Thursday, March 12, 2015

Innovation in K-12 Education

Silicon valley is home to some of the richest and most innovative companies on the planet. Yet, the benefit of having them in our neck of the woods hasn't really helped the school system around these parts.  I heard through the grapevine that Microsoft has done a phenomenal job  helping schools in Seattle -- the quality of teachers and the facilities at the schools there are way ahead of Bay Area schools.

I am not suggesting that these major companies pour funds into schools (though that makes a lot of sense!). Even on the education innovation front, there has been very little, apart from Khan Academy, Coursera and others similar services.  

I was pleasantly surprised to read about AltSchool which is exploring a new, fundamentally different approach to K-12 education. This appears to be a refreshing change from the routine run of the mill education that is being served at the public schools and the more affordable "assembly line" style private schools in the area. 

I don't mean to say that there aren't good schools here. I just think the big bucks, the great technologists,  and everything else that this region has at its disposal have not come together to take a serious, fresh look at what can be key to the future of this country and perhaps the world at large. The folks at AltSchool deserve special kudos for taking on this long overdue challenge.

With the growth of the Internet, computers, online video, online meetings, mobile technology, etc., there simply should be a lot more happening on the education front in the world's innovation capital. Let's hope Altschool is the first of many more such efforts.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Bridging the gap: Combining self paced learning with live video chat

Every course ought to be an interactive learning experience. E-learning has always been one step behind the traditional classroom based learning in this respect. Rather than just act as a course delivery mechanism, the class room based training allowed for active interactions with the teachers and just as importantly, with fellow learners. The e-learning industry has always sought to close this gap. While virtual training sessions like GoTo services from Citrix and the WebEx products have always engaged the participants, self paced course delivery was still lacking the interactive environment.

We have done our fair share to address this issue. Our platform utilizes a course specific comment system so that users can write their feedback on courses and read other users feedback. We also have a discussion forum where users can engage in active discussions on a course. In this model, all users who are signed up for a course can get together in the discussion forum and engage in active discussions on various aspects of the course - all without leaving the system. Along with our course resource, related video, related links features, these interactive features like the comment system and discussion forum provide an interactive learning experience. 

Taking this one step further, we have implemented a course based video sharing system. Using this feature, users registered for a course can take part in a video conference/chat to discuss the course. This negates the need for the Admin to create a separate virtual training session for the same purpose. Users can access the virtual video system from the "Details" page for a course itself. Once the feature is released, Admins will be able to invite single or multiple users to a video chat, share files and discuss the self paced course in detail.

This feature can be utilized for a wide range of purposes, ranging from a Q&A with all the users registered for a course, to conducting a one on one with a single user in case the user needs special attention and guidance. The optional file sharing option will help users share notes while multiple users in the same video chat can simulate the class room environment by conducting a live group discussion. We hope the interactive course based video conference will help our customers achieve an immersive learning experience. Stay tuned!

Contributed by Vinod Rajendran, Vitalect Customer Support