Educake: “Why a small digital publishing company can be beautiful” DLL15
by Kelsi Farrington
EDUCAKE’s Managing Director and Founder, Charley Darbishire visited a crowd of Digital Publishing students for an open lunchtime talk at Oxford Brookes University on Wednesday, February 25th and brought insight into the development of one of the most well-designed and user-friendly teaching resources available online.
Educake is a new online homework and revision resource for teachers and students of Secondary Science. The platform, available on iPads, Chromebooks and tablets is specifically designed for the benefit of GCSE students (aged 14-16) to use in and out of class and enables their teachers to mark and monitor their progress and aptitude of a particular topic.
After working as an Editor and Product Developer at CDP, Charley Darbishire, an Oxford University graduate of Experimental Psychology, realised that teachers were spending a lot of time marking homework and not able to reflect on the class as a whole. He found that the only subject which offered an automated marking resource was GCSE Mathematics. However, these resources proved to be ‘clunky and difficult to use,’ he explained. ‘They crash a lot and feel like a backdated Encarta CD Rom from 1997!’
Obviously not an ideal experience for teachers and students alike so, after working at Hodder Education, Charley did some homework of his own and began designing the plans for a science resource that would allow students to track their progress and for teachers to be able to set work and oversee results in a sleek, easy-to-use fashion.
‘I wanted to try to reinvent the wheel and come up with something better,’ he explained and then went on to discuss how many people prefer using iPhones because they are a ‘joy to use’, and that the same user-experience is what Educake aims to provide.
To explain how Educake works in a bit more depth, here is a key breakdown of using Educake as a teacher:
Homework is set, students answer the questions selected by the teachers, their answers are marked ‘incorrect’ or ‘correct’ by the system which allows some room for spelling mistakes and flexible wording. They are then able to view the entire class or a selection of the class’ results in a colour-coded spreadsheet which can be downloaded or when placing their cursor over answers students have given, it directly shows them a preview of their answer.
This system allows teachers to easily see what questions the class as a collective or individuals are struggling with, and gives them insight into what topics needs to be improved or readdressed. For GCSE students, the questions prepare students for upcoming tests by mapping content to the curriculum and according to one student, Educake’s format even works well for a short attention span. With the ability to assign themselves tasks as well, this provides the perfect study-buddy for students wanting to get ahead and allows quick, useful feedback.
Described as ‘engaging,’ ‘deliberately simple’ and ‘good value for money’ it is no wonder that one of Brookes’ lecturers, Helena Markou, introduced Charley and his business venture as ‘a shiny example of what can happen if you are brave and disrupt publishing's digital landscape.'
With the a market of over 250,000 students, science is the subject with the largest budget (£5-8,000 per year, per school). Schools buy Educake as an onsite service for around £1,000 a year, this platform maps exactly to what students need to learn according to the curriculum. Through Educake-developed and -owned questions, Charley ensures it as being ‘good quality content’ from his selected freelance team.
Charley then went on to discuss career advice with us, to the relief of the MA Publishing students, he said that having an MA provided an advantage of getting a job. Most graduate vacancies unfortunately mainly are work experience / internships but that they would lead to something like working at big publishing employers like OUP.
By possessing a ‘great academic background, enthusiasm, decent knowledge of the relevant curriculum and a willingness to work for very little’ (which most near-graduates nervously giggled at) would put you in the running for getting a job.
He stressed the importance of doing job applications properly, particularly in an industry where ‘spelling, grammar and being clear’ is your job and that it was important to remember the simple process: a good cover letter leads to an interview, an interview leads to a job.
Charley described his background as being ‘definitely not in education’ and ‘more in Publishing not in design,’ he emphasised that it is still very possible to design something like Educake and shared his ‘lessons learned’ with us:
- Learn how to code -- Charley taught himself how to do basic coding and now sees doing extra coding-work as a joy.
- Learn how to create service script by utilising online courses but to also contradict that by getting experts on board because, quite frankly, ‘you'll make loads and loads of mistakes’.
- Remember that ‘everyone has had your idea before unless you are an engineering genius! Which I'm going to guess you are not...’
- Talk to people about what you want to learn about. See if they say anything like ‘do NOT do this!’
- Raise money from friends and family – raising funds is always a problem and you will always make mistakes but you might be surprised by the support you receive.
- Remember that a platform may be simple for use but complicated behind the scenes.
With Educake growing by having just moved to Amazon web services, it has allowed Charley’s team to grow and for more users to be active at the same time. Educational Publishing as a career, Charley described as being ‘an extremely competitive’ industry sector but ‘not as posh as fiction!’
About the author of this article
Kelsi Farrington is an MA Publishing Student at Brookes and a 1st Class Journalism Graduate from Falmouth University. She grew up in the Bahamas and works as a publishing intern at Oxfam HQ.
Last edited: 27 01 2018