Have you heard of Oilproject? If you reside outside of Italy, probably not. Started by 25 year old Marco De Rossi when he was just 14 and incorporated as a company in 2011, the startup claims to be the largest free online school — or MOOC — in Italy.
That translates into 1.7 million unique visitors per month who, I’m told, spend a combined 18,000-plus hours studying on the site per day.
Building on this traction, and thanks to €500,000 in funding raised last year from Italian VCs TIM Ventures (owned by Telecom Italia) and Club Digitale, Oilproject is launching a new product that is international from the get go.
WeSchool, initially available in English, Spanish and Italian, is aimed at teachers with a product that will go up against established Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as the Moodles of the world, and upstarts like EdModo.
And, unlike MOOCs, it’s not designed with distant learning in mind, but rather how to use various online tools and resources to enhance what already goes on face to face in the classroom.
“Students are less and less engaged in class, hence they learn less,” says De Rossi. “Technology is often times more of a distraction than a useful tool for learning. [There is a] lack of easily usable learning technology and the difficulty of integrating lots of different kinds of content and tools in one experience is part of the problem.”
To that end, taking its inspiration from social networking sites like Facebook and the simplicity of messaging apps, WeSchool is designed to work with an array of third-party content and services, something the company defines as “open and collaborative” but which reminds me of the early promise of so-called ‘e-learning 2.0‘ (or perhaps the internet itself) by taking a ‘small pieces, loosely joined’ approach.
“WeSchool makes it easy to setup a collaborative online environment, usable on any connected device (from desktop to mobile),” explains De Rossi. “With our Boards, it’s possible to integrate any kind of content or external service: a video from Khan Academy, an article from the BBC, Geogebra, Duolingo, a page from Wikipedia, a Google Doc, a file from Dropbox, an Instagram contest. All of these can be blended in a single and unique learning journey”.
For teachers, along with the ability to bring their lessons online, WeSchool provides tools to let them manage deadlines and create tests, combining 9 different types of questions, including video quizzes, crosswords, fill the blanks and pair the cards.
The idea is to turn exercises into “mini games playable from any device,” says the WeSchool founder. “We speak to teachers. They are the ones in the driver’s seat and the ones we want to partner with in changing education”.
The startup’s business model speaks to teachers too, or more specifically their employers. WeSchool plans to charge schools and companies an annual license fee for accessing the software as a service.