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In this episode, Phil Hill and Jeanette Wiseman discuss the newest video conferencing platform designed for academic usage. Engageli, from two of the founders of Coursera.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman


Phil: Welcome to MindWires Musings, where we take a more informal approach and discuss the EdTech news of the today, and I’m here, as usual with Jeanette Wisemen, but we also have a special, at least temporary guest with my wife, Emily, with us. So hello, Jeanette. And hello, Emily.

Jeanette: Hello.

Emily: Hello.

Phil: And part of the reason we have Emily here is as we were getting prepared, Emily came in the house as I was getting prepared for the podcast. And I’ll let you take it from what your reaction was.

Emily: Well, I was bringing the groceries in and I walked into the kitchen and see a bottle of the Ruffino Gold sitting on the counter, open. And my my mind starts racing like, what are we celebrating? Did you get some huge contract? You never told me about [00:01:00] it. And Phil said, no, we’re just doing MindWires Musings. And it was the biggest letdown.

Phil: When we lived in Massachusetts, this was our favorite wine. And so if we were ever going to have any kind of celebration, this is many, many years ago, this is the wine that we would always go to. And we unfortunately disappointed Emily, that it’s just a podcast.

Jeanette: Well, at least you didn’t forget anything more important, I guess. Yeah, true. Look at the silver lining.

Phil: Yes. So, Jeanette, after after teetotaling and then the seltzer. What do you have for us today?

Jeanette: I know I had to really bring up step up my game. So I went the complete opposite. I think I really thought about this and I made a boulevardier. Are you familiar with?

Phil: That the name, but not the details at all.

Jeanette: Ok, so it is [00:02:00] like a negroni, but you swap the gin for bourbon. So it’s a bourbon. I use 1792 which is a really nice Kentucky bourbon. There’s Campari and sweet vermouth, and I also put it in my grandmother’s cut crystal coupe with a little bit of orange and a cherry in it. It’s very nice. It’s sort of a fall type of negroni. If you’re a fan of Negroni and you’re a fan of bourbon, then this would be for you and it sounds really fancy.

Phil: So with the sounding very fancy, do you just have these on the top of your head or are you hitting Google before we do the podcast?

Jeanette: I did a Google for this one. I was like, OK, there’s got to be something that I can do. So I found it because I knew I had to bring it. Plus I have had this before, though, because I do like Negroni, I love Campari. I like that better. So yeah, it’s, it is a favorite [00:03:00] of mine. I just forgot about it.

Phil: Well since we have Emily here, we will be able to do the glass clinking as a sound now.

Jeanette: Oh, nice.

Emily: That was loud. All right. I will be dropping off now. Enjoy your afternoon.

Phil: So today. Well, we wanted to cover sort of a follow up from two episodes ago where we talked about ClassEdu, the new startup that builds education specific stuff on top of Zoom. And today we’re going to talk about another market entry called Engageli. But before we get into it, it’s interesting to note that we’d already been saying that there seems to be a hole in the market around video conferencing systems, that there’s a lot of pent up demand, if you will, and that for this year so far has been filled by Zoom. So K – 12 and higher education, when everybody [00:04:00] went online with emergency remote teaching, Zoom became almost the default method of of doing that, with Microsoft Teams and some with Blackboard Collaborate, but mostly Zoom.

But Zoom was never designed for education. And it was it’s really a web conferencing system, but it really fit the bill in terms of intuitive use and just being available. And but now people are saying we need to go past that. We need to get education specific features. And so just seemed like this was an area of the market that I guess I’m not too surprised that we’ve seen another market entry in this space. How about you? Have you been surprised by this?

Jeanette: Not at all. I think even when we saw ClassEdu, you were like, how quickly will we see the next market product be launched in this? And it was two weeks maybe. And so I’m guessing [00:05:00] there may be other ones on the horizon as well.

