Education business accelerator next to teacher education

A new business accelerator in the field of education, xEdu, seeks to combine education experts with companies. University researchers are involved in the cooperation, because research information can help developers create educational technology which would support teaching and learning better than the current iterations.

The first Nordic education business accelerator, xEdu, has been launched on Siltavuorenpenger in Helsinki’s Kruununhaka area, next door to the University of Helsinki’s Department of Teacher Education – and what better place for it? The intention is to generate education export and new business, which can take the form of education services or educational technology.

Locating the accelerator on campus was no accident, as developers hope to partner with researchers and teachers. The knowledge and educational expertise of the researchers will help ensure that the resulting educational products and services are useful in teaching and promote learning.

The accelerator’s program director, Niko Lindholm, says that demand is global.

“Finland can enter international markets if we can combine our educational expertise with effective product development,” says Lindholm, who has experience in education export from his previous position at Finpro.

One of the mentors at the accelerator is Sanna Vahtivuori-Hänninen, a university lecturer who has also researched ICT in teaching.

“Several groups at the Department of Teacher Education as well as the Cicero Learning network have been studying the use of ICT in teaching for more than a decade, and we naturally want our research on the everyday work in schools to be used to develop new applications,” says Vahtivuori-Hänninen.

One successful example of such cooperation is the mathematics learning environment 10monkeys, which was developed together with the Mäntymäki School in Kauniainen. Thanks to their research, the game was enriched with the feedback that both teachers and pupils desired – and usability improved.

Assessment tools to be the next killer app?

Developing in cooperation with teachers and pupils is trending. Useful apps cannot be created in the realm of code – instead, they must be tested and designed together with teachers and pupils. According to the experiences of University of Helsinki researchers, teachers are enthusiastic about joining such projects.

“Thanks to research, we know that products should embrace problem-based learning or gamified, interactive and collaborative learning,” suggests Vahtivuori-Hänninen.

At the moment, no learning applications exist that would support problem-solving and conceptual learning.

“The next killer app will have assessment tools and learning analytics, and it will visualise the learning process," predicts Vahtivuori-Hänninen.

Researchers involved from the beginning

Sanna Vahtivuori-Hänninen and a few other University of Helsinki researchers have been involved in xEdu's first accelerator programme from the very beginning. They received more than a hundred applications, with topics ranging from education services and technology to education export. Some want to develop apps for language learning, while others want to gamify learning platforms. The startups admitted into the programme will be announced soon.

In the future, members of the University community can also serve as coaches and mentors for the startups.

Dean Patrik Scheinin from the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences expects the cooperation to yield results:

“I hope we will generate learning experiences we have not even dreamed about."

More information about research into teaching and learning at the University of Helsinki: Research Unit for Teaching and Learning.