Osmo, a startup that connects physical games with an iPad experience, has raised a $12 million Series A led by Accel Partners with participation of Upfront Ventures and K9 Ventures. Accel Partners’ Rich Wong will join Osmo’s board of directors.
Finnish educational games startup Fantastec raised a $800k Seed Round from Booster Investment and a group of angel investors reports Arctic Startup.
The funding will be used to grow the team, create multi-platform titles and to expand internationally.
Planning to attend EdTech Europe 2014 on June 12th in London? Use the promo code EDUKWEST to get 20% off the ticket price!
‘We don’t deserve students’ attention, we earn it!’ This is a motto that I live by in my daily work, a thought perhaps echoed by many who teach adults or young kids. Students come to the classroom and go through motions, but are they really learning? As educators, we are competing with all sorts of media distractions for students’ time and attention. The internet and mobile devices have made it an even more fierce and head-on collision. But instead of fighting or ignoring it, we can actually take our cue from the media to make our work better.
Those who’ve seen Sal Khan’s videos can probably attest to his amazing gift in explaining complicated concepts and connecting with students. This ability is especially important in the lecture and input stage to introduce key concepts to students. It can also be found in many teachers, but not all. However, with the help of technology and multimedia, we can now centralize engaging and effective instruction and broadcast it to masses of students so that they can benefit from the best instruction.
There’s an crucial element in this types of lesson media, one that I call ‘edutainment’ where the content is as engaging as it is educational. Think about your favorite teacher at school and what they did to ignite your interest and engage you with the subject. You looked forward to their class and each class was a deeply rewarding and fun experience. You would never fall asleep listening to them. They were superstars in their arena. That’s what I am talking about.
At ChinesePod, we pioneered the concept of ‘edutainment’. It led me to firmly believe in the power of edutainment in inspiring students and delivering great instruction at scale. There are innate qualities which make one an ‘edutainer’ but there’s a lot that can be defined, trained and practised. I’ve often found that the best teacher presenters might not be the best curriculum designer or writer. Different skill sets are required. When setting up a team to curate edutainment content, I look for people with different skills to balance engaging star qualityand academic depth. If one overrides the other (and there are many examples of that), the content isn’t going to help students succeed. The pedagogy needs to be the backbone; the engaging factor brings it to life.
In the past year, I’ve had the chance to coach other language educators to produce and publish their edutainment content on OpenLanguage. I am very proud of the results we’ve achieved with teams such as Arabic Anywhere and Ruspod who are creating deeply engaging content with solid academic design.
One of the other products on OpenLanguage EnglishPod China was recently awarded Best Education Content in 2012 by iTunes China. And I keep mentoring new teams to help educators produce and distribute their language courses on OpenLanguage. I hope our work will help students get high quality edutainment content from the best teacher presenters and academic experts no matter what language they are learning.
But edutainment alone isn’t enough. It’s best used in the input stage to get the ball rolling. Students need tons of study, practice and feedback to internalize the language. I will write about my experience designing those in future posts. For now, let’s hold the thought and work to engage students.
In this interview from the LAUNCH Education & Kids Conference Alicia Chang talked with Dave Merrill, co-founder of Sifteo.
Sifteo cubes pack a clickable, full color LCD display, a variety of motion sensors and a rechargeable battery into a sturdy 1.5 inch block – perfect for hands of all ages to grab and play with.
Neighbor, tilt, shake, and press Sifteo cubes to play their expanding library of downloadable games.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Tomasz Kowalczyk. He is a software developer from Poland and received his B.Sc in Information Technology in 2010 and his M.Sc in Computer Science in 2011 both from Military University in Warsaw, Poland. He is an author of many technology articles for Microsoft.
Tomasz is interested in natural user interface and gamification. You can follow him on Twitter @tomkowalczyk.
Education in Polish schools not necessary has to be boring and of little interest to pupils. A modern teacher is someone who always has to think how to enhance student learning and make his class entertaining and innovative. It is not always an easy task, but with the help of technology it is possible.
The potential of the technology that is around us can close the gap between education and entertainment. Making the best of the pupils’ reserves of energy in class was something we had in mind while working on this project. Natural user interface teaching method has come up with some interesting results.
Along with a teacher of English, Łukasz Rumiński, we decided to join forces and skills to breathe new life into Polish education. We have used Kinect sensor and three custom applications to find out how this method of teaching would be taken by the pupils. It is worth mentioning that all the work has been carried out in our free time, outside working hours, but the idea of making something great for the students has helped us take the project up to an acceptable level.
