UAE company launches digital classroom platform

'The key building blocks include artificial intelligence, natural language processing, hypermedia content, and really engaging user interface'

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A home-grown education program complete with digital avatars and an interactive calendar is being trialled to help engage pupils in the classroom.

Called Alef, which is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, the new education platform had been three years in the making by Alef Education, a privately-held education technology company based in Abu Dhabi supported by the Abu Dhabi Financial Group.

“More than three years ago, a group of 300 education and technology experts – brilliant minds from leading universities around the world – came together to work on this new initiative that hopes to redefine education,” Jassim Alseddiqi, CEO and managing director of the ADFG, said at the product launch Sunday. “After years of dedication and hard work, we have put in place an integrated educational system that caters to the needs and challenges of the future.”

The platform is currently being used by 240 pupils in grade six at a Ministry of Education curriculum school in the capital region. Officials say they are in the process of expanding to 1,000 pupils in the near future.

“The key building blocks include artificial intelligence, natural language processing, hypermedia content, and really engaging user interface,” said Vikraman Poduval, Alef chief technology officer. “It supports multiple languages and it adapts to many curricula.”

Alef works as an online platform that allows pupils to sign in, select an avatar, view an interactive academic calendar and complete independent-learning lessons on a variety of topics.

The lessons were designed by Alef Education and are “curriculum agnostic”.

Each lesson begins with a short video addressing the main themes of the subject or topic being taught. Pupils are then prompted to answer a number of “technology-enhanced questions” to help determine their level of understanding of the subject.

The quiz also maps out how the student can proceed – that is, whether he or she needs to review basic concepts or can move on to the basic, intermediate or advanced “depth of knowledge” learning, which takes about 20 minutes to complete for each topic. One of the features of the platform is used for group work, which is called “experiential learning” in Alef-speak. The example demonstrated by Alef Education officials showed a screen with an image of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti with instructions for teams of students to work together to build the tallest tower.

“There is a library of this experiential learning,” said Mr Poduval. “During this process, they learn how to plan, they learn how communicate, they learn how to challenge each other.”

Dr Saleh Al Hashemi, Alef’s CEO, said the learning platform is not meant to replace the teacher, but to help him or her focus on the needs of the pupils more effectively.

“The role of the teacher is needed, however, it changes with this,” said Dr Al Hashemi. “This platform or this solution builds efficiences in the classroom. This platform takes care of 90 per cent of the routine items that a teacher or instructor would do, and therefore it gives him the time to turn his attention to where his expertise is needed. He can focus on actual attainment from the student.”

With the Grade 6 curriculum complete, Alef Education is currently designing the content for the remaining grade levels – something officials say differentiates the platform from other more established learning management systems.

“We are not a textbook digitiser. The content that we provide and the design of our educational framework is proprietary to us,” said Pathikrit Banerjee, Alef’s director of special projects. “It is designed in a way to make it more engaging.”