IMAGINE a system that allows students, teachers and even parents to contribute ideas to improve their school without putting a huge weight on their workload.
Every1Speaks co-founders Peter Hirst and Jeremiah Alexander are hoping their platform can manage that feat.
The Newcastle company has been developed with the help of 19 early- adopter schools, and has ambitions to go nationwide and even international in the next year.
It has been boosted by a £100,000 investment from the Northstar Ventures Finance for Business North East Proof of Concept Fund, and now has high-profile help in the form of digital education expert Ewan McIntosh.
Alexander said: “We’re looking to create a collaboration and communication platform for schools. If you’ve got 1,000 people collaborating on something, you’re going to get the best vision and something more powerful than if there’s just five people working on it.”
Every1Speaks offers a secure and customisable web-based platform based on “gamification” principles, in which those involved with the school can post ideas or suggestions to an “idea map”.
Each idea is represented by an image, which grows as more people add feedback, discussion or votes. Teachers can help focus debate and introduce other people such as school governors and parents.
Alexander said: “In something of the size and complexity of a school, there are so many stakeholders.
“People want to involve others in discussions, but don’t often have the resources to do so.
“Frankly, they have enough on their plate, and expecting them to do more is a big ask.
“We’re talking about creating an enterprise-standard product, but tailored toward schools. Companies sometimes think they can afford to cut corners or build something second-rate because it’s for education, but the needs and challenges of schools outweigh those of many businesses.”
The product was launched in January, and Every1Speaks received assistance and £27,000 seed funding from Newcastle Science City in getting started.
The company hopes to put it in 100 schools worldwide by February 2012, building a strong nationwide network before establishing partnerships abroad.
Hirst said: “We’re passionate about inclusion and think everyone deserves a voice. By actively seeking pupil opinion using a medium they love, we are sure a school can improve engagement.”
The school is left to decide how it wants to roll out the system. Some are interested in making it available at home so parents can get involved, while others wish to keep it within school premises.
Alexander said some schools are using it as a collaborative reflection tool at the end of each class, while others are considering it as a formative assessment tool.
Northstar investment manager Stephen Price believes the company is first to market with a contemporary solution to the problem of student engagement.
The platform has been developed with education in mind, but Alexander said there is no reason why it cannot be applied to any organisation that requires large-scale collaboration and communication.
New non-executive director Ewan McIntosh has travelled the globe offering insights into how educational establishments can make use of digital technology.
His projects range from helping coordinate the digital strategy behind the Scottish National Party’s 2011 election win, to encouraging students at Sunderland’s Thorney Close Primary School to create a TEDxKids talk.
McIntosh said: “Increasingly, all over the world, schools and education ministries are no longer satisfied with just claiming that they listen to the voice of students – they really want to design better services with and for young people.
“There are no other products on the market that cater just for this requirement, hence the super validations Every1Speaks has been getting from educators in the classroom in its early prototype stages.
“Every1Speaks will help any institution – whether in education or not – harness the power of its users to make services better.”