The pandemic pushed the boundaries and the opportunities for the Edtech companies across the globe. The developments and the innovations that were slated for a year or two later in the future, were rushed in through the development process and introduced into the market during the Covid-19 pandemic period. Several online education platforms were under the scanner and were put through the acid test to survive the rising competition in the market. The edtech market saw a huge bump in its valuation when several Fortune-listed MNCs opened their repository to bestow their support to some of the innovative companies that mushroomed during the pandemic.
The rising competition, although helped improve the accessibility to quality education, affected the life and working style of the educators. There have been a rising number of reports of teaching staff clocking in extra hours, thus hampering their work-life balance. It has also been observed that the teaching staff is spending more than 50 percent of their time on non-teaching tasks.
According to a survey report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Singaporean teachers are clocking in an average of 46 hours a week, which is still higher than the global average of 39 hours for their international counterparts. According to the survey, the teachers were spending only 18 hours on teaching, while the rest of the time was spent on administrative tasks and other school activities.
In order to tackle the woes of educators within the education system Noodle Factory has introduced a solution that combines AI, chatbot and a few other tools that reduce their workload. We spoke to Yvonne Soh and Dr Jim Wagstaff, the founders of Noodle Factory to understand some of their services and solutions for the educators.
Meet the Founders
Jim and Yvonne are educators themselves. They have been actively involved with a corporate training company. For the past 12 years, they have been carrying out bespoke training for companies and for adults who were looking for upskilling. Explaining the spark that led to the birth of Noodle Factory, Yvonne explains, “Technology should be actively used to make learning easier. We always incorporated technology in our portfolio, be it mobile apps or e-learning apps to complement the real offline training process.”
What is Noodle Factory?
It is with the evolutions of the online education platforms that Yvonne and Jim realised that there is a limitation to how much the educators could be upskilled due to the time restraints in the daily routines. That is where Noodle Factory came in with an AI-simulation program that simulates the entire mentor-student interaction. The AI-enabled chatbots are programmed to simulate and execute the common responses for students’ queries. However, the biggest problem of these AI-based chatbots is that they were never intended for the education sector. They were always intended to serve the customer service sectors. Thus, Noodle Factory developed its own chatbot with an intuitive interface for the students and easy for the educators while developing the contents.
Teaching the chatbots to behave like teachers
The founders revealed that the main design principle that went in during the development of the chatbot was mimicking the interactions between a teacher and a student. Noodle Factory is using the tutoring relationship or the mentoring relationships as an analogy to take the entire physical world experience to the digital world.
Jim explains, “The initial guiding principle that we had was creating the environment where the students could experience a natural conversation and explore the content, understand the concepts, and take the initiative of participating in various assessments.”
Noodle Factory is using Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithm which was indigenously created by its team. Yvonne observes, based on the experience and the feedback from the schools they have tied up with, “It takes only a few days to train the bot with the entire semester of content. Normally, it would take a lot of time to predict the probable queries the students would face while studying a particular concept so the teachers or the content developers have to factor in all those questions and develop the answers accordingly. We have automated a lot of that process using AI.”
Yvonne revealed that in their platform, the teachers have to just drop in their content, be it in the PDF format or PPT format, and the AI scans and analyses the entire database to form a set of questions and answers and classifies them into different subject areas. The students could immediately engage with it as soon as the bot goes live. The teachers could curate the content prepared by the AI and make all the necessary customizations, wherever needed, thus saving a lot of time for the teachers.
Gifting Teachers with superpowers
One of the main issues with the edtech platforms is that the content needs to be reformatted into the format which the software algorithm supports and this is one issue that Yvonne and Jim addressed right from the initial coding stages of the AI algorithm. Jim confirmed, “We do not intend to replace the classroom experience, but look to make it more effective for the students and more productive for the teachers. There are many edtech platforms that are student-focused but we are more into making the teacher’s task more productive. We are not looking to replace the teachers, but helping them become more productive with their time.
Sharing one of her experiences with a school in Singapore, Yvonne said, “This one particular school had large classroom strengths and most of the time the teachers were spending their weekends and many nights on the assessment papers. These papers used to have many open-ended questions, so it was required of them to give feedback. However, once the AI platform was tasked to do the same job it really improved the lives of the teachers.”
As per reports, the longest hours have been recorded by Japan while Singapore has recorded the seventh longest working hours in the world. In Singapore, there is a big emphasis on preparing for the exams, which also includes many of the mock exams and this tends to take a toll on the teachers.
Initiating positive outcomes
During the pandemic, Noodle Factory did an outreach program to help the teachers to be more effective in the virtual environment. Turns out that for a lot of teachers, the whole virtual class experience was very new and Jim and Yvonne came up with a packaged program to help improve the experience of the teachers and the students in the virtual world. In September 2021, they did another outreach programme to help teachers reduce their working hours and thus reduce their stress levels. At the end of the day, it is all about coming up with a positive outcome for the teachers and the students.
Talking about government initiatives, there have been some concerns raised for improving the student-mentor relationship in Singapore and how to reduce the emphasis on the exams. Noodle Factory is trying to be as agnostic as possible wherein, it is only providing the platform and not the content. Yvonne explains that Noodle Factory can be plugged into any existing Learning management platforms. Jim explains that the entire idea behind Noodle Factory is making the platform agile enough to suit the education needs of any state structures, be it of Singapore or of Finland.
Noodle Factory was developed and introduced into the market just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit across the globe. Jim believes that once normalcy kicks in and students finally come back to the schools, the educators would be more inclined towards a more hybrid approach to the curriculum with the fusion of the real classroom experience and the benefits of the online concept learning platforms. He considers that technologies like Noodle Factory would be complementary to many different ways of educating. The pandemic period highlighted the benefits of certain online learning outcomes and in the post-pandemic period this experience is only going to promote such fruitful learning outcomes using technology as an extension of the teacher-student experience.
Future of Education is empowering the Educators
One of the key focus areas for Noodle Factory is improving the usage of analytics into the entire teaching module. Sensing the sentiments and the interest levels of the students so that teachers could customize the curriculum according to the interests of each student is a concept in progress. It is also looking to integrate different APIs (Application Programming Interface) into the platform. Noodle Factory has entered the Australian markets recently and is working towards entering the US markets in the near future. When prodded about her plans for entering the Indian, Chinese or the Middle East countries, Yvonne said, “Right now, the NLP works the best with the English language. It is based on the dataset and English has a large dataset in comparison to some of the other languages. So we are exploring other languages and hope to build partnerships as well.”
On a closing note, Jim revealed, “This has been kind of our tagline here in Noodle Factory. Teachers have always been our heroes and what we are trying to do is make them superheroes. Giving them these technologies is like giving them superpowers. With these tools, we want to give them abilities that they always aspired to have.”
Article by Ujal Nair