In an era of increasing class sizes that have reduced a teacher's ability to offer one on one instruction to students, a Kendall Park based company has developed an educational platform that could change the manner in which teachers are able to evaluate student learning.
Developed by PrazAs, Tabtor (tablet tutor) is an adaptive learning software for tablets such as the iPad, that keeps track of a student's learning behavior and helps teachers identify problem areas for more accurate feedback. The program combines personalized math tutoring and worksheets, while tailoring the experience for every student. This allows for the sharing and review of a student's work, automatic grading, video tutorials and adaptive analytics.
"When you look at the learning process, like when you're learning to drive a car, normally you have someone to sit with you to walk you through how to do it," said Kendall Park resident Raj E. Valli, founder and CEO of PrazAs. "When they put you behind the wheel they observe you as you go and guide you to be a better driver. It's no different if you wanted to be a surgeon or a carpenter. That's how it's done everywhere except education.
"In education, teachers show you how to do something and say this is how you solve the problem. If you want to know more you read the text and then they give you 10 problems for homework and you're on your own. It's like showing someone how to drive and then saying now drive to my house. That's impossible."
Valli, who moved to South Brunswick in 2006, started the company in 2007 as an online tutoring program, but spent the last two years developing Tabtor to innovate the educational process. He previously served as VP of Marketing (CMO) and Head of Business Development for WABCO Holdings Inc., and has over 14 years of experience as an executive, holding leadership positions at Honeywell/AlliedSignal.
Valli also spent many years working with Asha for Education, a non-profit group dedicated to the education of underprivileged children in India.
"I've sat in classrooms with no blackboards and have seen what it takes to deliver a good, quality education," he said. "I wanted to do something that was fundamentally different. I wanted to be an entrepreneur."
The Tabtor program gives students math problems and provides feedback to educators that allows them to see how the student solved the problem, how long it took them, and other analytics to give teachers a personalized view of student learning. As class sizes continue to trend towards one teacher for every 25 students, Valli said Tabtor allows them to identify which students are struggling and which have a solid grasp on the material.
"The challenge is how do you solve the problem of a teacher being able to observe every student's work without physically being there," Valli said. "We ended up creating a digital platform that provides the ability to understand every keystroke a student does when solving a problem. If I gave a problem to two students and they both give the right answer, your ability to understand which student knew the problem better is zero. They both gave the right answer so the assessment shows they're equally good.
"In our assessment, one student could've used the eraser, watched the tutorials and then solved the problem. We observe every keystroke, how long they spent on the problem, and what other things they're doing to provide teachers with a toolkit."
Valli noted that as teachers are dealing with more students and increased expectations from standardized testing, simply seeing which students are answering questions correctly fails to accurately pinpoint the students who are in need of assistance.
"We put the power of technology in the hands of teachers so they can teach, instead of doing administrative and grading work," he said. "I used to teach at the University of Virginia and when I finished grading the lab reports of 25 students I was done. It's hard to analyze their work after you've been doing grunt work. The teaching profession is challenged, with the environment changing as teachers are held to more and more while they're given less and less."
Valli noted that the program provides instruction at the point of learning to reduce frustration by offering video tutorials on how to solve troublesome problems. Tabtor also has a direct to consumer product where over 900 problem sets are available for students in grades K-6. The program is available for remedial, supplemental and gifted learners.
Tabtor recently partnered with Family Karate Super Center in Monmouth Junction for a lab in the lobby for children to use while they wait for class to begin.
"The fact that there are teachers behind the scenes to help the student, and how it can actually track exactly where the student mentally makes the mistake, and drills upon that is incredible," said Family Karate owner Donnalynn Patakos. "Now, with the Tabtor center in the school, students can work on their math, as well as the siblings that are waiting for them while they take class. The response has been fantastic."
Tabtor has also partnered with the Brunswick Acres and Indian Fields PTOs to demonstrate the product at upcoming Family Fun Night events. They're also actively discussing an expansion of the program to other subject areas.
Valli noted that the company strongly believes the Tabtor program can fundamentally change the way students are taught in K-12 classrooms, to usher in a new era melding technology with a personalized educational experience.
"Our goal is to transform education," he said. "We have a problem right now in the education system and we've gone passed the point of the last straw breaking the camel's back. We're beyond the tipping point. There are more students out there who require more attention and there are less teachers to go around. We have to make sure we're providing them with the tools for a personalized experience because students deserve that attention. But they get it in every other learning experience except K-12 schools."