Smart Sparrow wins Gates e-learning grant

InSpark Science Network teaches with games and adaptive sims

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has selected Australian e-learning startup Smart Sparrow for a grant in a $20 million international competition to develop next-generation courseware.

Smart Sparrow, in partnership with Arizona State University (ASU), has been awarded the largest single grant of the investment round for development of its InSpark Science Network. It was one of seven successful applicants in the competition. The exact amount of the grant was not disclosed.

Smart Sparrow and ASU plan to develop two smart courses that teach basic science concepts using questions, interactive games and adaptive simulations.

The project will next undertake a 36-month program including design, development, distribution, adoption, and implementation, said Smart Sparrow.

When completed, the InSpark Science Network will be delivered to more than one million undergraduates in general education subjects and will be subjected to third-party research evaluations to measure student outcomes, the startup said.

“The InSpark Science Network will enable teachers to create great interactive learning experiences that scale up the magic of great classroom instruction, by adapting to each student’s individual level of knowledge and proficiency,” said Smart Sparrow CEO Dror Ben-Naim.

“We are proud to be establishing a world-leading team of experts, who will create tools that will have a lasting and significant impact on student success, here and now, and into the future.”

The project “seeks to transform society, enable student success, and fuse intellectual disciplines,” said ASU President Michael Crow.

“We look forward to joining with Smart Sparrow to invest in new ways to educate through exploration.”

The InSpark Science Network was modelled on the $4.5 million Australian Biomedical Education Skills and Training (BEST) Network.

The BEST Network, led by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and powered by Smart Sparrow, brought together top Australian medical schools and peak professional bodies to create a teaching network of biomedical educators sharing next-generation courseware and ed-tech. Smart Sparrow won a grant for the BEST Network from the Federal Government under the National Broadband Network (NB) Enabled Education and Skills Services Program.

“There is a growing body of evidence that courseware, when integrated effectively by faculty in instruction, can personalize learning at an unprecedented scale potentially enabling all students — not just those who are able to attend the most elite, expensive colleges — to get the best and most effective education at a reasonable price,” said Daniel Greenstein, director of postsecondary success at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This latest round of investments represents our belief that a new generation of courseware is beginning to emerge with capabilities that will have tremendous benefits.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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Tags startupsgrantsBill and Melinda Gates FoundationNext Generation Courseware ChallengeE-learningbill gatesSmart SparrowStartupedutech

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