Phil: At the same time, part of what the story here is very similar to ClassEdu. This is a company where the whole idea started with founders, with an EdTech background. In this case, Daphne Koller, one of the co-founders of Coursera, and her husband, Dan Avida, who also helped start Coursera, even though he wasn’t an executive at the company. But two EdTech veterans who are also parents, their kids go to school with emergency remote teaching and they look at it and they they notice the kids are just not engaged.

So similar type of stories in that terms. But then it’s only six months since even the idea came up and then a very large seed round to get the company going, in this case, $14.5 Million dollar investment to get the company going. So even though they were developed, not [00:06:00] based on competing with each other, and it’s just a coincidence that they were announced within two weeks of each other. Very similar stories there, but also very different approaches to how they’re trying to solve the problem. And that specifically Engageli is not meant to be built on top of Zoom. It’s meant to replace Zoom. It’s an entire system from the ground up that does its own audio, video and all the learning tools as a new platform meant to be a replacement for using Zoom in an educational setting. Does either approach strike you as being a better fit for education or fitting in one area but not in another?

Jeanette: You know, I don’t know if I would like it as contrast. And I think what it does show is that there are two experienced executives that are very smart and saw a need within the classroom. I think that there [00:07:00] are clear differences between as much as they are feeling kind of that same space. You know, one thing I think we need to note is that we haven’t gotten a demo of Class for Zoom. So what we’ve seen of that has been really just what we’ve seen on the videos, what we write about.

I think that there are two people that are familiar with education, have, I think in the case of Daphne and Dan, this real strong education background, they know what was needed for the educational space and saw that whole and wanted to try to serve something there. And probably the same with Chasen and his experience with Blackboard. Both, I think, saw business opportunities, but also probably ways to really improve this online experience for the instructors and for the learners.

Phil: And we should specify this is sort of a little bit reverse, of Coursera, because in the Coursera case, it was Daphne who was [00:08:00] leading the company, or co-leading the company, and Dan helped fund it and was involved behind the scenes. In this case with Dan as the CEO, and Daphne is investing and advising the company, but she’s not directly working with them as an executive. So to a degree, it’s not just a contrast with ClassEdu. There’s also an interesting contrast with Coursera. And so the way when I asked them about the contrast with Coursera, the biggest thing they described was the fact that Coursera was designed as a MOOC. I mean, it was designed for one hundred plus thousand students and of course, and really broadcasting engage.

I think the idea is to take the lessons of how to do a learning platform heavily organized around video, but specifically, how do you improve engagement in a classroom setting. So [00:09:00] not dealing with thousands or tens of thousands of students, but actually a real classroom with dozens of students, if you will, or possibly hundreds. So it’s a very different approach even than Coursera, although presumably with many lessons learned between them.

As you saw the demo, did you see any analogies with Coursera or is it just the people behind it that makes a connection with Coursera from what you saw?

Jeanette: I don’t know if I would say analogies. I think that they’ve definitely learned a lot of things. Just there’s some learning points, data collection. I think what’s important to instructors and to institutions about what data should be collected behind the scenes in terms of engagement. And I think they’ve definitely applied that to the Engageli platform.

I mean, little things they’re looking at. If a student takes a note, how [00:10:00] much they’re raising their hand, how much they’re talking. So if you have seen any of the demos for ClassEdu, you see some mirroring on the Engageli where a student, there’s an indication of how much engagement is being done by the student in terms of a red, yellow green indicator light around that student. And you’re seeing that.

And the Engageli I think that there’s likely what we, I guess we don’t know. From the ClassEdu, but there seems to be a lot of those data points that are being gathered that I’m assuming are learned lessons from Coursera that they’ve carried on to that. And it’s those types of really thoughtful additions that, when compared to what we’re seeing right now in a Zoom classroom or a Google classroom online, it does seem like a big improvement from there, and something that I think teachers and students would really like.

