A Digital Operating System For Schools
Israeli start-up Time To Know is out to revolutionize education by building a common operating system and digital core curriculum for schools, radically changing the way teachers and students interact. The company, which has so far won contracts with schools in Israel, Texas and New York, has raised $60 million in funding thanks to one of its backers, Shmuel Meitar, a co-founder of Amdocs, a global customer care and billing software company.
The flaws in today's "chalk and talk" educational system, which has remained pretty much unchanged in the last 100 years, are widely recognized. But attempts to fix it by bolting on computers and connectivity have so far had only limited success, partly because of a lack of relevant educational content and software tools.
"What is needed is a holistic approach," says Dovi Weiss, Time to Know's Chief Pedagogical Officer and a company co-founder. Enter Time to Know's Web- based infrastructure software, which serves as a digital teaching platform. The software functions as an operating system for teaching, learning and assessment in the classroom. Its uniqueness is that it is based on core curriculum subjects such as math, language arts (reading, writing and comprehension) as well as English as a second or foreign language. And it supports a lot of real time functions, allowing teachers to get immediate feedback on which students in the classroom get it and which don't.
"What we are building is a partnership between teachers and technology," says Weiss. Time To Know's digital platform, which was developed by a team of some 340 educators, software developers and graphic and creative designers, is "one of the major pillars" of a five-year country- wide plan to increase the use of computers inside Israeli schools, says Weiss. The company hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at one of the schools using Time to Know technology on June 3 to demonstrate how the software can not only help make learning more fun and interactive but increase understanding of complex mathematical concepts and improve language listening and comprehension skills.
Weiss and Time To Know co-founders Molly Globus and Paz Litman have been invited to travel with Israeli President Shimon Peres to S. Korea the week of June 7 as part of a delegation to advance Israeli interests in that country. "Education is a very high national priority in Korea so it is a very logical match," says Weiss.
The Israeli start-up's technology is also being tested as part of New York City's Innovation Zone (iZone) program. In June, New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein announced that twenty of the 81 schools in NY's iZone project will implement Time-to-Know's digital platform and interactive curriculum in the 2010-2011 school year. Some 63 fourth and fifth grade classes will use Time to Know's technology. The iZone pilot sites are testing ways that content is taught to allow more customization.
Time to Know's digital platform currently covers grades four to six but plans are to expand it to grades three to nine, says Weiss. Time to Know is already working on an English as a Foreign Language edition of the core curriculum software in Arabic and is seeking strategic partners in Spanish-speaking countries and other parts of the world. "The same digital platform can be used in primary schools in all countries, "says Weiss. "Using our content tools strategic partners will be able to adapt it to the local education system."
Of course, schools adopting the system need to equipment each classroom with a projector and provide every teacher and every student with laptop and wireless Internet connectivity. But since the software is web-based no time or money is lost installing the software on computers.
Time to Know, which is located in a cheerfully painted former girls college in Jaffa , prides itself on the very user-friendly interface it has developed for teachers . Only two days of orientation training is needed, says Weiss. Teachers can plan their lessons by adapting the core curriculum software to fit teaching styles and local requirements either by selecting pre-defined lesson sequences containing animations, exploration activities, games and videos, or mixing and matching to create their own. Click on the video interview with Informilo below to hear more about how Time To Know's technology and strategy.
Teachers control what is happening in the classroom via a digital dashboard which allows them to launch, pause and switch learning activities on each student's computer or on the whiteboard. They can also shift between class, group and individualized instruction. As the lesson progresses students are asked to answer questions on their laptops and the status of the students is forwarded to the teacher automatically. The platform then allows teachers to assign, in real-time in the classroom, individualized assignments that match each students' grasp of the subject.
Enabling students to learn at their own pace and according to their own proficiency levels makes the complex task of teaching students with differing needs easier for teachers, says Weiss. It will also help schools to save money because classroom sizes can be bigger without negatively impacting students, he says. Weiss says that adding just one student per class will pay for the price of the software. Pricing depends on the number of students using the system and the amount of content they consume.
Of course, integrating technology into the heart of a school's curriculum will require some tech support. Weiss says he figures that every school with 500 students or more will have to start employing at least one IT specialist. "Any organization using tech in a meaningful way can not do without an IT person," he says.
Thanks to Meitar, Time to Know has been able to develop the technology by tapping into the resources and expertise of the Aurec Group, an international investment group with a 40-year track record of building over a dozen operating companies from inception to maturity, in industries such as media, communication, enterprise software and advertising. (Meitar is a co-founder and an executive of the Aurec Group).
The next step is for Time To Know to find strategic partners that will help it expand internationally. "Our strategy is to find very strong local partners who will be able to take our technology and knowhow to create the system and content for the local country," says Weiss. "We are looking for powerful publishers or an IT company with the capability to pedagogically and technically support our system."
There is a strong incentive for schools around the world to move to 21st century teaching methods, says Weiss. Students who use multimedia tools outside the classroom don't learn effectively in classrooms using outdated, dry methods such as "chalk and talk" or "drill and kill,". And, teachers have difficulty tracking students' process without the benefit of real-time hard data, meaning many students end up falling behind.
But the real selling point may very well be economic. Time to Know's software will save money because schools can add more students without hiring more teachers. What's more, schools using traditional methods are not churning out students prepared for 21st century careers. If Time to Know can help solve that issue it could positively impact the global economy, making that tough assignment a little easier for governments around the world.