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Kids are sick of Zoom too—so their teachers are getting creative

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A few times a week, Vincent Buyssens’s students in Antwerp, Belgium’s Thomas More University College get on Instagram while he’s lecturing about creative strategy. They swipe through stories, add posts to their profile, and get lost in rabbit holes. But they’re not being surreptitious about it; in fact, Buyssens requires those taking his college course to use the app. The more they scroll during his lecture, the better.

“I teach social media storytelling,” he says. “There’s no way I was going to teach Instagram via Zoom, because it didn’t feel right.”

Buyssens is not the only teacher now moving beyond Zoom to reach out to students during this very strange school year. 

Zoom fatigue, after all, is real. Staring at boxes of yourself and others on a screen has been shown to induce not only eye strain but the flight-or-fight response; it’s not natural to have someone staring at you just a few inches from your face. After nine months online, the novelty has worn off.

So it’s no wonder that teachers across the world are trying to spice up their virtual lesson plans by meeting their students where they spend their free time and attention: on social media platforms and games. Subreddits devoted to education and teaching are frequently peppered with questions about how to integrate games and social media into teaching. Minecraft, the popular city-building video game, has a launch page devoted to teachers who want to use the game in their classrooms.

Beyond pedagogy, teachers are seeking to rekindle their connection with their students. One kindergarten teacher told the New York Times that TikToks keep her students “engaged and looking at me.” This fall’s hottest breakout mobile game, Among Us, has been integrated into lessons as well, with one student telling the Times that it can “help students to be emotionally patient with their classmates and understand different perspectives.”

Buyssens says his students are engaged and active in class discussions, which occur in the chat while he’s on Instagram Live. If a student misses class, no big deal: he uploads notes to be saved as stories, each slide carefully done in a template to optimize space in portrait mode.

“For me, it’s very important that it’s not a gimmick,” Buyssens says. “The students will see through it if they know you’re just doing it to get them on Instagram. You have to show that the subject you are teaching works on Instagram or TikTok or Twitch.”

Using Instagram might seem logical for Buyssens: he’s a millennial teaching Gen Z students how to use social media for advertising and creative strategy. 

But many teachers remain skeptical about fully embracing platforms that haven’t conventionally been associated with work or school. A survey conducted in June by the Education Week Research Center found that 63% of English teachers and 57% of math teachers considered Zoom and Google Docs to be effective. When it came to video games, however, educators were more wary: 27% of English teachers and 46% of math teachers reported them to be effective.

Still, teachers of old-school subjects are experimenting too. Philip Williams, a librarian who teaches physics classes in a Singapore school, has used games on Roblox, a popular platform for the preteen set.

“The students had just been making Rube Goldberg machines when we went into covid lockdown,” Williams says. “It was a natural connection to explore the Roblox physics engine by creating a chain-reaction simulation.”

The experiment was so successful that Williams figured he’d keep using Roblox to teach into the new school year, saying one big advantage is that the kids look forward to class.

When using games, “I do very little direct teaching,” he says. “Instead, I aim to create a lively community of practice. I join in when support is required to maintain constructive interactions, to ask questions to stretch their thinking and to encourage them to continue to extend their skills in new ways.”

What works for kids could work for adults, too. Are Zoom meetings really the most productive way to share ideas? Some companies are willing to bet that that the new work-from-home dynamic will require newer ways to meet. Microsoft Teams is pushing its Together Mode, which transposes digital cutouts of individuals into settings as varied as classrooms or coffee shops (with holiday avatars to boot). Some companies, like Teeoh, are attempting to gamify the traditional office meeting; other workplaces are nixing Zoom calls for video-game get-togethers like those in Red Dead Redemption 2.

For both adults and kids, the key to a productive group session is engagement, and as the safety precautions surrounding the pandemic continue into the new year, group leaders of all types will increasingly seek new routines to keep people of all ages interested as they take part from home.

And after seeing response from students, many teachers don’t foresee going back to normal. “The learning opportunities are in front of us,” says Williams. “We just need to pay attention and support [students].”

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Donald Trump is one of 15,000 Gab users whose account just got hacked

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Promotional image for social media site Gab says

Enlarge (credit: Gab.com)

The founder of the far-right social media platform Gab said that the private account of former President Donald Trump was among the data stolen and publicly released by hackers who recently breached the site.

In a statement on Sunday, founder Andrew Torba used a transphobic slur to refer to Emma Best, the co-founder of Distributed Denial of Secrets. The statement confirmed claims the WikiLeaks-style group made on Monday that it obtained 70GB of passwords, private posts, and more from Gab and was making them available to select researchers and journalists. The data, Best said, was provided by an unidentified hacker who breached Gab by exploiting a SQL-injection vulnerability in its code.

