Jeroen Fransen is the founder and CEO of Revisely, a company offering an online tool that makes it easy for teachers to give more and better feedback on texts to students in less time. Before devoting his work fulltime to Revisely, Fransen worked at management and consultant levels for IT and web consulting firms. Most of what he learned came from studying and working in several countries (Netherlands, UK, USA, and Spain).
How did your education and previous professional experience shape your current work at Revisely?
My interests and strengths have always been at the crossroads of technology, languages, and people. That’s why I’m really grateful to a career counselor who told me not to choose between STEM and Humanities when I was 15. At Utrecht University I majored in both English and Phonetics and then specialized in Language Technology after which I went on to do an MPhil in Computer Speech and Language Processing at Cambridge University. I guess that my academic experience, apart from giving me my first access to the wonderful world of natural language processing, Hidden Markov Models and Neural Networks, also showed me that progress is like an iceberg: most of it is invisible until ‘suddenly’ we can use something in daily life.
From day one at Utrecht University I was a bit of an entrepreneur, from teaching Wordperfect to fixing people’s computers. I started my first serious company after moving to Spain and never looked back. As an entrepreneur, I’m always trying to return value to our shareholders and to society as a whole. Especially in education these things don’t have to bite each other.
How do you hope your work at Revisely will change the way parents and students approach their learning?
Due to a lack of teachers’ time, the feedback that students receive on texts is often focused on the grade (summative). Revisely aims to improve the educational outcome by providing more and deeper feedback with less work for teachers. What we’re seeing is that more insightful feedback creates more engagement from students of all ages. We started out as a tool for language teachers but we see our tool being used by teachers of all sorts of subjects, from Spanish to Biology. We’re now working on integration with LMS-es so we can be used more easily. One of our long term strategies is to become the feedback button for text assignments. The other one is to connect scarcity with plenty: kids living in understaffed regions should be able to get good feedback on their essays from experts in other regions (digital workforce mobility). We form a part of the bigger differentiation trend: by providing students with more personalized feedback, teachers will be able to differentiate follow-up lessons.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
We read a lot about how AI will impact students’ learning. I’ve been excited about this for more than 20 years now, so I agree, but I think we should still look at it as an evolution rather than a revolution. Technology is very good at supporting differentiated and personalised learning but humans are actually quite good at teaching and like doing so. I think that technology supporting teachers (making them better, faster, stronger) has the best chance to make a lasting impact on learning. Technology, if not kept only for the elite, has the potential to create a more level playing field in the world, which would be good for humanity as a whole. I have a secret hope that VR/AR will allow more people to be immersed in more countries and cultures and thus create more mutual understanding, so I’m following developments in that area. Technology can also embed more generalized knowledge we have of how our brain works and what this means. As you see, I believe in progress coming from science and R&D in other places to improve learning.
What else are you working on in addition to Revisely?
One thing I’m really excited about is to build out Revisely as a platform to bring together teachers and students from different countries (e.g., the teacher from Kansas giving feedback on an essay of a student in the Gambia). Another project I’m working on is an accelerator for edtech startups and scale-ups in Europe. Generic incubators and accelerators lack experience in the educational market (longer sales cycles) and don’t offer access to financing that suits educational technology. Together with former Minister of Education of the Netherlands, Jo Ritzen (also co-founder of Revisely) we want to help initiatives from all over the world by giving them sector-specific coaching, knowledge (didactic), exposure to potential users and clients, and financing solutions that fit their needs.
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Image: Courtesy Jeroen Fransen