Rapid advancements in technology are changing the way people live, learn and work – from Telepresence to Blended Learning through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR). Every sector of every economy is undergoing fundamental paradigm shifts. Terae Onyeje, Chief Executive Officer of WOWBII Interactive, providers of interactive education and business solutions spoke to BusinessDay’s Stephen Onyekwelu about how tech-enhanced learning is changing everything. Excerpts:
How did you get into technology-enhanced learning industry?
I have worked in tech sector for over two decades; a lot of that time on the hardware side of technology. I would typically demystify new tech for user – personal computing devices, home entertainment devices, and etcetera. Tech enhanced learning introduces new technology and a new era of learning that is disrupting profit-making businesses. I am delighted to drive that disruption and see where it goes.
What is technology-enhanced learning?
Technology-enhanced learning, which is the use of technology to maximise the student learning experience is a vibrant area of interest across all tiers of global education. It is often synonymously used to describe e-learning; but there is a difference – tech enhanced learning implies learning with technology not just through technology as is the case with elearning.
Institutions venturing in tech-enhanced style in most of Africa are exploring blended learning. Blended Learning integrates standard learning styles with technology. With interactive learning, the pedagogy is slowly transitioning towards Flipped Learning – where the teacher-centred approach moves to a learner-centred approach.
The number of Nigeria’s mobile subscribers has reached 150 million, and the number of its internet users has climbed to 97.2 million at penetration rates of 81% and 53%, respectively, according to a new report published by Jumia, Nigeria’s largest online retailer, what does this mean for technology-enhanced learning?
Mobile penetration is a good thing – because it increases familiarity with potential learning tools. As a country we should be actively working toward pushing more affordable access, developing professional educators that can drive change in the way these tools are being used.
We should be investing more in sectors that are developing content to create a sustainable ecosystem which will lead to an overall change in how we learn. And I am not referring to formal learning environment only. Imagine how vocational skills can be developed if that tailor understood that pattern-cutting could be learned online; or that cobbler can improve his sewing so the stitches in his handmade shoes don’t come undone. Mobile penetration can be the change agent when we complete the cycle of components.
Tell us about the origin of your company’s name, Wowbii.
The typical response when we showcase our solution to businesses and schools is ‘Wow!’ We plan to continue offering the wow factor by updating solutions that deliver a memorable learning experience.
We are a Black-owned hardware OEM pioneering the manufacture of flat panel displays in Africa. We are very proud of this fact and are hopeful that there will be more proudly-African businesses that will invest in R&D, invest in product design, choose components and assemble products for distribution on the continent.
We know that interactive learning is the future – and not just in Education.
You have products that transform classrooms by supporting new and dynamic ways to develop, present and share content in real time, creating an ecosystem that truly reflects 21st Century learning. How many schools use them?
We currently have about a dozen schools (tertiary and primary) using WOWBii Interactive Touch Screens. Our newest addition is The Riverbank School which we have designated a BUDDZone. A BUDDZone is a learning area offering educational itinerary designed to enable educators use technology resources to drive interactive learning. BUDDZones can be built fresh, retrofitted or created as extensions of existing infrastructure.
To drive interactive learning, WOWBii invests in institutions by offering additional interactive tech options augment the interactive learning experience. Institutions where we invest in this manner are called BUDDZones.
What are some of your challenges?
We are changing the orthodox thinking about educational technology so there are a number of challenges – but all surmountable. In extending the manner in which learning takes place, we work with educators to extend their teaching skills to embrace the use of technology. This directly addresses the ‘fear’ of technology we found with teachers in nursery, primary and secondary schools.
In Tertiary education there is a severe lack of relevant content. We found that where an institution has invested in tech, students still spend their time on non-education related content leaving no justification for further tech investment. We are working with local and international partners to develop and curate curriculum-aligned e-learning content. With engaging content, students will naturally gravitate toward beneficial activities.
You say a product of yours deepens engagement and improves information retention, what makes this possible?
Interactive touch screens coupled with curriculum-aligned content, WOWBii Interactive helps to deliver subliminal learning. I tell the story of a teenager who had no love for history scored A* in French History.
He plays a video game themed on the French revolution – his exam was on the French revolution. He applied knowledge gained from gameplay – knowledge he didn’t realize he had until he saw the questions. In daily life, when things intrigue you, you ask ‘why?’ and you keep exploring. You usually understand better how things work and why when you learn in this manner. And the knowledge does not really go away – it allows you apply it in different ways depending on the situation.
In EdTech, with the right content and professional educators, the lines between work and play will begin to blur. WOWBii is working with educators
To quote J Bruner, ‘Teaching is the uncanny art of intellectual temptation’. For WOWBii, we will continually seek to tempt the intellect of anyone who comes across our boards and our content. And find ways to keep them coming back to learn.
BUDDRoom is a business bundle of in-room and remote communication and collaborationexperiences that increases productivity across all organizational levels and locations, you say. Tell us about it.
Our BUDDRoom solutions seek to disrupt traditional presentation and collaboration techniques. Our interactive telepresence practically puts your meeting participants in the same room. Our collaboration solution truly redefines how you work with remote participants.
What totally ties our solution together are the interactivity and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) – I can write on a board hundreds of miles away, using my device of choice. For a lot of businesses though, they are pleased that our solutions integrate with their legacy systems to enhance existing solutions. So for the companies that have invested in Cisco and/or Polycom, we are saying ‘move to the 21st century and see how much easier it is to drive your business.
What are the new ways technology would enhance education and business in the future?
We are already seeing enhancements – we have gone from white boards to interactive white boards now interactive boards, all in a decade. For the future of EdTech, we should be looking at how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is impacting learning in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Virtual Reality (VR) is still a little bit further out. There will be a number of ‘new’ job types because the tasks and needs of daily living are evolving. I believe where a process or product can be reworked, someone will find a solution to address.
Which expansion plans do you have and how are they unfolding?
We are the first name in EdTech and Interactive Learning across the continent. The last two years have been spent on research and development and advocacy. We opened our doors as WOWBii middle of last year and will launch formally in April 2018; a lot of people are excited about the things we are doing because they can see that we are much more than just a hardware company. We are currently in a few African countries and we plan to be in many more.
How do you see the future in five, ten years?
Aside from flying cars and self-driving bicycles, you mean? (lol!) I see a lot more disruption that will redefine learning and living as we know it. In ten years I want to live in an Africa where Interactive Learning is the standard for learning. Where WOWBii solutions have given educators platforms that enabled them develop youths who will be impacting our economies and transforming the African landscape with leading technology are art initiatives. In ten years we must have completely rewritten the African narrative paving the way future generations to excel.