Ariel Braunstein knows a little something about video. He cofounded Pure Digital, maker of the popular Flip video camera, which landed in the hands of millions of consumers before Cisco (the company’s owner since 2009) shut it down last year. So it’s not too surprising that his latest venture revolves around the creation and distribution of online video.
But this time his goal isn’t providing hardware to help general consumers create and share videos. Rather, it’s providing software to help teachers produce effective video lessons and students discover and learn from them.
Launched with former Flip marketing executive Scott Kabat, Knowmia, a platform for teacher-created video lessons, is part of startup accelerator Y Combinator’s latest class. The two cofounders will present at Y Combinator‘s demo day next week but took the wraps off their site Tuesday.
After the Cisco acquisition, Braunstein said, he had a chance to really think about what he wanted his next step to be.
“As a father myself, as somebody who comes from a great experience with video, I was asking myself, ‘how can I use my experience to… affect people’s lives in a very positive way but in a different field?’” he said. “I found myself drawn to education.”
Even though he isn’t an educator by training, he said he felt compelled to attempt to solve some of the problems he perceived. So he spent five months interviewing teachers, parents and students to figure out where his expertise could make the biggest impact and came up with the idea for Knowmia.
“We want to democratize access to the best teachers in every field,” he said.
Teachers review, provide notes on 7,000 videos in library
At launch, the site includes about 7,000 videos in a broad range of subject areas, from geometry and algebra to chemistry and physics to world history and American literature. The videos, which are about one to ten minutes long, have been mostly culled from YouTube and Vimeo and then reviewed by teachers working with Knowmia to provide editorial notes, create relevant quizzes and tag content according to subject, topic and skill.
Going forward, Knowmia will encourage teachers, as well as public and nonprofit groups, to add more videos. As the site grows, the plan is that the initial videos and tags will provide the foundation for additional notes and teacher-provided tags, which help teachers and students discover content.
The idea is that if students (mostly high school, for now) need extra help in a certain subject, say algebra, they can just go to the site, search for “quadratic equation” and instantly choose from a handful of short videos on the topic.
“At the end of the day, it’s a consumer website — for students and parents,” said Kabat. “The things they value most are variety of content, so they can find the teachers they like, and organizational tools, so they can discover what they need and measure whether the child has learned it.”
The founders said the video content will always be free but, in the future, they intend to charge for additional products, such as mini-courses, which are sets of lessons curated by teachers on Knowmia’s Editorial Board and sourced by videos in the site’s library. In addition to the content, the courses include teacher comments and quizzes to assess progress. Knowmia isn’t selling teachers’ individual lessons, but teachers whose content is included in Knowmia’s premium services will receive compensation, Braunstein said. The company declined to elaborate on pricing for its additional services and teacher compensation. The founders also said Knowmia is self- and seed-funded, but did not share how much it’s raised and from whom.
iPad app helps teachers animate, illustrate video lessons
In addition to the platform itself, the company has released the Knowmia Teach iPad app, which Braunstein described as an “iMovie for teachers.” To help teachers illustrate concepts and demonstrate techniques in their videos (or even in class), the app lets teachers mark up a periodic table or manipulate a water molecule.
Sites like the TeachingChannel and TeacherTube, in addition to YouTube and Vimeo, already provide teachers and students with an ample supply of video lessons. But, as Sal Khan’s popular online lessons have shown, there is an appetite for video instruction. And Knowmia’s focus on providing curation and structure, as well as sophisticated tools for teachers, will help distinguish it from other online platforms.
Depending on how much Knowmia charges for its mini-courses, I wonder if parents will think that their money is better spent on an actual tutor instead of a video course, especially given new startups like InstaEDU and Tutorspree, which make it easier and potentially cheaper to get live help in real-time. But at the right price, parents might find that it’s a compelling alternative to live support. The free content, which is better curated than YouTube, could not only provide students who are falling behind with supplementary material, but give high-performing students a way to preview a challenging upcoming course. The founders also said a priority is using the content to help students figure out what they don’t know, which is an interesting and valuable service.