Phil: And the big improvement, [00:11:00] sort of the thing that jumped out to me, this to me, it felt like, OK, we learned a lot from Coursera. Here are the things we wish we would have done back then, but now we can do it. So, for example, you mentioned one which gets around the data with Coursera. So much of their data were server side statistics based on having just tens of thousands of students. It really was tracking discrete events, whereas with Engageli, there’s much more of a model of let’s organize organize this data around a specific learner, such as multiple measurements to look at their engagement.

And there’s actually another connection I’d like to bring in. And I asked Dan about this. I said it seemed like some at least some of the tools remind me of what I’ve seen from Minerva, their learning platform, in particular, highlighting students who are not engaged and giving them nudges about, you should ask a question [00:12:00] or you might want to think about doing this. Or presenting, as you mentioned, the red, yellow, green – or some sort of visual indicator to the instructor of which students have been engaged and which haven’t been so that the instructor can call on different people and try to get them all involved. So I guess I’ve added yet another comparison to the Minerva platform that I’m seeing there, but it definitely wrapped in a lot of these features.

And then another key element and other people have written about this, and we’re not going to describe all of the features, but the whole breakout groups, or the study groups, I think they call it, where they organize people around virtual tables, up to 10 people, I believe, is the way they have it. So it’s natural small group basis. And it’s got very interesting feature where by being in a table, it can automatically adjust [00:13:00] the audio so that you’re hearing the people at your own table, but not other people at other tables. It’s trying to mimic the idea of people working together in a small group. And then you can sort of migrate from different study groups, or between them. But when you’re within a study group, it tries to recreate that small group feeling and set of interactions that’s behind it. And I found that to be, the whole organizing principle around that certainly seem to be quite interesting to me and much better done than Zoom. And what’s much better done about it is simple things such as the instructor or a T.A. can jump in, can listen to different work groups in anonymous mode so that they can hear the discussion but without interrupting it. Or they could jump in and become a member of that study group and talk to people and they can interact. [00:14:00] So it’s very similar to walking around to different groups or working on a problem and seeing what they’re doing and working out the whole organizing factor around study groups. I found it interesting.

Jeanette: I think also just to note on the study group thing are the tables is that they have, I think, five or six different ways to organize a table so that either the teacher controls you can use an algorithm based on your settings, on diversity.

You can take you know, the students can choose what table they want to be. And there’s multiple ways to to organize these tables, and it can be done a few times during a class. So you don’t have to be just stuck on one for the entire classroom. If there’s activities that you need to do, you can you can change it up as whatever the instruction is needed for that moment.

Phil: And one other organizing feature that I found quite interesting is  [00:15:00]they’ve already thought through some of the issues, such as what if you have a hybrid class? So a way to actually display while this group of students or even HyFlex, this group of students, is sitting in the classroom with the instructor and they can tell that. And then this other group of students are watching it remotely and they have this virtual mode. And that way you can teach both, but try to treat them the same way in terms of activities and engagement. And likewise, you could alternate between synchronous and asynchronous. You could have a live video, but you could also have this mode where there’s a recorded lecture or activity. Then the students are doing it asynchronously but as a group. So, for example, sitting in a study group of five to ten people watching a recorded thing, but having that interaction among the group while they’re doing the asynchronous activity so semi-synchronously, [00:16:00] I don’t know what you would describe that, but I found that to be a quite interesting feature as well.

Jeanette: No, that was I thought that was fantastic and something I can see really moving forward, something that’s needed, especially shout out to Kevin who is not on, but the HyFlex model that he has written so much about this almost speaks to that directly. So it was that was fantastic.

The other feature that I was I mean, I can just imagine as a student being really wonderful is the screengrab and being able to take notes around that screengrab and going back to those notes asynchronously and saying, OK, this is exactly where the instructor was at that moment.

Phil: And actually be a little bit more clear about that, that’s as you’re going through an activity. There’s a button within the notes and it automatically grabs the entire browser based screen as a screen grab so that you don’t have to do like the Mac screen grab or just try to take [00:17:00] to. Makes it easy.

