easily accessible, and we're making great academic conversations easily accessible. If MOOCs are the lectures, InstaEDU is the TA and study group.

  • Can you be more specific as to what kind of help people taking MOOCs required from your tutors?

When you're taking a MOOC, one of the biggest things that's lacking is the ability to stop and ask questions. In a live lecture, you can raise your hand or talk with at classmate after class. We see students coming to InstaEDU from MOOCs because they're struggling with a certain part of the material and want to talk through it.

  • Can you explain your business model?

Students pay an hourly rate to work with InstaEDU tutors (prorated by the minute). Prices range from $24-45/hour, depending on how much tutoring the student is interested in. Tutors all make $20/hour.

  • How do you see higher education going in the future?

I don't see MOOCs replacing traditional higher education any time soon, but I think they will start to replace alternative forms of education. For example, I think for-profit universities really need to step up their game, or they'll lose their customers.
While I'm very optimistic about the potential, even MOOCs have a long ways to go. The lecture is just one part of the academic experience. In order to be successful, MOOCs will need to develop the tools to promote accountability, structure and student support systems.

  • Have you taken MOOCs yourself?

I have not yet taken a structured MOOC, but I plan to soon. My go-to learning strategy as of late has been to read up on things I'd like to know, then connect with a tutor on InstaEDU to clarify any questions.

  • What's your opinion on the recent initiative from Google (Helpouts)?

We're very excited about it. Online video chat is finally reaching a point where it can effectively parallel in-person interactions in a lot of ways -- especially when paired with other collaboration tools. GoogleHelpouts aren't directly competitive to us and will only help further show how effective these platforms can be.

  • What's your plan with your series A funding?

Scale, scale, scale. We used our seed round to learn from our early customers, build out our core feature set, and establish product/market fit. Now we're excited to use this funding to scale to new platforms (e.g. mobile), scale to new markets, scale our customer acquisition, and scale our team to support those initiatives. We also have some great features coming up to make the experience on InstaEDU even more magical. Stay tuned...

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