Picture this: A biology class on photosynthesis is in session. As the teacher turns to draw the carbon dioxide cycle on the board, the attention of at least 50 per cent of the class wavers to their mobile phones.
However, with the launch of UbQOOL, an online learning platform for students, distractions like instant messaging and short attention spans may just have met their match.
The digital content site will be open to the public after one-and-a-half years of research by founders Ambika Prasad Das, a business developer, Debabrat Mishra, MD of an HR consultancy firm, Jay Mehta, businessman, and Juhi Chawla, actor-producer.
The founders believe that it could be the ideal way to learn, in the information and technology age. “Children love technology, but associate studying with books. Digital content and screen-based learning changes the concept of a classroom, where videos, graphics and games replace textbooks,” explains Mishra, at a coffee shop in Khar.
“We wanted to make a product that would radically impact the way kids are taught in the country,” he adds. Mishra believes that good education largely depends on the quality of teachers, which, in turn, is linked to the spending capacity of parents. “For parents who can afford exorbitant fees, the problem is solved, as they succeed in enrolling their children in the best schools. What about those who cannot afford it? India’s education infrastructure is out of sync,” he feels.
Choose how to learn
For its mid-April release, UbQOOL has tied up with international publishers and content developers, obtained material from the syllabus of the CBSE, ICSE, Andhra and Gujarat board, and made it available on the site in a digital format that includes videos, graphics, games, text and quizzes.
This means that if a child is ‘studying’ photosynthesis, he/she has the option of choosing from a variety of material on the subject, including material available freely on the Internet. “They can choose from four to five methods, which helps them zero in on a teaching method that’s tailored to their strengths and needs. That is not possible for a teacher who handles a class of 50 students,” explains Mishra.
Once the student has learned a piece (not chapter), he / she can self-grade by taking an assessment in the form of gaming templates, direct questions, fill in the blanks, quizzes and so on.
Each one teach one
Citing a statistic obtained during the course of their research, Mishra asks, “Did you know that a student grasps only five per cent of what is taught, while he / she can grasp up to 90 per cent by teaching it to someone else?”
On UbQOOL, therefore, students are encouraged to question and help their friends by answering queries. Those who have just finished learning a piece are asked to answer questions posted by others. This helps them re-check their own concepts, while earning them U dollars (u$), which can be redeemed in exchange for being able to continue using the site in case they cannot afford the subscription fees. UbQOOL dollars can also be earned by visiting sponsored learning videos.
UbQOOL has 65,000 followers on Facebook. The site’s format allows a student to share what he/she learns. “If a student has found a video on photosynthesis worth sharing, he/she can like it and even post it online for his friends, which will be visible on his personal UbQOOL page. This helps them pick up recommended learning material,” shares Mishra.
The social networking model allows the student to share his progress with parents and teachers too, making it a one-stop window to learn, teach, score and check one’s progress.
Monopoly and Messenger
Even if someone signs up as an ICSE or SSC board student on UbQOOL, the site allows him / her to access material from the CBSE syllabus for free. Some teaching material is inspired from popular games to make it more fun. One such game is inspired from Monopoly, where a student must answer a question he is led to by the roll of the dice. Another unique feature of the site is its messenger service that connects children across the globe. Its translation engine allows students all over the world to talk to each other even if they don’t know the language.
Choose your charity
While parents and children can subscribe to the material on the site for a fee, corporates and international publishers will pay to share their content on the site. Part of the earnings will be earmarked for charity causes such as healthcare and education for underprivileged kids, based on votes received by users. “Children can vote for the cause they would like to contribute towards,” explains Mishra.
In the second phase, starting in June, UbQOOL’s founders plan to reach out to rural India and set up learning centres. “When education projects are conducted in rural areas, the quality of material is different. We will offer the same learning tools, which they can master at their own pace. With UbQOOL, we want to prove that even a social cause can have a profit margin if designed carefully,” smiles Mishra.
>> 25,000 digital content pieces
>> Tie up with six international content providers
>> First educational portal with social networking built in
>> A reward system inspired by gaming principles, such as leader boards, medals and scoring