October 31, 2016

Sensavis Rising

Since we were on the topic of Sensavis last week, let’s continue. What’s new with this 3D company?

New Content.  Always striving to improve their suite of educational simulations, Sensavis
has added a robust segment to their treatment of DNA studies. This includes a comprehensive drill-down look at the entire DNA replication process, moving beyond DNA structure and including captivating simulations on replication, transcription, translation, repelling molecules, and the G-C & T-A molecule.

New Customers. The company has evidently brought some new educational customers to the table, including a school district in Tennessee and the Ministry of Education in Singapore. Apparently, much of the new content coming out was developed for the Ministry of Education in Singapore (but will be made available for all customers). In Singapore, the content is produced centrally, with the Ministry using Sensavis’ simulations to record their own educational videos. The resulting mixes are then utilized in over 180 schools in Singapore.

Personalizing 3D. Sensavis appears to be reaching entirely new markets by taking a new tack: enabling schools and teachers to record their simulations and produce their own videos, with voice annotation and flexible navigation of each simulation.  Mattias Boström, a past school principal and currently Director of Product Development for Sensavis, observes “The most important thing is that teachers don’t generally like to be told what and how to teach. Therefore we have added the capability for teachers to create their own simulations or walkthroughs.”

Fredrik Olofsson, CEO and President of Sensavis, provided an example: “One thing we see happening in Sweden—and all over Europe—is that we have a lot of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries coming into Europe right now, and not many schools have Arabic speaking teachers on staff. So we just signed a contract with a local municipality to help them centrally develop videos for students.”  He adds: “One teacher in Finland has students record simulations and then teach the class for a coming session.” He beams: “Schools are starting to talk about having older students develop videos for younger students.”

The recording that is becoming so popular with educational customers is enabled through a Microsoft plug-in, Office Mix. Office Mix enables teachers or university lecturers to record screen content directly into PowerPoint. Olofsson grins and posits: “Imagine seeing our full HD, high-quality, interactive rendered 3D content in a classroom PowerPoint presentation. Full HD video.” Videos recorded with Office Mix can be uploaded for free into the cloud, then linked or embedded within other resources. This enables the content to be viewed on smartphones, tablets, or low-end laptops. Once uploaded, Mix provides a bevy of analytics and assessment features. 

October 24, 2016

A Case Study

Selling to Schools: A Case Study

Sensavis, the Swedish 3D content company, is experiencing more success at reaching educational customers with their 3D educational science content, the 3D Classroom, than many other content producers I know.  I wanted to discover why, so I spent time interviewing Mattias Boström, a past school principal and currently Director of Product Development for Sensavis,  and Fredrik Olofsson, CEO and President of Sensavis, with this goal in mind.

What I discovered was that Sensavis pursues a different strategy than most companies do. And I think that the folds and creases of this strategy can be informative for any industry hoping to penetrate the stubborn education market.  Here’s what I learned:

It’s all about the teacher. The centerline strategy of Sensavis appears to be their focus on meeting the needs of teachers, not just supporting the curriculum or providing content directly to students. It’s the teacher that matters to Sensavis. For example, “most companies add a lot of text and voiceover to their products, because they want to appeal directly to the student”, suggests Bostrom, who is also an experienced school principal. Sensavis content “leaves room for the teacher”, he explains.  

It starts where the customer is at, not where the technology is at. Most educational customers don’t have the technical wherewithal to broadly implement stereoscopic 3D. As a solution, schools and colleges are urged to invest in the rendered 3D content and make the move to the far superior stereo 3D content when they are ready. (The Sensavis content is provided in both rendered and stereo format, upon purchase.) Rendered 3D can support a variety of classroom formats: flipped, blended, online or face to face settings, without requiring the school to invest in additional hardware. A good example is the Tanglin Trust School in Singapore, which uses both rendered and stereo 3D in the classroom, as needed. 

It’s all about rightsizing. Sensavis has  enabled their content to run on minimal devices, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro and  ordinary teacher computers. I saw their newest simulations running on a Surface Pro, using a minimum i5 processor, 8 gigs ram, while running Microsoft operating system 8 or X with a 64bit installation. Their 3D sims can be run in either rendered 3D, or be connected to a 3D projector/display to run in stereo 3D. Even the rendered 3D is lifelike, full HD, fully interactive content. “We wanted to be able to install our simulations on any teacher’s computer”, explains Boström. 

It’s about user-created content. Oloffson explains: “What really attracts schools is the video recording segment of the product, which enables students and teachers to create their own educational videos.” He explains: “Teachers can manipulate any process in the recording. We recognize that teachers don’t generally like to be told what and how to teach. Therefore we have added the capability for teachers to create their own simulations or walkthroughs.”

It’s about pricing. Sensavis’ pricing strategies are also teacher friendly. That makes sense. If teachers can’t afford it on their own, or teachers pass on to leadership that a product is unapproachable, that’s the end of it.

