Our world is characterized by technological changes that influence every sphere of our daily life. In its endeavor to prepare school pupils for the future world of employment, the education system is required to harness technology that will help pupils develop the digital skills they will require in order to succeed. The pupils must acquire learning skills and learn how to work together with each other, be active partners in the learning process, and make use of different investigative and creative technologies. Israel is home to various educational initiatives developing innovative technologies that seek to enhance the quality of school education and learning and to make them readily accessible to all. In addition to the technological challenges, companies in this field contend with need to find investors and make their products profitable.
"The Innovation Authority attributes great importance to impact investments made with the aim of creating measurable social or environmental yield alongside a financial yield," says Patricia Lahy-Engel, Senior Director of Social R&D at the Israel Innovation Authority. "These investments provide capital used to create solutions for social or environmental challenges such as renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, access to basic services including health, education, and attainable housing." The Innovation Authority operates a number of programs aimed at contending with public and social challenges, such as the joint Innovation Authority-Digital Israel Initiative 'GovTech' (Digital Government) program that encourages and assists entrepreneurs and corporations offering innovative technological solutions for public sector challenges in the fields of education, health, welfare, economics, law, local government and others.
Innovative auxiliary tools for teaching and improving digital literacy have a positive influence on the education system and prepare pupils for the constantly changing world of employment. Eureka World and Annoto – two startups that have received Innovation Authority impact investments – are excellent examples of technology companies with a significant impact on pupils, teachers, and the world of learning.
A Multi-participant Community – Creation and Commerce
Eureka World is an education technology company that enables joint creation and learning in multi-participant 3D worlds which also combine physical interfaces such as 3D printers, robotics controllers, VR headsets and others. During the last 3 years, more than 150 teachers have served as mentors for pupils participating in Eureka's 3D worlds.
"Eureka's vision is to create a human study companion in 'augmented reality' and to utilize the wonderful capabilities of 3D in new worlds, without losing the human connection and the active community," explains Shabtai Kaminer, one of the company's owners who in 2014 joined up with Uri Shapira, a veteran technology and media expert. Together, the two founded and developed Eureka as a virtual domain that enables 3D creation and learning and harnesses technology in the service of pedagogy.
"We conform to the definition of 3D3C domains," says Kaminer, "because learning in virtual worlds and 3D domains includes a multi-participant community, creation, and commerce. The rules of the game are simple and enable us to provide added value to the creative process which is the core issue. We have also progressed even by connecting everything to the world of "Making" via 3D printers, robotics and electronics. This is the ideal environment in which to facilitate the learning of 21st century skills. The mainstay of learning is done at school and then continues at home. After all, there is no reason why learning should be restricted to a 45-minute lesson in the classroom."
Game Technology that Enables Human Connections
The technological-learning environment offered by Eureka enables human, emotional and experiential connections in an augmented reality in a way that expands the participants' personal ability. "Our product is software. In practice, it is a 3D game that was created by pupils and teachers. Each group chooses a topic and creates its own game to which it can invite other groups to play. Creating the game is the best way for the pupils to learn its content. Furthermore, creating a world with Eureka develops important skills such as teamwork, technological thinking, storytelling via a game, contending with programming, logic, designing etc. Each game is unique, and the participants can decide whether to distribute a printable prize to the participants or to create an assignment and send it to them via a friend's 3D printer."
According to Kaminer, the game setting creates immediate interactions. "For example, we have a group made up of an American Jewish school which for the last two years has been working with two Israeli schools in Nahariya and in Akko. Last year, the three groups built together a 3D museum environment of pre-WW2 Jewish communities in which you can visit a school in Casablanca or the market in Kovno. It's amazing and it's all based on research conducted by the pupils themselves."
Creating Requires Pupils to Try Harder and Improve
The technological platform is not intended just for pupils. In the kindergarten teachers' program at Beit Berl for example, the participants chose to use Eureka's technology to design a dream garden, for pedagogical development, research, and other purposes. "We instruct the teachers and they instruct the pupils," says Kaminer. "Eureka World has 12,000 registered members and last year we operated at 100 schools, from 4th grade up to university. Next year, we intend to expand our activity to dozens more schools, both in Israel and abroad."
Eureka relies mainly on children's motivation for playing games. The creative process challenges them. Work on a project can take 6 months and both teachers and pupils are required to contribute towards its success. By using 3D printers and other different technologies, they test a future world where they can invent and create products, while acquiring knowledge about the strength of different materials, printing efficiency, design, color and more. Using a 3D printer also issues an important statement in favor of a sustainable world all along the global consumer chain. With such a printer, there is no need for a store that sells chairs, a truck to transport them, trees to supply the wood, etc. That is all part of the impact.
"We were extremely pleased that the Innovation Authority identified the potential right from the outset and even awarded us a follow-up grant. We simply couldn't have progressed without this support. In the world of educational technology, it takes time until you see profits and the product returns its investment," says Kaminer.