Each of the applications works using Kinect for Windows SDK and is targeted at pupils of different ages. It was tested at John Paul II Primary and Junior High School in Jamielnik, Poland.
Below you can find a short description of the custom and tested applications:
Kinect Human Body – application which uses Drag&Drop feature. It allows the youngest pupils to learn English words. The task is to drag the correct word into the correct place. The following video shows you a six-year-old pupil who has no trouble solving the task about the human body and having fun at the same time. This project has been well reviewed by the Coding4Fun web portal.
Kinect Numbers Game – Metro style application targeted at older students. Arranging numbers in the correct order is the focal point of this game. It also measures the time making it competitive for the pupils. The video below shows you Junior High school students.
Kinect Q&A – this project consists of two applications: question editor and hand gesture application. The teacher creates his set of questions and answers in the editor and sets the time for the answers. There are always two answers and the pupil has to choose one by using simple hand gestures. Every answer, whether correct or wrong, is counted and the results immediately pop up on the screen. When the game is finished you can also have a photo taken, which you can later share on Facebook via the application.
To sum up, we plan on developing these applications and create new ones as these have gone down well with the pupils and teachers – it is a highly motivating factor. Anyone willing to help our team feel free to contact us.
I met with Paul Maglione, co-founder of English Attack! for “café et tarte” in Paris back in November. We talked about virtual currencies and how edutainment is becoming more popular among educators and companies as a way to teach English. Back then Paul gave me a glimpse on their platform for teachers and schools already.
Today, English Attack! officially announced their new platform for independent English teachers, schools and companies. It provides educators with a set of different features like creating classes and assigning students, performance tracking and on site communication via personal messages or a class wide message board.
For independent ESL teachers the access to the platform costs between $12 and $20 per month, depending on the plan the teacher chooses. Along with the use of the teacher platform comes a personal invitation code which gives a 25% education discount to the students the teacher would like to invite to use English Attack! for their studies.
Schools, companies or other institutions interested in using English Attack! for ESL training can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
EDUKWEST got promo codes to give away which give ESL teachers a free 30 day access to the new platform. If you are interested in testing the platform and even invite your students to join you for the 30 days (also for free) subscribe to the EDUKWEST newsletter below.
English Attack!, a startup that I had the chance to cover basically right from the start here on EDUKWEST announced today that it crossed the 100k registered user mark three months after its official release.
In the press release, Frederic Tibout states that
“We are seeing excellent word-of-mouth among the target audience, which is contributing to our rapid user growth, both of registered users and of those hundreds of thousands of non-registered users who use the free version of the site.
We expect to see this growth accelerate further in the back-to-school season these next few weeks across Europe and parts of Asia.”
Besides this viral growth through word-of-mouth English Attack! recently opened its 12th regional sales and marketing office in Mexico City. Paul Maglione told me in an email that they also get approached by publishers, universities and Internet portals that show interest to work together with the startup.
English Attack! has been one of the first startups that entirely focused on an edutainment approach. The learner earn “Booster Coins” for each question that is answered correctly and there are also further motivational layers like badges for example.
The business model is shaped accordingly, aiming to replicate the success of successful social games on social networks like Facebook. Most of the content is accessible for free and new lessons are available every day which should provoke users to come back regularly on the site.
The virtual currency can be either earned by playing the games, participating in special offers by commercial partners of the platform or by directly purchasing Booster Coins. Those can then be used to get access to the entire content available on the platform.
As English Attack! is being used by teachers of English in the classroom or as supplementary homework assignment already today, one of the next steps on the roadmap is going to be a “Teachers and Schools” platform. The launch is planned in the coming weeks.
Lately, I had a couple of talks about educational games, why some seem to work and get traction and while others don’t. In the tradition of saving me some time, let me give you my general thoughts on edutainment / gamification.
First of all, the same rule as in social media applies. I believe, you need to focus on the noun, not the adjective. Social media is still about media, e.g. written text, pictures, videos etc at its core, the social is just the way people interact with it.
Educational games are therefore games that may or may not teach you something. But if you don’t see it and develop it as a game in the first place, it won’t succeed.
Today, I discussed the difference between games like MindSnacks and Lumosity. Though both feature game mechanics the pretension is totally different. MindSnacks says “We are a fun game that teaches you a language”. Therefore people expect to be entertained in the first place and the learning effect is secondary. Lumosity says “We know how the brain works and can help you to memorize things better by playing games”. Therefore people expect that the scientists know what they are talking about and if it helps to play games, even better. It’s like taking vitamins that happen to taste good.
