Edtech Champion Peergrade: Improved Learning With Peer Assessment
Have you or your teachers used peer feedback before? If not, you should look into this. Online platforms can empower teachers to create better students by letting students take part in evaluation and feedback. This idea was developed by David Kofoed Wind, Co-founder and CEO of Peergrade. We talked to him about what Peergrade offers and how this plays into the grand scheme of things concerning Edtech.
About Your Startup
Please introduce yourself briefly. Who are you and what do you do?
I am co-founder and CEO of Peergrade and a PhD student in machine learning at The Technical University of Denmark. Peergrade is a tool to help educators and their students run peer feedback sessions in class. My research is about general machine learning and learning analytics applied to peer feedback.
Why edtech and what was your pathway into the field?
It started with scratching my own itch. I have been teaching a course for a few years and when the course grew from 20 to 150 students I decided to build Peergrade to make grading more effective. It is important for me to build a product that is not just a good business but also helps people learn more.
What has been your biggest professional challenge so far?
Transitioning from being a technical person to being a manager has (and is) a large challenge. The skills I need in my current job are very different and it is much harder to figure out if you are doing a good job. Hiring great people, convincing investors and building a culture we can be proud of is something we always work hard on.
What is the unique appeal of the company you lead? How do you distinguish yourself from competitors of your industry?
We are a very product-focused company. Most companies in our industry either come from a sales background and focus on how to make large institutional sales, or it is a teacher who starts building an app without any experience in building good solid user experience.
How is your core team composed? What was your motivation?
Besides myself, our team is 5 people working on different aspects of the product and one person helping with marketing and content creation.
To what extent do you interact across the world, and how important are international markets for your company?
We have users in more than 100 countries, and we truly believe that Peergrade is a product that is going to be used everywhere. We started with a product in English to make immediate internationalization easier, and we will continue efforts to localize our product to enter new markets.
On The Appeal of Edtech
How do you perceive the current labor market of the “edtech-Industry” in general, and how does it modify the demand for employees in your company at the moment?
When it comes to product development, there is not a very specific EdTech market – a developer who can build a good consumer product can probably also work in EdTech. When it comes to sales, there is a need for more people who have combined knowledge of education, software sales, and sales management.
Which game-changing product can we look forward to?
We just released Peergrade Live which is a way for teachers to run peer feedback sessions in their classes in just a few clicks. This is a product we are very proud of and if you have not tried it yet, you should definitely give it a spin!
How is edtech going to change our lives and society in 5, 10 and 25 years?
EdTech is going to do two things. It will solve some of the “easy” problems like providing lectures to students around the world and evening out the unequal educational situation in the world. This will leave teachers with time for the hard things, like mentoring students. Additionally, technology will open new opportunities for collaboration on a range of levels.
What was the reason for your focus on digital?
Peer feedback is an old concept and today many teachers do it by letting students swap papers with their neighbor. This is a great idea, but it can be an order of magnitude more effective with technology. Anonymity, rubrics, an overview of feedback, smart allocation of reviewers, data gathering for teachers – there is a long list of advantages to doing peer feedback digitally.
Do you think that there is a need for a digital transformation in your industry? Why?
I believe that education – like any other industry – can benefit tremendously from a digital transformation. Generally, people are scared of and skeptical of technology, but usually because they think of technology as replacing instead of augmenting. By using technology, teachers and students can become more effective.
Peergrade’s Success Story
What is your success story about?
I don’t have a specific story in mind, but each day teachers write to us about how Peergrade is making their classroom better and improving education for their students. Making a product for myself, and later seeing teachers using it in a variety of ways is a great feeling and one that continuously pushes us ahead.
What challenges in your business or industry influenced you to look for a solution?
Grading in higher education is a huge challenge. Teachers spend a huge amount of time on grading, and all research shows that receiving a grade has very little (or negative) effect on student performance. By letting students partake in the assessment process, they learn a lot more and teachers can reallocate their time to impactful alternatives.
What is your secret to success?
One of the reasons we have been able to build a product that users love is that we have built a product for ourselves. We still teach classes with Peergrade and we are some of the first people to know if we are not delivering on our value proposition.
What learning can you share with other startups?
When you are building a solution for education, you will often end up in a situation where you have multiple stakeholders (in our case students, teachers, and institutions). This is a real challenge, and you will be forced to find product-market fit multiple times. If possible, try to focus on a certain type of user and even better, find a user who is also a buyer.
Other than profit, why do you and your colleagues do what you do?
We are extremely motivated to make improvements to the way students learn and approach education. To fit into the job market of the future, skills such as critical thinking, communication and learning to learn are more important than programming or Excel. Letting students become teachers in their own classes is an incredible way to teach these skills in an engaging way.
For Enthusiasts And Students Interested In Edtech
What can your company offer that other employers cannot?
In Peergrade we put a lot of emphasis on having all team members very close to the product. No matter if you are in sales, marketing or development you are expected to know the product, talk to customers and propose ideas for how to improve Peergrade. This is a great challenge and an even bigger opportunity for employees to influence the path of Peergrade.
Which basic qualifications should an employee fulfill to get employed at your company? What are basic requirements to getting started?
If you want to get a job at Peergrade you have to be ready to work hard, challenge ideas and listen to users. We take our work very seriously, and everyone on the team is asked to participate in discussions about new features and decisions. The best way to contribute to those conversations is to talk to our users.
What is important in a job application at the “edtech-Sector”? What are the differences to job applications compared to other jobs?
One of the things I often miss in applications is a genuine understanding of how education works. Teachers and lecturers are a special type of users, and they care about specific things. It is important that people working in EdTech acknowledge this and are interested in learning and listening.
David, thank you so much for these insights!
About The Interviewee
David Kofoed Wind had the idea for Peergrade while writing his PhD on Machine Learning. At the same time he was teaching a masters course and when the course suddenly grew from 20 to 130 students, it became clear that it would not be possible to keep grading and giving feedback to all students in the usual way.
Consequently, Peergrade.io was born with the idea of letting students partake in the evaluation process as a way to provide them with more feedback and a possibility for extended learning. Other teachers immediately realized the potential of the idea and joined in.
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