Nick Lum is the founder and CEO of BeeLine Reader, an edtech and accessibility startup. Lum's work has been covered by the New York Times, NPR, and the BBC.
How did your education and previous professional experience shape your current work at Beeline Reader?
I studied linguistics in college, and my interest in language and cognition certainly helped spur my creation of the BeeLine Reader technology. I have always been interested in understanding how we process information, and how we can do so more efficiently. My work experience (seven years as a corporate lawyer) has little relation to literacy, except of course that I spent all day reading legal briefs and cases! I created BeeLine Reader as a way to make the process of reading on-screen more efficient for everyone.
What has been the response from users of Beeline Reader?
BeeLine Reader has three audiences. We actually launched as a general technology tool, and all of our early press coverage was in this sector (Fast Company, Gizmodo, The Atlantic). In addition to the general technology market, we are also in the edtech market and the accessibility/SPED market. What we hear from users roughly corresponds to which group they are in: general tech, edtech, or accessibility.
Among general technology users, the response is, "Wow, this is a really cool trick for making reading easier!" In the edtech group, we hear from teachers and parents: "This is a great tool for helping my students read and stay focused." The most exuberant response is from the accessibility/SPED users (typically with dyslexia, ADHD, or low vision), who are sometimes moved to tears by their newfound ability to read. It was emails from people in this last group that convinced me to quit my day job as a lawyer and to work full-time on BeeLine Reader.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
There is a growing presence of laptops, tablets, and other connected devices in education. This trend brings with it pros and cons. On the one hand, it’s an undeniable benefit that students can easily look up facts using their computers instead of having to go hunt down an almanac. However, students are now placed in environments where distractions are everywhere, and this presents the expected challenges (educational and behavioral) for students and for teachers.
Computers and tablets aren’t going anywhere, so our job will be to teach students to manage distractions and to provide an environment where they are somewhat insulated from the potential downsides of connected devices.
What, if any, are future plans for Beeline Reader?
We started out by offering our own browser plugins and document converters, and these tools have been used to read over 250 million pages in 60 different languages. These tools are still available and are being used by readers around the world, but we are now adding another way that people can benefit from our technology.
We are now partnering with educational platforms so that our technology can be built into the apps, sites, and textbooks that students are using for their schoolwork. We are already integrated into Reading Is Fundamental’s new online literacy platform, and into the Bookshare platform, which is free for any US student with dyslexia or any other print disability.
In the coming months, we’ll be launching partnerships with literacy platforms, LMSs, accessibility tools, and general (non-edu) reading platforms. By integrating with these tools, many of which are free, we’ll be able to serve millions more students and readers.
Who are the most interesting people you are following on Twitter?
I try to stay off of Twitter. Sad!
Image: Courtesy Nick Lum