Then there are two business models for educational games. You either create an application and sell it on the app store or you build something for Facebook and aim to make money through in-game purchases, virtual currency etc.
The first option is pretty straight forward. If you happen to create a popular app like MindSnacks or Voxy that resonates with the audience and gets good ratings you might sell enough to have a decent business. If you then transform the success into other subjects or languages you can earn a second or third time from the same customer base.
If you go for the in-app purchase way you need to create a game that is sticky enough to not only make people come back to play as often as possible but also make them want to spend money to succeed in the game. Up to now there are only a few companies besides all-mighty Zynga that have managed to create such experiences in the non-educational market.
So what you need to do when thinking about an educational game is starting with the game experience itself. You need a good game designer who knows how to create an engaging story that keeps the player in front of the screen and make him spend money at certain points to get a short cut or whatever. This is crucial. What you are then teaching does not really matter. Sure, it needs to fit the story. Cracking ancient riddles in Math and Physics or deciphering texts in languages etc, you get the idea.
If you are old enough, think back to LucasArts games like Indiana Jones. Besides solving riddles and kicking some Nazis in the behind you also learned a lot about geography, ancient cultures and so on. It’s what I would call “implicit learning”. Same is true with Sid Meyer’s Civilization. Even back then the graphics were ugly but the game was so brilliantly engaging that people used to spend hours everyday playing it. Plus they learned about in which order inventions were made.
Therefore a good starting point should be to note the games you play or played on a regular basis. What makes you come back, what do/did you love about it? And as soon as you have a somewhat working prototype, eat your own dog food. If you stop playing your own game after two or three days it might be dead in the water.
Taking my all-time favorite MindSnacks as an example once more: the guys have created games they wanted to play, simple as that.
YongoPal which we covered yesterday also seems to be on the road to success because of its focus on cultural exchange through pictures. If you pick up some phrases through the text messages, even better.
Voxy is centered around your personal interests. You learn with content that you would read anyway, just in another language.
MindSnacks is a collection of really fun and engaging mobile games. Learning vocabulary is just a side effect of playing them.
To sum this up. If you want to create an educational game focus on building a great game in the first place and then add your educational content to it. If the game does not make me want to come back and play another round to beat my high-score or crack the riddle, your educational content can be as brilliant as it can be. No one will care.
Picture: LucasArts Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
As I’ve just learned from a Facebook status update of English Attack! co-founder Paul Maglione, the language learning through entertainment service have partnered with TMM Publishing, Poland. Poland is now the five markets English Attack! is targeting through local partnerships besides Italy, Brazil, Spain, LatAm and Romania.
This newest partnership will include a polish version of the English Attack! website and of course concentrate heavily on marketing and business development for the polish market in online language learning as this is where TMM’s strength is.
In a talk I had some weeks ago with bab.la co-founder and CEO Andreas Schroeter he also pointed me to Poland as a very promising and growing market for their product, so I can absolutely see the sense for and edutainment company as English Attack! are to see a business opportunity there.
The Polish seem to accept and embrace online learning easily in all its facets, the question if there is money to make on the online education market in Poland and what the scale might be remains however and I will leave unanswered for the moment but I’ll definitely keep an eye on it.
You can read the complete announcement and press release here.
In this week’s EDUKWEST I interview Travis Millman, VP of product for EnglishCentral Inc. Although still quite concentrated on the Asian market, I think it’s a nice product worth having a look at from both teacher and student side.
EnglishCentral consists of three main areas, one is to watch authentic videos dealing with different topics such as politics or entertainment. Second is to learn all relevant vocabulary, also structured according to topics for instance introductions or culture. The third element is to learn to speak or more specifically how to pronounce words.
Looking from a student perspective, I like that it’s pretty customizable and that I don’t have to watch this or that video but define my fields of interest and thus get only relevant lessons for me.
There is also some kind of motivational tool built-in as you’ll get a score for each individual exercise and you then are able to challenge and compete with other learners if you want to.
For both the students and also teachers, I think it’s a very valuable option to see statistics on your performance and to keep track of your performance or your student’s performance, too.
Recording your voice may not be a totally revolutionary and new feature but I like this twist of really getting the feedback on how accurate you pronounce compared to a standard American pronunciation.
Whether you’re a student and self study or you’re an ESL teacher and think about using EnglishCentral for your class, you should try it out. There is no risk involved as the registration including the basic features is free and I am personally interested in hearing your feedback and what you think about the product in general!
|EnglishCentral on Twitter:||@EnglishCentral1|
|Travis Millman on LinkedIn:||Travis Millman|