Derry firm to bring classrooms into the digital age

A start-up is targeting growth with a device which improves haulage firm security, writes Trish Dromey.

MakeMatic founders Mark Nagurski and Catherine Ross.

An educational technology company in the North is aiming to bring classrooms around the world into the digital age.

Despite the rapid pace of global digital innovation 44% of Europeans lack basic digital skills.

About 90% of future jobs will require digital skills, according to a 2017 European Commission report.

MakeMatic, a video-based learning platform to help teachers update their skills in the areas of technology, design, and creativity, wants to fill that gap.

The idea for the company came from the experiences of Mark Nagurski and Catherine Ross.

Mr Nagurski had organised CultureTech, a week-long digital media festival in Derry, and Ms Ross, a former BBC series producer, had thought about the gaps in formal education which “sometimes struggles to help students learn to be creative and develop the technical skills to go with that creativity.”

“We both felt that these were increasingly fundamental skills and had a keen sense of responsibility to try and make creative and digital learning experiences accessible to all young people,” Mr Nagurski said.

The company partners with an established educational brand to develop “bite-sized, two-to-three-minute video resources that break down big topics into easily digestible chunks.”

Technology, problem-solving, design and creativity all feature heavily in what MakeMatic does, Mr Nagurski said. The courses focus on helping teachers develop their skills and confidence first, and then provide them with project resources and content to use in the classroom, Mr Nagurski said.

MakeMatic also licences content to educational publishers and government bodies which then incorporate that content into their own products and initiatives. Licencees pay a recurring annual fee, which starts at around €5,000 for each hour of content. This represents a typical saving of up to 90% when compared to developing the content themselves.

The content is usually free for the end user, which is the teacher or school.

“For example, a city council in the UK might licence our course on Coding in the Classroom to support a digital-skills initiative they’re developing. In most cases, the teacher or school can access the resource for free.”

The resources can be used in primary and post-primary settings. The pace of change in technology makes it particularly difficult for teachers to keep up, as they need to continuously learn new skills to teach those skills to their students.

MakeMatic’s resources help to support teachers’ professional learning in an accessible format, that is more flexible and less time-consuming than traditional training methods, the founders say. The model is video learning. Mr Nagurski said that the medium fixes the problem of scalability.

“There are tens of millions of teachers in the world and an estimated 68 million more will need to be recruited, and trained, in the next decade to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Providing face-to-face training for all of them isn’t really an option.”

Courses include 3D Design & Printing and Twitter for teachers. MakeMatic sees skill gaps as universal in schools around the world.

“We don’t tailor resources for any one market, but of course the context changes, so we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make resources that are useful across age levels, geographies and socio-economic settings.”

Starting in 2015, MakeMatic has increased its team to 20, based in Derry and Belfast and worked with global brands, including new collaborations with Crayola and The Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

MakeMatic will be testing a new product in the coming months aimed at parents who want to help their children develop creative and digital skills outside school. Most of the company’s revenue comes from the US market.

MakeMatic is focused on developing its market in the UK and Ireland, while preparing for its next big target market, the Asia-Pacific region.

The company has had support from Invest NI to support export growth and invest in R&D, and is raising a seed round to finance “some really aggressive growth plans”.

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