FeedbackFruits: Seeking evolution not revolution
FeedbackFruits doesn’t want a revolution. Although their approach is original, CEO Ewoud de Kok sees himself as part of a system that requires change from within rather than a radical overhaul from outside. The how of education may have changed but the why hasn’t. FeedbackFruits is committed to educational institutions and the creation of deep thinking, critical and self-reflecting individuals, to live in a democratic society filled with complex challenges.
But how they do it is still pretty interesting.
For FeedbackFruits a big problem with modern Higher Education is traditional course design – it’s boring, it’s static, it turns students into consumers even if they don’t realize it. Teachers need learning activities which spark students’ thinking rather than just churning out content. The stereotype of the teacher as the unchallenged and ultimate repository of knowledge isn’t helping anyone.
FeedbackFruits is deeply empathetic to professors and teachers reluctant to make big changes . Ewoud points out that a 95% satisfaction rate in any other industry would be considered a rip-roaring success. But as a teacher if that 5% (or 1 student) confronts you, it’s embarrassing and hugely destabilizing. That means trying new ideas comes with attendant risks.
So how can teachers – who are often pressed for time and have little training in digital technologies or course design – create activities to encourage curiosity and criticality? FeedbackFruits has a solution.
Innovative pedagogies already exist. Teaching staff around the world already have interesting ideas about how to spark their students’ enthusiasm. But up till now, it has been a big challenge to properly organize them in a course. They just don’t necessarily have the means to digitize them or share them on a large scale. FeedbackFruits seeks out already successful approaches to active learning designs. They take validated ideas from teaching staff (with their cooperation and consent) and stick them in what they call, a DoTank (a Do Tank is like a Think Tank but with less talking, and more doing). The team works to make ideas scalable and integrated digitally, so they can be used by anyone. Once an idea is ready for broader use it gets added to the FeedbackFruits Learning Activities store. Teachers and course designers with access can look through the store and select a learning activity that makes sense for their situation, which can be directly implemented into their Learning Management System.
Examples of learning activities are things like peer feedback, argument mapping and interactive study materials, with the store expanding all the time. FeedbackFruits works with teachers and HE professionals to integrate the tools, doing extensive implementation work as well as constantly seeking feedback. A close relationship with teachers around the world, not just in the Netherlands, has meant that the Learning Activities produced are diverse as well as helpful.
Learning activities are also designed to be flexible so they can be used in a variety of contexts and subject matters. This is particularly helpful as many EdTech platforms focus on the hard sciences – seeing them as ‘easier’ to teach digitally. The flexibility of the FeedbackFruits approach means that humanities and social sciences can also benefit from the potential creativity and efficiency of digital learning.
FeedbackFruits is currently working with around 80% of Dutch HE institutions. If that wasn’t enough, they also work with Deakin,, MIT and Texas Tech among other international giants. FeedbackFruits is successful enough to have avoided investor funding, instead operating on cash flow and growing year by year.
Many universities and institutes have the idea that digital learning activities are nice-to-have things – desirable but not necessary. Ewoud and FeedbackFruits want to change that. They believe that engaging learning activities and flexible course design is available and necessary for all teaching. The aim for the next 5 years is to make exciting course design a must-have rather than a nice-to-have.
What’s fascinating about FeedbackFruits is its clear assessment of the current status of education. Unlike some EdTech startups who fixate on ‘disrupting’ the industry and rewriting the rules, FeedbackFruits has instead chosen to work with the current system, to provide a path for innovation and creativity which is often lacking in university bureaucracy. The process of developing learning activities allows teachers and professors to become involved in the innovation themselves, while creating a process which compliments and enhances traditional university teaching rather than overthrowing it.
FeedbackFruits understands the position of software as subordinate to pedagogy but positions itself as a halfway point between the two, allowing them to support and enhance each other.
Furthermore, FeedbackFruits operates in response to their end goal – creating thoughtful, engaged and critical citizens for the future. While work-specific skills training is becoming increasingly popular, FeedbackFruits stands behind universities as seats of true learning and independent thought. Universities just need a little help sometimes.
To learn more about FeedbackFruits, visit their website at https://feedbackfruits.com/