In this interview Richard Machielse, CTO of FeedbackFruits, gives insights on the effects of the pandemic on EdTech and how FeedbackFruits is managing the changing needs of higher education institutions.
What is the impact that the COVID19 pandemic had on FeedbackFruits?
All over the world, universities and other institutions in higher education had to move their education from lecture halls to online platforms. Some institutions already invested in digital tools, others were in desperate need of online solutions. We immediately decided to make some of our tools available for free. We expected this to generate a lot of additional traffic, but we are able to handle the load, and we want to help.
From a technical perspective, what were the challenges that FeedbackFruits had to overcome with the increase of usage and activity on its platform?
Quickly after many universities switched to online education, we saw a significant spike of usage in all of Europe, US, and Australia regions. The number of learning activities in the second half of March doubled compared to the first half, and the number of new users has been increasing more rapidly than ever. As it looks like institutions are planning to continue with fully digital education during the next academic year, we expect this load to keep on increasing. Fortunately, we have had a scalable architecture from the beginning. The increase in usage has not been a problem for us so far.
Next to being able to handle so many people being online at the same time, we also saw very large classes using FeedbackFruits. We continuously monitor the performance of our platform and we keep improving the experience for our users.
According to your observations, what solutions are teachers looking for in this period?
We see an increase in learning activities that can be executed in an asynchronous fashion, like peer review assignments. Teachers set up an assignment for students to hand-in before a deadline, and they can review each other's work at a time that is suitable for them. With notifications we make sure the feedback reaches the students in time, and they will have the opportunity to respond and discuss with each other. At the same time, in-class tools like interactive presentations, are less demanded now. Our expectation is that learning will keep on developing in this direction, with less massive contact hours, and a better spread of activity over time.
How does FeedbackFruits answer those needs?
Even more than before, we are putting all our efforts into improving the workflow for teachers and students. With the current situation in mind, we’re developing features that will allow digital education to scale, and to be just as motivating and engaging as personal education. Recently we have started testing a new tool that can generate automated feedback on written work.
This will allow teachers to spend more time using their knowledge to give domain-specific feedback, while we point students at missing references, mark-up problems, language usage, and many more potential improvements.
Photo credit: Thanks to Tiffany Gunning and Catherine Fraser from Deakin University for sharing this picture.