“My account and Trump’s account were compromised, of course as Trump is about to go on stage and speak,” Torba wrote on Sunday as Trump was about to speak at the CPAC conference in Florida. “The entire company is all hands investigating what happened and working to trace and patch the problem.”

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Kaltura files to go public on the back of accelerating revenue growth, rising losses

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Kaltura, a software company focused on providing video technology to other concerns, has filed to go public.

The Kaltura S-1 filing only partially surprised. TechCrunch previously covered the company as part of our ongoing $100 million ARR series focusing on private companies that have reached material scale. (TechCrunch has also covered its product life to a moderate degree.)

The company’s IPO documentation details a business that did more than merely accelerate its growth in 2020, and more specifically, during the COVID-19 era. Seeing a company that powers video tooling do well when much of the world has transitioned to remote work and education is not a bolt from the blue. What is notable, however, is that the company’s revenue growth has accelerated yearly since at least 2018 and its final quarter of 2020 placed the company at a new growth rate maximum.

Public investors, hungry for growth, may find such a progression compelling.

Kaltura also has an interesting profitability profile: As its GAAP net losses scaled in the last year, its adjusted profitability improved. Depending on your stance regarding adjusted metrics, Kaltura’s bottom line will either irk or delight you.

This afternoon, let’s rip into the company’s S-1 and yank out what we need to know. It is IPO season, with SPACs galore and other private companies taking more traditional routes to the public markets, including Coupang announcing a price range for its traditional debut today and Coinbase’s impending direct listing.

For now we’ll focus on Kaltura. Let’s get into it.

Inside Kaltura’s IPO filing

When TechCrunch last covered Kaltura’s financial results, we noted that the company founded in 2006 had raised just north of $166 million, crossed the $100 million ARR mark, and was, per its own reporting, “profitable on an EBITDA.” Kaltura also told TechCrunch that it had margins in the 60% range and was growing at around 25% year over year. That was just over a year ago.

Do those figures hold up? In the Q1 2020 period Kaltura recorded $25.9 million in revenue, software margins of around 78% and blended gross margins of 59.8%. And the company had grown 16.6% from the year-ago quarter. In Kaltura’s defense, the company’s growth accelerated to 24% in the year, so its self-reported numbers were mostly fair. Better than, I think, most numbers we get from private companies.

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Square’s bank arm launches as fintech aims ‘to operate more nimbly’

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Known for its innovations in the payments sector, Square is now officially a bank.

Nearly one year after receiving conditional approval, Square said Monday afternoon that its industrial bank, Square Financial Services, has begun operationsSquare Financial Services completed the charter approval process with the FDIC and Utah Department of Financial Institutions, meaning its ready for business.

The bank, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, will offer business loan and deposit products, starting with underwriting, and originating business loans for Square Capital’s existing lending product.

Historically, Square has been known for its card reader and point-of-sale payment system, used largely by small businesses – but it has also begun facilitating credit for the entrepreneurs and smalls businesses who use its products in recent years.

Moving forward, Square said its bank will be the “primary provider of financing for Square sellers across the U.S.”

In a statement, Square CFO and executive chairman for Square Financial Services, Amrita Ahuja said that bringing banking capability in house will allow the fintech to “operate more nimbly.”

Square Financial Services will continue to sell loans to third-party investors and limit balance sheet exposure. The company said it does not expect the bank to have a material impact on its consolidated balance sheet, total net revenue, gross profit, or adjusted EBITDA in 2021.

Opening the bank “deepens Square’s unique ability to expand access to loans and banking tools to underserved populations,” the company said.

Lewis Goodwin had been tapped to serve as the bank’s CEO, and Brandon Soto its CFO. With today’s announcement, Square also announced the following new appointments:

  • Sharad Bhasker, Chief Risk Officer
  • Samantha Ku, Chief Operating Officer
  • Homam Maalouf, Chief Credit Officer
  • David Grodsky, Chief Compliance Officer
  • Jessica Jiang, Capital Markets and Investor Relations Lead

The trend of fintechs becoming bank continues. In February, TechCrunch reported on the fact that Brex had applied for a bank charter.

The fast-growing company, which sells a credit card tailored for startups with Emigrant Bank currently acting as the issuer, said that it had submitted an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions (UDFI) to establish Brex Bank.

A number of fintech companies, or those with fintech services, have spun up products typically offered by banks, including deposit and chequings accounts as well as credit offerings. Often, these are designed to provide capital to customers who might not be able to get funding on favorable terms from traditional banking institutions, but who might qualify for business-building loans from a provider who knows their company, like Square, inside and out.

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