These Leeds companies want to make it easier for everyone to learn.
When it comes to education, technology can have a transformational impact, and these Leeds businesses are making sure it does. Whether it’s freeing time up for teachers to do their job, helping students revise or making exam invigilation easier, they’re changing the process of learning for the better.
Arbor is a platform for schools, groups and governments to help simplify the mountain of admin work they contend with every day, giving teachers more time to teach.
“I started Arbor as I saw that 60% of a teacher’s working day on average was spent performing administrative tasks, and that this workload was increasing dramatically, leading one in two to consider leaving the profession,” James Weatherill, Chief Executive of Arbor, told us. The platform collects data to help pinpoint which children are most in need, ensuring a teacher’s time is focused where it’s needed most.
Imagine a child is absent from school one day. Arbor will automatically check whether the pattern of absence is unusual for the child, if it’s correlated with any other children’s absence and whether it breaches school thresholds. If a pattern is found, it will automatically alert the appropriate member of staff and send a message to the guardian.
The same thing is now happening for attendance, behaviour and progress for each of the 400,000 students currently in Arbor-supported schools. They’re now starting to use the information gathered to set personalised targets for children unique to their individual context, alert schools of unusual patterns or trends before they become long-term problems and inform governments about how education is being delivered at a national level.
VICTVS provides technology to help make sure exams go smoothly. They opened their Leeds office in 2017, four years after forming, as their team grew rapidly from two to 12 people.
“Our tech provides invigilators all over the world with exam-specific project management resources and direct support from our UK head office,” Benjamin Clayson, CEO of VICTVS, told us. “We’ve also created a remote monitoring app called V3 that allows our vetted, very highly qualified invigilators to deliver secure, high-stakes exams to candidates remotely.”
The company has built an intelligent database of exam infrastructure that gives them instant access to thousands of exam venues, computer test centres and exam staff all over the world. They use this to help international organisations deliver global exam and certification programmes.
At the start of 2020, the lockdown meant interest in online exams boomed. “Whilst the technology to support online exams has existed for many years, delivering assessments and certification programmes at a global scale online does create a number of technical challenges,” Ben told us. “Luckily we are able to use technology to develop solutions that provide learners and exam candidates with increasing options for how they would like to take their exams.”
Synap is an app that uses tailored quizzes to teach people. It’s based on their own progress and learning style, so the experience is different for everyone. Although it started as a way for pupils to revise, the app is now being used in formal exams.
The learning tool has been used in schools, for medical students and to train taxi drivers. The great thing about it is that Synap can tailor the experience to every individual. If they’re struggling on a particular topic or they’re falling behind in a certain area, the app can bring up more questions on that topic to help them catch up.
The idea came about when two students were trying to make revising easier. They wanted to create an engaging, more mobile-friendly way to learn, so they developed an app. “What we do is essentially break down long training topics into something that students can engage with in five or 10 minutes a day, and over time, we look at their strengths and weaknesses and use that to create a personalised learning plan just for them.” Now, they work with start-ups, schools, universities and corporates to provide tailored quizzes based on any kind of content.
In 2020, Synap started to provide higher-stake exams, instead of just learning quizzes. Using various techniques, like changing the order of questions and tinkering with the exact wording in certain problems, Synap was able to provide exams that are just as hard to cheat on as those in person.
Panintelligence is a software development company in Leeds and they’ve created a new data analytics programme to improve academic performance.
The Panintelligence Pi dashboard was designed to help students visualise and make sense of data. Using the dashboard, students can see their progress, view their marks so far and see the weighted value of each assessment. This is all presented with graphics, pie charts and bar charts to make it easier to understand. Students can also set targets and share these with their tutors, who can help them meet their aims or adjust their expectations.
The software was chosen as the new interface for students at Reading University who wanted to make assessment data easily accessible for academic tutors and support staff. The aim was to help enhance staff-student conversations, especially around progress and the student’s own performance goals. Since launching, the university has had positive feedback on the software. Students like seeing their progress and being shown exactly what they need to do to improve.
“While the data analytics the dashboard provides is complex, the visuals deliver clear and straightforward insight into the students’ own progress that can have highly positive results, both for themselves and for universities,” Panintelligence CTO, Ken Miller, explained. “By being able to make sense of their own data, students can now take ownership of their academic progress, which for many can be really transformational.”
Webanywhere is an educational consultancy that makes eLearning software, working with schools and corporates. One of the company’s three offices is in Leeds.
The work Webanywhere does in educational tech is centred around two divisions. The first is providing websites, mobile apps and learning platforms for schools. These are all focused on parent communication and increasing pupil engagement. Their web-based content management system, School Jotter, helps schools communicate better and is currently used by over 4,000 across the country.
They also offer bespoke learning management systems. They’re built in partnership with corporate clients, so the end result is completely suited to the training needs of their organisation. They do this using Totara Learn, an open-source learning management system.
For example, the Peter Jones Foundation wanted to run a national enterprise competition for schools. They needed a website that could teach the children as they moved through the competition process, so Webanywhere built a website with a series of short online lessons specifically designed to teach the kids at set points throughout the competition. More than 300 schools signed up for the challenge.Cover image credit: Jeremy Kelly