Education is the one thing that needs to be brought to people instead of people being brought to it. With everything going digital, up in the cloud, and easily accessible, lL&FS Education & Technology Services Ltd. (IETS) has not only stepped up to the plate, but also hit their online educational foray ‘Geneo’ out of the park! With its launch in June this year, this bespoke digital education venture, proves that e-learning is not the next big thing but the now big thing.

Birth of an Idea
An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

  • Benjamin Franklin

Part of the educational space since 1997 and known back then as Schoolnet, IETS, the social infrastructure arm of the IL&FS Group, has historically been a company that has provided educational systems. “This has, however, primarily been from a B2G perspective,” points out Surya Ramachandran, Chief Innovation Officer. “A few years ago, we began to look at a change in the direction of the company, where we started considering a B2C retail model focusing on teachers, students, and parents as our principle target market as well as a B2B channel concentrating on providing schools with a platform for teaching, learning, and administration. At the behest of RCM Reddy, our MD and CEO, we looked at solutions that were interesting and a seamless environment that is based on leveraging existing content and integrating technology. There were two predominant methodologies for attacking the K-12 educational segment. One was content development and the second was a delivery mechanism for this content.” Geneo was thus developed as a one stop shop solution where one did not feel any gap between the classroom and home.

Identifying the Focus
You don’t need unique ingredients, you need a unique recipe

  • Derek Halpern

The older models of teaching have a tutor using a textbook, moving on to the use of multimedia, engaging in interactivity with students, and then going back to traditional teaching methods. Alternative modes of learning were more of a teaching aid for educators than a learning tool for students. “When we looked into if it could be used for home schooling, we found that there were gaps that needed to be bridged,” reveals Ramachandran. “We looked at areas where teachers would have a communication problem in helping students grasp concepts and realized we needed to develop multimedia and the like to specifically attack those hard spots and tackle how students would use the system at home without a disconnect from their classroom.”

The textbook and curriculum had to be aligned first. This meant that if a teacher requests a student to read from a particular page for homework, the software should correspond with the curriculum; and what the teacher does in the classroom, the student should be able to follow at home. IL&FS Education & NCERT signed an MoU that allows the use of NCERT textbooks, whose data, along with all multimedia and other digital learning content was mapped onto Geneo.

Content Creation
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
― William Blake

While textbook and curriculum were being mapped and blended and their alignment began to take shape, Geneo didn’t yet have full coverage of all the data required. The first step in this direction was to make a decision if IETS should redo or create all content in-house or whether other content providers should be invited onto the platform. “Having multiple content providers on board solved our coverage problem,” deems Ramachandran. “We looked at third party content providers, both free and paid, like Khan Academy, EnglishHelper, Avanti, Simulanis, Educe, among others. We took their content, blended it with our own, and mapped everything to the NCERT textbook, thus increasing the scope and depth of an otherwise ordinary textbook.” Geneo users, thus constantly have access to a wealth of information from the web and carefully curated content creators, which bolsters learning and opens up a range of facets to a single topic.

The next stride was to make sure the digital textbook emulated a real one. A student does a lot with a textbook. They underline, make notes, highlight relevant points, doodle, etc. The digital textbook was created to reflect this. Students now have at their fingertips an ability not taught often in schools - to learn how to use resources, source through reference material and digital libraries, and journey through subjects over a length of time not afforded in a classroom. 

Architecture
The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows

  • Sydney J Harris

Understanding that one size doesn’t fit all, Geneo is an ecosystem that is designed whereby students of different learning capabilities can study accordingly. It is set up such that the system understands each individual and challenges them fittingly. There are a variety of formats to learn a particular subject and knowledge checks and continuous assessment banks allow for reviewing and grading a student’s grasp of a topic and lets a student relearn or check back on something that’s unclear.

Physically, the architecture of Geneo is constructed such that the consumer is OS & device independent. Speaking about Geneo, Mr. R.C.M. Reddy, MD & CEO, IETS highlights that, “Geneo has been designed in technical collaboration with Google for Education. It uses an app-cloud model that provides students curated digital content from multiple sources. Offering round-the-clock remote mentor support, it is conveniently accessible across platforms, including mobile phones, laptops, PCs, tablets, and Chromebooks.” Geneo is available as a light-weight application that can run without installing, and can be downloaded from www.geneo.in. It can also be directly downloaded from the Google Play Store, with a free trial offer to experience its many advantages.

Mentored Learning
Everyone who remembers his education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the system

  • Sidney Hook

A classroom is designed such that a student always has a teacher to ask for assistance. Whom do you turn to for competent help at home? Often, a student has to wait till the next day if they haven’t comprehended something or avail of coaching classes. Geneo takes care of this dilemma. “The personal mentor feature is an unmatched advantage,” enlightens Ramachandran. “A student just needs to ask a query in the app, which is automatically forwarded to an expert most qualified to respond and help is guaranteed in a timely and interactive manner.”

As an education tool, it is a potential out-of-classroom trailblazer, as it augments curriculum content, with individualized tuition support, mentoring through live interactive sessions, deferred multicasts, and one-on-one learning. A tutor at your fingertips, comes with the core benefit of students owning the responsibility of learning, while having the convenience of doing so at their own pace.

Impact
Teach to the individual, not to the curriculum

  • Anon

From November 2016-February 2017, the Geneo Field Pilot was conducted with 500 students of Class 9 across 5 schools in 4 regions – Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and West Bengal - at different academic levels and with students from diverse economic strata. More than 87% of the students confirmed that Geneo was interesting, while a further 8% stated that while they perceived Geneo as uninteresting they were sure it was useful for them. “As a lightweight, single delivery platform that blends multiple content sources, with a multimodal mentor-student interaction level, a work ethic that combines national and regional academic standards and works across platforms, there has been a buzz of excitement from the students, their parents and teachers.” exclaims Ramachandran.

The Way Forward
But beyond the bright searchlights of science, out of sight of the windows of sense, old riddles still bid us defiance, old questions of Why and of Whence

  • Sir William Cecil Dampier Whetham

A personalized learning environment like Geneo has an inbuilt artificial intelligence system that works to build a profile of a student. It thus helps a student improve consistently and empowers them to tackle a subject head on. “We are looking at a cognitive tutor or chat bot that will handle Level 1 support, thus automating the basics,” clarifies Ramachandra. “After all, it’s not always easy or fair to get a tutor very late in the night or in the wee hours of the morning.” 

Geneo will leverage IETS’ footprint of 10 million students coupled with a free workshop for students and teachers; and by November this year, a teachers’ app will be launched. IETS will continue to forge relationships with technology-assisted learning partners, content providers, and cloud infrastructure partners. B2B partnerships with private, government-aided, and government schools are also on the cards.

Robert Sapolsky pointed out that an impala sprinting across the Savannah can be reduced to biomechanics, and Bach can be reduced to counterpoint, yet that does not decrease one iota our ability to shiver as we experience impalas leaping or Bach thundering. One can very well draw comparisons to the purpose of Geneo, which definitely isn’t to provide a crutch for learning, but roots to anchor through its many videos, explorable 3D models, gamified content, AR and VR experiences, etc.; and wings to fly when a student ignites the flames of learning and reinvents their sense of mystery and wonder where imbibing knowledge through this platform is concerned!

About the Author
Ayesha Dominica 
A fiercely independent freelance writer, she has been published regularly since age 13, including 6 years at the Express Group. When she isn’t putting pen to paper, she is an artist manager and a curator.

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