Just a few days before the end of 2020, we had the opportunity to sit down with Ewoud de Kok, CEO of FeedbackFruits, for a chat about the ups and downs of the past year. He joined us from his remote office, a living community situated in an old monastery.
Ewoud’s journey and the idea behind FeedbackFruits began at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, after he decided to take action against the passive coursework he had encountered during his MSc. Sustainable Energy Technology.
As a passionate lifelong learner, Ewoud’s vision was to change the way education is designed, by increasing interactivity and collaboration in course design. FeedbackFruits, under Ewoud’s leadership, scaled up to now providing a tool suite of several online learning solutions that drive student engagement while increasing teacher productivity in higher education institutions.
FeedbackFruits has achieved fast international growth, currently handling and enhancing more than 3 million learning activities, which are spread over a variety of courses worldwide. From winning the award for Creative Commons Licensing Integration for EdX, to the more recent partnership with Microsoft, the company’s mission to make every course in the world engaging by driving pedagogical innovation definitely looks promising.
The one-hour interview has been full of inspiring stories from Ewoud: how the changes COVID-19 has brought to the world of higher education and also to FeedbackFruits, what challenges emerged and what achievements were accomplished, as well as the future directions to fulfill the company's educational mission.
Could you tell us how you planted the seed of FeedbackFruits? Education wasn’t my focus in the beginning, as I chose to study sustainability at university. However, I soon realized that sustainable energy is not the ultimate solution to the root of all the problems. Green energy can undoubtedly tackle climate change, but not societal challenges. It is education that would be the well-rounded answer to all problems.
Why so? Technological changes have exposed us to endless information input, which entails the ability to analyse, evaluate and make wise decisions. Such ability is absolutely critical in a democratic society, in which decisions are driven by wisdom of the crowd. This is where education comes in, as the driver behind an individual's critical thinking and decision making. Improving educational quality, that’s what constitutes FeedbackFruits and the journey we have been taking since the beginning.
This had just remained a wish, an idea for me, until that short break by the coffee machine some years ago at TU Delft. As we got ourselves prepared for the next lesson, my classmates and I shared ideas on improving the lectures. What struck me at that moment was how uninteractive our education has been: teacher enters the classroom, teaches then exits, all the verbal exchanges are restricted to formal greetings and academic content.
"That marks the starting point for my mission, for our company’s mission: we want to generate feedback for teachers, and use these feedback to help them improve the course design process."
This vision is clearly reflected in the name of our company - FeedbackFruits: the fruit we can attain from the feedback process.
In order to improve feedback and eventually educational quality, human interaction is the key. Learning technologies play a crucial role in fostering better, deeper learning interactions. In my opinion:
"Technology should make more room for better, and deeper human interaction."
When the pandemic happened, what were the major changes FeedbackFruits experienced? And how did FeedbackFruits cope with such changes? The pandemic has indeed sent us all into a whirlwind of challenges and transformation. Amid this period, I would like to remark on two major changes.
A more demanding industry: All of a sudden, we are all 5 years forward in the future. No-one ever expected the educational transformation to go this quickly, which produced both benefits and downsides. On the one had, people became more familiar, flexible in experimenting with new types of learning. On the other hand, in an effort to compromise academic integrity, institutions tried to shape remote learning according to the traditional, face-to-face mode. This is painful for both teachers and students. What is missing is the appropriate course design that tailors to the needs of online learning.
Different work design: The pandemic forces us to work remotely. It is interesting to see how similar it is between course design and work design, as both experienced major changes and reshaping. As a group of innovators, we very much enjoy that experience. More opportunities for innovation, creativity and transformation. Having to reach balance among different work modes, we would eventually find ourselves in a more flexible teaching and working style. Flexibility is of course the key here, being able to scale up and scale down when necessary.
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