Increasing Learner Involvement via Collaborative Video Learning
The world of education and teaching is advancing rapidly and is preparing pupils for the 21st century. In order for this process to succeed, it is essential to adapt pedagogy to the changing reality and to develop relevant skills that will enable pupils to function optimally in the future. Use of video clips and online courses for learning, training and education has increased over the years because of their widespread accessibility – both in term of time and place – however the lack of a physical learning experience and the difficulty in ensuring and assessing the pupils' understanding of the study material have proved significant disadvantages.
Hen Eytan, Kirill Slavkin and Genadi Sokolov also encountered these disadvantages when studying in digital courses during their joint IDF service in Unit 9900 and during their subsequent years of employment. The solution they created is Annoto (in Latin: "to react to") – an educational startup they founded together, and which transforms passive watching of a video into an active collaborative and social learning experience. Annoto aims to increase learner involvement, enhance both communication between the pupils and the quality of video learning, and to provide meaningful insights for the organization and teacher about the pupils' level of understanding. Annoto adds an interactive layer of dialogue onto the video thereby allowing the pupils to conduct a discussion at any point during the class. This dynamic information layer of opinions, questions, and answers includes the ability to summarize important points in a personal notebook and allows all the pupils to revisit the lesson thereby learning more about the content created and added by other participants.
"Many of the advantages of the physical classroom learning experience where the pupils discuss things among themselves, help each other and study together, and where the teacher can ascertain the level of understanding of both the class and of each individual pupil simply don't exist with online classes," Slavkin explains. "The teacher is not always aware of each individual pupil, the pupils don't communicate with each other, and the content consumption is one-directional – a difficulty that has been termed the "loneliness of the long-distance learner."
"We understood from our personal experience as teachers that this is a problem that will only become more acute," Eytan says. "We approached leading universities and educational institutions that make extensive use of video in online long-distance learning, and discovered several common problems: many of those registering for an online course fail to complete it, the participants experience loneliness and passivity during the studies, the students lack basic tools for studying with video clips, and the lecturer has no way to assess the participants' level of understanding or to formulate related insights to enhance the content and thereby improve the learning process. Although the lecturer can communicate with the student via email or text message, this communication remains private without the other participants gaining any related knowledge, involvement or interest in the content being discussed."
The Labor Market is also a Scene of Constant Learning
The growing recognition of human capital as today's most important resource and of the consequential need to invest in and cultivate it, has led to a dramatic change in organizational culture in recent years. In implementing this approach – termed EX (Employee experience) Management – increasingly more organizations are emphasizing employee learning and professional development via educational film-clips and online courses.
"Organizational training departments also encounter similar problems in this market," Eytan explains. "These include difficulty in assimilating technological tools aimed at enhancing the employee's experience, a lack of a collaborative and interactive learning environment that encourages employees to maintain a high level of learning and performance, and a shortage of insights on the employee's progress over time. The range of solutions offered by the Annoto platform aims to meet the needs of organizational training departments.
"Even after educational institutions and training departments understand the importance of collaborative, involved, and interactive learning using video-clips, they discover that it's an expensive and technically complex process that requires development time, complex integration or even entails transferring content to a third party. Annoto offers a solution to all these problems by adding an interactive layer onto existing video film-clips that are played on a variety of media without any change in the organization's infrastructure or work processes. In practice, after adding Annoto to the system, all the training video-clips become interactive and the training department can monitor their use and efficiency," he mentions.
"This is a huge and rapidly growing market because of the changing perceptions about learning. In reality, the labor market is also a scene of constant learning. The concept of "learning" does not relate only to math exercises or literature lectures but also to the guide for changing a lightbulb, a preparatory class for the psychometric exam, and to ongoing information that employees need to learn in order to remain updated," says Slavkin.
Being Everywhere and Influencing the Quality of Learning
Today, Annoto works with a large number of entities in Israel and abroad and offers support in 28 languages. The company recently won first place in the world's largest learning technologies conference (BettShow London). This is an achievement on a national scale because it is the first time that an Israeli company has won this award and gained us international recognition as a country that promotes innovation in the field of learning.
Annoto provides a solution both for short 2-minute video clips of the psychometric exam and 'Mooc' courses boasting thousands of users. One good example is the Digital Israel Campus. "We co-operate with the Innovation Authority and the Digital Israel initiative," Eytan explains. "The campus is Digital Israel's flagship project and constitutes a national online learning platform to which the country's leading universities upload their best courses free of charge. This means that anyone can enroll for a course in which hundreds of thousands of shekels have been invested, thereby providing equal opportunity for those living in the periphery and helping to promote education for all. The Innovation Authority's support solved a significant problem and enabled us to create and develop the platform."
"In this context, it is interesting to mention that the first Campus course to go online with Annoto was in Hebrew, Arabic and English – an introductory course on multiculturalism offered by Talpiot College. The course deals with complex contemporary issues such as identity, culture, prejudices, and relations between different groups in the global world. The students, who come from all sectors of the population, observed various simulations of real-life situations and used Annoto to discuss and exchange their personal views and experiences. Enabling a multicultural discussion on such an important topic has significant impact in our opinion," Eytan and Slovkin summarize.