This interview is part of our new AI in Education series, where we interview the world's top thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between AI and education.
In this interview, we speak with Franz Chen, founder and CEO of Ponddy Education, to understand how his company is using AI to transform education, and what the future of the education industry holds.
1. What's the story behind Ponddy Education? Why and how did you begin?
FC: We believe that life-long learning starts with a language. The way a person learns a language can provide a model to the way they learn other things. In 2015, Ponddy began with language learning.
The most difficult language for English speakers to learn is Chinese, which is also the most widely spoken native language in the world. With more than 3,000 characters, there are many challenges to learning Chinese. Besides needing to learn thousands of characters, the tonal nature of the language poses another layer of complexity.
Mandarin has four tones, so one word pronounced four different ways will have four different meanings. There are few decisions that have global impact in the next few decades that will not involve both America and China. It is critical that we are able to effectively communicate with one another. Ponddy decided to lessen the challenge of learning Mandarin by incorporating artificial intelligence.
By combining machine learning with natural language processing and self-learning materials generated using artificial intelligence, it is possible to create an optimal personalized learning solution.
2. Please describe your use case and how Ponddy Education uses artificial intelligence:
FC: Ponddy uses natural language processing techniques and a corpus of a billion characters (text and voice) to identify key learning elements. The Affinity Knowledge Learning System (AKLS) starts by grouping and categorizing elements that share properties and often appear together into Word, Character and Radical networks. It then finds the least resistive path for the learner to acquire and retain knowledge.
Using AKLS, students can recognize components that share similar meaning, learn important characters that are used to create many words, and practice word arrangements in sentences. These affinity properties increase both their learning effectiveness and retention. AKLS tailors individual learner needs and optimizes the learning outcome. It is the core technology for Ponddy Reader.
Ponddy Reader can instantly level content to national and international standards and make any authentic content comprehensible by automatically embedding language scaffolding tools into the text. Ponddy Reader makes teaching more effective and learning more efficient.
Ponddy is one of a select few organizations that has been approved by the College Board to offer its AP Chinese language and culture course online for high school course credit. Ponddy has developed AP thematic curricula that are incorporated into their online progressive course offerings from beginning to advanced levels. The courses combine AI materials with live instructors for a personalized learning experience.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has Ponddy Education done for them?
FC: Both the teaching and learning of Chinese are impacted by these challenges. It is very difficult to find reading material that is at the right level for students since there are no defined reading levels for Chinese content. There are limited resources that are at the appropriate developmental and proficiency level for students, so teachers spend a great deal of time finding, creating and modifying content to make it comprehensible.
The state of Utah has a high number of students learning Chinese through its Dual Language Immersion Program. Recently, the first cohorts have reached AP level and are advancing through their Bridge program to college-level courses. The students require a lot of reading material to prepare for the AP exam and to improve their literacy towards working proficiency of the language. By using Ponddy Reader to transform content into interactive online learning modules, students can read independently with AKLS language scaffolding tools in a flipped classroom model and come to class prepared to use their newfound language skills. Ponddy Reader has saved the teachers 50 percent of their class and preparation time. This combined with Ponddy Tutors, online instruction with live tutors, maximizes learning.