Jeanette: Yeah. To do things right. That was I can see that as a student being fantastic. Then again, they’re tracking that as a data point so that, you know, a student’s doing that, that they’re engaged, rather if they’re doing the synchronously or asynchronously, they’re going to be able to capture that. So, you know, the students are really partaking in the course.

Phil: To me, it is, as the listeners can tell, I think both of us were quite interested and found this an intriguing product design, or at least I’m reading it that way. You and I haven’t actually had a discussion before this podcast, and we had separate demos. But certainly I found this to be a very intriguing design with a lot of features.

But at the same time, they seems like there’s a major barrier that they face, which is schools are already using Zoom, they’re already paying for Zoom. And now they’re going to be faced with an argument to either, well, let’s replace [00:18:00] that thing that you scrambled to add this year, or let’s do something in addition, in parallel to it. So you’re asking people to pay for multiple systems in a time when the budgets for schools are just devastating. While it’s a very compelling product, there’s a big barrier to get people to start using it. And I think that’s going to be really interesting, especially when you contrast it with ClassEdu, where there’s much more of a message of, hey, you’re already using Zoom, add us in and we can make it more education specific. So how risky is the strategy from what you see?

Jeanette: You know, we’ve talked about how online education, and I’ve seen my kids, and they’re either Google Classroom or on Zoom, and there isn’t the engagement, even though the teachers are trying so hard to figure out new ways to engage the students. The features that I have seen in Engageli and what we’ve seen in the video of  [00:19:00]ClassEdu are so needed right now by the teacher. I see a strong argument when you’re looking at. How schools are going to be able to reach these students with the unknown of when you’re actually going to be back in class. And I think in the higher ed space is, what we’ve seen, especially for some of these colleges, are people really going to be getting back on campus? When is that going to happen? What is that going to look like?

I feel like these features are absolutely needed for successful online teaching moving forward. I think it will make a big difference. I think the schools that have the budget to be able to adopt tools like this sooner rather than later, it would be a difference for me as a parent looking at my college colleges for I have a senior this year. If they’re using something like this, I know that that school is probably really interested in engagement of the students online and they have the budget to do it. So [00:20:00] there’s two things actually. This could be kind of key points for me to see if they’re using tools like this as a parent, if that makes sense.

I get what you’re saying, though. I wonder how many schools have signed enterprise licenses for Zoom, for example, and they’re using it for conducting work in business and then they’re using it for their classroom setting.

And I think it’s all going to come down to contracts. And you’re right, it could be a lot easier if you have a three year term contract on Zoom, using an add-on of ClassEdue rather than going through Engageli, despite maybe the features that you want. The only other thing I would mention is that based on what Dan told me during our demo is that the business license for them is they can do enterprise, they can do a per student, but the first class for the instructor instructor basis is free. [00:21:00] So if there’s an instructor that wants to use it, I think they’re still in pilot mode. But when it is pushed out to full mode, it’s going to be a free thing for for an individual instructor to use.

Phil: And that makes a lot of sense, because get the individual instructors to create that demand. Hey, I just tried this. I want to use us, get a license, because that’s what I want to teach with. So that makes sense to me.

The other thing I would say is if you’re going to try to take on Zoom, if you will, within an education, while you better go all in. So if anybody’s going to be able to do it, it’s a profile of a company who is very well known, given their Coursera background, and is very well funded. So I consider it high risk, but if it’s going to work, this seems to be the team that has what it takes to make that work out. And they’ve certainly mentioned it – like ClassEdu it’s not fully released into the market until at least Q1 [00:22:00] of 2021. So this is preliminary, but that’s where I think it’ll be interesting to see how they do, just simply based on this new product category. While it’s maybe not new video conferencing, but being a central part of how teaching and learning is occurring, that’s the new part. And interesting to see how it evolves next year. And are we going to see any other market entries in this space?

