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Five Questions With An EdTech CEO: Daniel Fountenberry Of Borne Digital

By on June 21, 2013
Blended Learning, Cost of Education, Domestic, Ebooks, Education Quality, Ereaders, K-12, Minorities, Personalized Learning, Publishers & Curriculum, Reading / Literature, Required, Startups, Technology, Textbooks

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As Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. advances further into the K-12 education piece with it’s Amplify business selling tablets, educational video games and books to school districts, other entrepreneurs are also jumping into the fray. WiredAcademic editor Paul Glader recently spoke with Daniel Fountenberry, once a classmate at Columbia Business School and now founder of an edtech company called Borne Digital. Fountenberry (@BorneDigital) answered questions about this new company and its goals:

WA – What big problem are you trying to solve?

DF – How can books adapt and respond… How do we enable children of different reading abilities in the same classoom to read together, learn together, but each be challenged to their maxium ability? American classrooms are increasingly diverse in terms of student reading abilities, making it quite difficult for teachers to provide differentiated instruction. Teachers often assign different books, and create different lesson plans, for students in the same classroom, based on their reading ability. This increases the cost of instruction per students, creates lots of extra work for the teacher, and brings shame on students who are reading the “special” books. Often times students with the ability to advance are held back because of the need to remediate other students. Our product “Books That Grow” provides every child individualized reading experience, so that they can access age appropriate content at their own literacy level. As a student reads and answers interactive quiz questions on a tablet device, adapt and provide automated support. Slower readers are provided easier vocabulary, simpler syntax and larger fonts, while an advanced student are provide more complex versions of the same text. The class can have a discussion together, because they were all reading the same book. At the same time this provides more privacy to the students, so they can read at their own level without being ashamed or laughed at. The teacher can access a comprehensive feedback page with every student’s progress and analysis of skills.

WA – What’s your kickstarter campaign and what you are raising money for exactly?

DF – We are raising money to further the development of our adaptive reading platform – incorporating specific feedback we’ve received from parents, teachers, and students – and to develop adaptive reading materials. We are offering our backers an opportunity to make a donation or pre purchase our product at discounted rates.  We are offering individual adaptive books as well as subscription access to our entire adaptive book library. Our backers can also “gift” our product, Books that Grow, to a classroom, school or library of their choice. We are also offering our backers the opportunity to work with us to develop children’s literature on the topic of their choice

WA – How will this help your organization grow?

DF – Once we have a sufficient number of books in our library, we can begin providing service beyond our initial pilot schools. As more children begin reading our adaptive digital books, we can learn from the data we gather and improve upon our algorithms, which predict a child’s ability to read a particular text.

WA – How do you foresee the future of reading and publishing broadly?

DF – Over the past 10 years there have been tremendous advances in the field of Human Computer Interaction.  As a result, machines can interpret and meaningfully respond to biometric information like human speech, eye movement, and now brain activity. For example, you can ask “Siri” for directions on your iPhone, scroll webpages with just your eye movements on your Samsung Galaxy 4S, and play video games using only your thoughts using the Emotive EPOC headset.  However, the publishing industry has yet to begin incorporating these innovations into digital reading platforms.  Tablet devices can capture so many types of data that can be used to personalize and improve the user’s reading experience. We’ve begun leveraging native device features to create a real time feedback loop, so we can adapt the reading experience as we gather data on the user.   Most digital books are by and large replicas of print books. You pick up a book on page one, and then continue to page two, three, and so on till you reach the end.  We can alter the user’s rendering of the text, page by page, chapter by chapter, by gathering and responding to data we collect as the user reads.

WA – How will that trend filter down into K-12 schools? How about into HigherEd?

DF – In the future, books will reveal themselves differently to users, based on their reading abilities, prior knowledge, and learning objectives.  Also, the data a user can generate will be as important as the book itself. In the near future, reading platforms will use biometric data rather than or in addition formal assessment to determine if someone understands what they are reading.  I’ve visited laboratories at Carnegie Mellon where researchers are using brain monitoring applications to drive a users pathway through an assessment. Big Data and publishing will soon join forces to drive measurable learning out comes in students. However the marriage of data and content is only valuable when the content can respond to the data.  Within our reading platform, we’ve created that real time, in-reading feedback loop. At Borne Digital, we see the future and we are developing books for Digital Natives.



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