“The only thing that hasn’t changed [in education] is we still need good teachers – tech alone doesn’t capture hearts and minds.” – Ben Ravilious, UK
New teaching approaches like MOOCs and the flipped classroom may be making traditional chalk-and-talk lectures a thing of the past, but there’s no substitute for a compelling – and live – presentation. And as every good presenter knows, audience interaction is what separates a boring lecture from one that motivates and inspires.
For ParticiPoll co-founder Ben Ravilious, “death by PowerPoint” describes a phenomenon that often hampers good communication. What he’s referring to is that one-way style of presenting that’s long on content, but short on engagement.
That insight, formed by over a decade of experience creating websites for business clients, led Ravilious to form a new start-up: ParticiPoll. Not really an app, ParticiPoll is a free PowerPoint plug-in that enables live classroom polling – without special hardware or expensive software. The plug-in works seamlessly to enable students to respond to questions, provide feedback and generally play an active role in the lecture.
Unlike other similar solutions, ParticiPoll doesn’t require teachers to pre-load questions, making the interaction far more spontaneous. It also doesn’t require the clickers that have become so ubiquitous in recent years. For Ravilious, simple technology that doesn’t require high-level decisions (or investment) is key to getting teachers’ attention.
“Educators are bombarded with new tech products which claim to reinvent teaching,” Ravilious says, “but it’s a very old profession and time-honored class activities will never change completely — however much tech you throw at them. So the trick is to provide simple tech that complements or livens-up what teachers are already doing.”
We applaud Ravilious and ParticiPoll’s efforts to help teachers engage students. Check out the ParticiPoll plug-in here, and enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Ben Ravilious.
What inspired you to start making education-based apps?
My 12-year-old web development agency, Ultimateweb, had a bit of an epiphany a couple of years ago. We realised that if we wanted to become more successful we needed to get involved in start-ups and joint ventures. In a wonderful bit of serendipity a few weeks after, I was introduced to a math lecturer at my alma mater, University of Leicester, who had this fantastic idea for a classroom polling app that he wanted to bring to market. The rest, as they say, is history…
What advice would you give to someone who wants to create education apps?
Teachers can be pretty hard to reach from a marketing perspective. They don’t tend to respond to traditional advertising particularly well and they often don’t have direct control of budget for tech and apps. What works well is to provide free or cheap tools that they’ll readily share with their colleagues and peers. Most of our engagement for ParticiPoll is driven through educational technology blogs and word of mouth.
How have apps/mobile devices changed the way you view education?
Totally! I graduated nearly 20 years ago, and back then it was all still chalkboards with a few people using overhead projectors. Nowadays, it’s all about PowerPoint, Prezi, Blackboard, Edmodo, MOOCs, Udacity, flipped classrooms, etc. The only thing that hasn’t changed is we still need good teachers – tech alone doesn’t capture hearts and minds.
About Ben Ravilious, Co-founder, ParticiPoll
With a background in programming, Ben Ravilious co-founded Ultimateweb Ltd with Ian Scotland in 2002. He is good at listening to customers and explaining often complex technical things in a way that anyone can understand. Ravilious represents Leicester Civic Society on the City Centre Management Board and uses his technical expertise to help promote the city.
For more on Ben Ravilious and his approach to technology and entrepreneurship, see this interview.