Jeanette: Exactly. Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see right now, I just get it off the demo was really impressive. Also, I will say that it was a demo that I was in Engageli for the demo. It’s working. It’s up and running. I clicked the buttons. I was a student in there. I got to see exactly what a student would see and I would compare it to Zoom. That’s what I would want to be in. Yeah.

Phil: One of my impressions of it as I was doing it, and I realize this is not, I don’t [00:23:00] know that they’re going to try to do this as a business model at all. But, boy, I would love to use this for a conference now that we’ve been doing several of these vendor conferences.

Jeanette: Yeah.

Phil: And it’s got the nice mix of presentations, the screen grabs. We’ve talked about the ability to easily talk to a group of people you’re around. It just seems like a much more engaging platform than the video conferencing platforms I’ve seen for virtual conferences. So I don’t know that they’re going to use it that way.

When I did ask Dan about it, it didn’t sound like they’d really thought about it much. But his initial reaction is, well, if we sell it to institutions and they want to use it that way, that’s fine. But they don’t necessarily want to go into the virtual conferencing platform market. But that really, as I saw it, I’m like, oh, I’d love this in a EdTech mode.

Jeanette: That’s definitely true. The other thing about Engageli is that it’s not it’s all run through a browser.  [00:24:00]So it made it for the most part, very simple. There wasn’t downloads and things like that. You’re not having to worry about any of that, which. It can sometimes be a nightmare, especially with conferences, since we’ve been experiencing, as you say, especially with conferences.

Phil: I want to end up with this. It’s a little mini rant. People portray – and actually, I think it’s accurate – that one of the main competitors to to Zoom right now has been Microsoft Teams. Now that you and I are using the Microsoft platform more with a client engagement. Oh, my gosh, that is such an old enterprise licensing and application model.

That’s almost the opposite of what we’re talking about. Takes forever to get it licensed and set up. And in one of our cases, we cannot even connect the Teams part with a client because of the firewall settings.  [00:25:00]It’s difficult to use. It feels like you’re going back in time, at least 10 years, and then everything is a downloaded app, and then you go with this Engageli model. But it’s also the Zoom model. It’s also the ClassEdu on top of Zoom model – that’s much more consumer friendly of, hey, just set it up, it’s easy and start using it. Get away from all of the complex licensing and installation challenges you’ve had before. And I just have to say, this is an area where I know Microsoft Teams is getting used quite a bit, particularly in higher education and also in high school settings. But to me, there is going to be so much momentum behind these easy to use applications. And in the case, purely based on a browser moving forward, it’s so compelling as long as they’ve taken care of all of the security and the science and aspects.

So I’m asking [00:26:00] people, don’t make us use Teams if you don’t have to.

Jeanette: I think it’s like completely slow down by computer by 10 to every time restart I the Teams think locks me up forever.

Yeah. So in EdTech, this is the interesting area product category area. It’s not it’s an old category where you used to have Wimba and Elluminate and some of these  tools, but now you have a lot of interesting activity. This is the fastest growing area of EdTech usage, yet people are trying different approaches Zoom in which you give Zoom credit that they not only have taken the market, but they have hired a lot of education people. So I don’t think they’re going to stand still. I would expect to see more education features directly within Zoom moving forward.

So here’s the area of EdTech that seems to have the most momentum and [00:27:00] the most iterations happening right now based on how people are teaching. So this is one of the most interesting areas to watch, in my opinion.

Jeanette: I agree.

Phil: Well, as always, it’s great to talk to you and sorry for surprising you with with the guests participating here. But it was funny when Emily saw the wine and got all excited.

Jeanette: Love it. No, glad to hear from Emily.

Phil: Ok, well, we will keep watching this space and appreciate you being online and doing the demo, Jeanette, and talk to you later.

Jeanette: You guys have a good evening. All right. Bye bye.