BEIRUT: Lebanon is still dipping its toes in educational technology, experimenting with different concepts and seeing what works best in the classroom; which two engineering students at Antonine University consider a large-scale business opportunity.
Thus the idea of Augmental was born.
Augmental is a tablet application that could be used both inside the classroom and at home, allowing students to take their courses through the app’s system. When using the application the first time, the software displays the material for the class and is followed by a series of questions that determine the learning style of each student (whether they prefer to learn through images, videos, text or by other means), and the app will also distinguish the pupil’s level with the material given.
All this information is monitored by the system, which will subsequently work to explain future material depending on the preferences that the student is most comfortable with.
“Our approach to the application is that students learn and grasp information at a different pace, styles, and ways, therefore by creating a smart system that allows students to understand the material of a class based on their personalized preferences, it will lead to the maximum attainment of knowledge possible,” Paul Barakat Diab, co-founder of Augmental told Annahar.
The application, which went into development in August, allows pupils to start with the material while working through it in a personalized manner depending on the level of each student. If a student is facing trouble solving a particular problem, Augmental’s system would automatically detect the weak points and guide them through these difficulties. In parallel, teachers would have their own profile on the application which has a dashboard that reports on the status of each student independently.
“When a student is having a problem with a certain subject, his profile thumbnail will start glowing red to alert the teacher to sit down with the pupil to help overcome the difficulty they faced,” Barakat explained, adding that this procedure allows teachers to have more precise one-on-ones with students. The system also offers students and teachers a personalized progress report.
While Augmental offers efficiency in understanding class material, this is only the first feature of the application.
The second is the integration of Augmented Reality (AR) into the material to maximize the rate of information students are receiving. Overlapping two tablets together would transform a two-dimensional picture into a 3D AR interactive picture with annotations as well as the ability to rotate the picture from a 360 angle.
“Let’s say there’s an image of a heart when overlapping two tablets together – one using its screen while the other its camera – the heart would appear in a 3D interactive AR format with annotations and the ability to rotate which allows students understand the material more enjoyable," Barakat told Annahar.
Augmental’s co-founders added this feature because they consider “interactivity is something very important for studying, since it maximizes performance and knowledge of a subject, while also permitting students to enjoy their time while working.”
The application’s third feature is the integration of a chat bot, which is an educational assistant that allows students to engage and talk with the system to pinpoint further weaknesses as well as offer specific exercises for pupils, based on their customized preferences and history.
“Usually parents tend to hire tutors for extra work, which is why Augmental integrated a chat bot to help students work from home while giving parents access to oversee their children’s work,” Barakat said.
The bot is also automated to intervene and ask students to revise certain areas of a chapter or suggest exercises enhance capabilities from all aspects of the material.
Elie Matta, a software engineering instructor at Antonine University and also a co-founder of Augmental, considers the app – from an instructor’s perspective – key in granting teachers more time to follow up with students in a precise manner, while also introducing a more interactive aspect to the learning process.
“Adaptive learning is something very important for the educational sector on the long run, since it permits students to understand the material of a certain class more clearly, thus Augmental is offering this interactivity along with an end-to-end system that aids students from both the classroom and home,” Matta, who handles the technical part of the application, told Annahar.
Augmental recently finished their testing trial with students from Sagesse Ain Remmeneh School for a biology class, with the preparation of the questions and the data within the system were integrated with the help of the school teacher as well as the student's coordinator.
“The phase was just to test our algorithm, which ended up being great overall with super feedback from teachers as well as the school’s administration,” said Elie Nahas, another co-founder of the application. He noted that the vision of the company is to become an online platform where teachers could individually create courses without the need of returning back to the team for help, rendering the process more automated.
The company has so far received no outside funding, and has been self-funded since its founding, with Nahas adding, “We still don’t need to bring in outside funding, our participation in Banque Du Liban’s Accelerate 2016 and other conferences was for exposure and making people familiar with what we are doing.”
Both co-founders were met with excitement when they pitched their idea to friends and families, pushing them to start the company while various teachers who
were pitched the idea offered them the ability to test the app in their classes.
“We realized when we pitching the app that everyone was waiting for an idea such as this, especially since a revolution in the education sector is inevitable,” Barakat said, highlighting the efforts made by the university which greatly helped in guiding them through the process of creating the company.
Dr. Chady Abou Jaoude, Director of the faculty of engineering at Antonine University, considers Augmental to be on-trend and innovative, especially through its AR feature which provides a high impact learning process to students from a digital perspective rather than traditional teaching methods which.
“This interactivity in the learning process is the key to a student’s maximum performance, since it engages pupils into the material, triggering their curiosity to know more by means of visualization,” Abou Jaoude told Annahar, noting that the university frequently helped both Barakat and Nahas by offering them a co-working space to develop the app while a number of instructors within the faculty would guide and advise them on how to proceed.
In terms of generating income, the company will start charging schools $9 per student monthly once the app is officially launched, while teachers and school administrations would receive it free of charge.
The Augmental team is looking to expand into more courses, starting with scientific ones such as math, physics, chemistry and more; however, later down the road, the vision of the company will go beyond school and university markets.
“We are hoping to pivot the platform to become more service oriented, allowing people to go online, subscribe and take any course, rendering Augmental to increasingly endorse online education and distance learning by rendering the system to be more cloud-based,” the co-founder said.
Though still in its infancy, online education appears to be the wave of the future, with "a growing number of companies and digital gurus increasingly developing this sector, the market is ripe for products and services – the only way the sector is going is up,” Barakat told Annahar.
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