In a 2003 essay, statistician and professor emeritus at Yale University Edward Rolf Tufte wrote an essay titled The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within, the scholarly equivalent of a burn on Microsoft’s PowerPoint presentation software.
In it Tufte accuses PowerPoint of abbreviating the truth, diluting thought, distracting the audience with bad graphics and turning lectures into presenter-oriented gimmicks than content- and audience-oriented interactions.
“For the naive, bullet lists may create the appearance of hard-headed organized thought. But in the reality of day-to-day practice, the PP cognitive style is faux-analytical.
“A study in Harvard Business Review found generic, superficial, simplistic thinking in the bullet lists widely used in business planning and corporate strategy.
“What the authors are saying here, in the Review’s earnestly diplomatic language, is that bullet outlines can make us stupid…”
Yet, today, PowerPoint presentations are the most pervasive educational tool used in schools and universities. It is the doom of all students whose focus shifts from the project to pertinent questions surrounding the techniques in which the number of slides in a presentation can be increased. (Hint: If you divide one concept into three points each with their own slide, you can have three extra slides, and more time to bore students with, but really impress your teacher.)
It isn't surprising that the simplistic PowerPoint has become the go-to software for an entire generation of technologically handicapped teachers more than comfortable with distributing presentations to students than encouraging more active teaching and learning techniques.
In this pedagogical vacuum, a whole host of digital learning tools have flourished.
Co-founded by Sanjay Gandhi, Bheesham Gandhi and Shamila Thakur in June 2012, Increed Technologies Private Limited released two products EzEd.in and UniEd, to make education more student- and concept-centric, especially when those concepts are complex and difficult for India’s 17,00,000+ engineering students.
Between the fresh idealism of Shamila who’d just returned from the USA, and Sanjay’s discontent with being intellectually under-utilised working with Engineering Consumables, “restlessness, idealism, passion and a spirit of risk-taking bordering on foolishness” transformed into motivation for starting this venture, says Bheesham.
“I was working with him [Sanjay] handling the marketing division, and during that time we developed a few animation videos explaining our engineering products. Our clients were amazed at how we could put across complex ideas so simply and effectively. It was during that time I realized my passion for creativity, and saw a huge potential of the visual medium.”
EzEd.in is their e-learning web portal with customised courses for engineering students. It uses short animated video lectures to explain difficult engineering concepts, and supplements them with e-notes, last minute revisions, university questions & solutions and unlimited testing modules to test and improve concept comprehension.
UniEd (universal education), on the other hand, is a teaching and learning management software with multimedia content specifically designed for university syllabus. UniEd helps students visualise content better, helps professors and lecturers give more data-driven personalised feedback to students, upload and manage courses, besides tracking student performance.
As internet penetration increases, students are far more likely to look for solutions to India’s education problem online. EzEd and UniEd hope to be the sort of resources that push new methods of pedagogy and educational technologies to the mainstream. Education has become far more complex and practical than it used to be, and the consistent failure of orthodox passive learning practiced in Indian schools is a truism at this point. Millions of bright minds are affected by out-dated education models. Sanjay, Bheesham and Shamila want to be the pioneering change to remedy this situation by popularising cognitive learning, which is basically ‘learning by thinking’.
Shamila says, “We make full use of the technology at our disposal, and have a student-centric approach that gives a customized personal learning experience for each student as per his or her speed, time & convenience.”
The team at Increed is young and restless. How creatively and effectively you can explain difficult concepts is the primary basis for selecting potential employees.
“We review our own content, and if we don't understand it we redo it. We think of our user as a layman with no prior knowledge of engineering, but still able to understand our content,” says Sanjay.
From their first video on semi-conductors, launching the EzEd.in website, UniEd receiving astoundingly positive feedback from university professors to the challenges of completing 250 videos in a span of one year, Increed has been on an upward journey.
With a bigger officer, expanding team and development of courses for universities across India, Increed is already moving into newer areas of education.
“Since, we build our own content and have an animation team in place we have decided to leverage that and have started an animation division called DiViz, which will make customized content for institutions, company/product explainer videos, along with training module videos for businesses.”
Sanjay, Shamila and Bheesham started out with almost no knowledge of the education industry, content development or the animation field. It was one of the biggest risks for all three to tread in unknown waters, but the risk has paid off – not just for them, but for millions of students who stand to benefit from their tools.
“All we had was an idea and a belief that we could make a difference, so we dived straight into the deep end, and had to learn how to swim.”