Are learning platforms moving on? 'WeSchool' reckons on a paradigm shift
Reports of their demise have been remarkably premature. Those who denigrate VLEs (virtual learning environments), or learning platforms as they are also known, have perhaps underestimated the desire of schools, teachers and learners to have their own secure space in which to communicate, collaborate and share materials.
Now, fresh out of Italy, comes an innovative new platform, WeSchool, which aims to disrupt expectations of digital learning spaces with an inclusive pledge to integrate anything that a school or department needs.
Founder Marco de Rossi (pictured left, above), visiting London recently with chief operating officer Nicolò Ammendola (also pictured), says the brief to designers prioritised inclusivity and ease of use so simple that even grandparents could find their way around. No more platforms with sharp learning curves.
Just three things for teachers to think about
He feels that the days of publishers having to create their own platforms are over; WeSchool can handle that side of the business so that teachers can find everything they need in one comfortable place. That could be a Google Apps set-up, YouTube video, newspaper article, something from Duolingo or any sort of media item. WeSchool is happy to leave the publishing to the publishers and innovation to outfits like Duolingo and Edmodo.
There are just three things for a teacher to think about with WeSchool: the 'wall', which is for discussions; the 'board' which is their collaboration area, an interactive grid that shares updates live with their students; the range of quizzes and activities they can run with students. These activities include dropping simple questions into whatever points in a YouTube video that they need to turn it into a straightforward quiz. It looks simple and easy but, clearly, would need a teacher to corroborate. There are crosswords too (nine kinds of activities in all).
“It’s game over for LMS [learning management systems],” quipped Marco de Rossi. Teachers and learners should no longer “do learning platforms”: the platforms should simply enable them to do what they have always done face-to-face, and want to do, seamlessly and transparently. “We wanted a platform that teachers can leverage in class and which learners can also use at home. Enough with the PowerPoints and email.”
It’s a conception designed for convenience. A school doesn’t have to have a full subscription for the whole institution: it could purchase one just for the class or department that needs it. And at a cost thought to be around £24 per student it shouldn’t break the bank.
WeSchool hasn't appeared out of nowhere. It has been created from the experiences the team has had with Italy's most popular online service for secondary students, Oilproject, which Marco di Rossi created when he was just 14. The statistics for this service are impressive: with 2 million unique users a month, it reaches 5 million students a year.
Optimised for mobile devices
Its popularity with students meant it was also taken up by teachers, and that made its creators realise they needed something fresh for teachers and schools but which would also be appealing and engaging for students. And which could be easily used on any mobile device, a trend they had already encountered.
Following a fresh round of investment (£500,000), 18 months later WeSchool was launched as an international service (available in Italian, Spanish and English). In a market already knowledgeable about, and perhaps somewhat weary of, VLEs, its inclusive approach, direct design and compatibility with mobile devices should stand it in good stead in its bid to be "the platform that gives super powers to teachers".
“From now on possibilities will keep opening as teaching takes a turn towards collaboration and higher engagement," says Nicolò Ammendola. "Companies are at the forefront of this shift: before launching, three billion-dollar companies have already joined WeSchool.”
See also Steve O’Hear’s TechCrunch article “Oilproject, the Italian MOOC you’ve probably never heard of, launches WeSchool”