It’s about sharing. In the U.S., teachers are isolated, One of the innovative developments now under design by Sensavis is the creation of a private cloud-based solution that can house teacher- and student-created animations, sharable across schools, districts or states.  This approach eliminates the need for each teacher, each school or each district to recreate the wheel with teacher-developed content? Why not store and share the best?

October 17, 2016

Selling to Schools (2)

The five models of school decision making introduced in last week's post should prompt some worthwhile deliberative thinking. If your company is going to sell 3D or VR to schools—hardware, content, services, or solutions—can you see beyond the calmly mesmerizing river currents of what you may already believe about the educational market? Can you instead peer deeper and recognize the tremendous hidden complexity inherent in selling to schools? Here are some important questions you should ask yourself about selling to schools:

  • ·        Do we really understand the diversity of the school market? (See this insightful infographic)
  • ·     Do we have the best situational strategies in place to sell effectively to educational customers, based on the models in our previous post?
  • ·      How will we know if, in fact, we are using the right strategy for our target marketplace?
  • ·      Do your marketing plans display an “all the above” strategy for reaching the education market? (Again, I am referring to the models listed in last week's post.)
  • ·      Most importantly, do your sales reps really understand the complexities outlined in the these models, and know how to navigate these waters?
In selling to schools, do you just see a placid and unremarkable river?

October 10, 2016

Selling to Schools (1)

The challenge of selling 3D or VR to schools reminds me of a flowing description I penned in a soon-to-be published book:

Imagine a river, deep and fast, charging downwards through a majestic canyon, slowing to a crawl as it ambles its way through a lush green valley. Although a winding river may at first seem unremarkable in its flow and function, it is actually teeming with hidden complexity. Upon closer inspection of a river we unveil a lively, changing, and connected environment, one consisting of currents, undercurrents, pools, eddies, meanders, weirs, swells, and even flood cycles.”

My careful analogy is this:  like rivers, selling 3D or VR to schools is never that simple. Much like a river, selling to schools offers hidden complexity.  In a recent discussion between a group of educators and ed-tech industry folks at a large national conference we all agreed that, in education, there is no single homogeneous customer.  To the contrary, the decisions for procurement of technology by schools can be labeled according to these diverse models:

Model 1: The district makes nearly all of the decisions. Students and teachers don’t. All purchasing is strongly controlled and filtered by organizational gatekeepers.
Model 2: The district makes the decisions, but does so in collaboration with teachers; teacher advice is solicited broadly or sought individually through teacher representation on adoption committees. I have even seen the gatekeepers overruled by these collaborators.
Model 3: Purchasing decisions are logically split. The district may be the decision maker on a core portfolio of resources, while individual schools can still go ahead and buy anything else. In other words, the district makes make some decisions, (with or without collaboration from teachers); schools can do the rest. And yes, school-level gatekeepers can be just as protective as their district counterparts—especially if they happen to be a school principal or a powerfully influential lead teacher.
Model 4: Purchasing decisions and authority are splintered. The district purchases items they perceive as enterprise-important; the schools can acquire items that are community-important; lead teachers or department heads can procure essential departmental or grade-level resources; and—wait for it—teachers can supplement through own classroom budgets. This approach is, of course, far more complex than the previous models; it’s an open playground, not a walled garden.
Model 5: Students or teachers create their own. Although this rarely applies to hardware acquisition, it is a phenomenon we see in schools in the arenas of content and services: students or teachers create the content as opposed to purchasing it; or students and teachers provide technical services within the school as opposed to procuring it from the outside.

October 3, 2016

Gimmick or Godsend (2)

In the research presented in last week's post. Dr. Green is now moving toward some new research along two probative dimensions: First, she explains “we are hopeful that through our research we can guide publishers towards some heuristics for creating 3D VR because at this point it seems like they are publishing what they think we need [for augmented  reality and virtual reality extensions].”  Second, Dr. Green’s team hopes to use these heuristics to develop an even more effective rubric for removing the ‘wow’ factor from resource consideration. Dr. Green laments: “Google cardboard VR is putting people INTO a virtual environment, but there is no inquiry involved.” She is certain than gamifying some of this VR content will also help. Identifying these requirements in a rubric is key in both regards.

The Side Story.
Although the efforts of Dr. Green initially involved a small sample of preservice educators, current samples of educators are much larger. And as a result, they are also starting to notice some other interesting observations. Anecdotal at this stage, these casual findings are certain to lead to additional research questions for 3D content in the near future. 

It is beginning to appear that AR/VR resources in classrooms may:
  • make it easier for the students to recall their learning.
  • enable students to notice things in 3D format that they would not see in the 2D format. (Students then feel compelled to go back to the book to find the answer themselves).
  • facilitate comprehension of abstract ideas. (For example,  Dr. Green describes a teacher who tried and tried to explain to students what the dark side of the moon was about: acting it out, drawing pictures—but nothing seemed to help the students understand until they saw the 3D image. “All of a sudden it clicked with them.”)
An interesting question and hypothesis she would like to posit in the future is: “Why is 3D effective in the classroom?” Does 3D visual learning reduce the cognitive load on learners?” These are all good breadcrumbs to follow.