Andrew Kimmel, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at AuraNexus, discusses how the organization is personalizing learning at scale across the United States.
COVID-19 prompted industries throughout the world to change operations overnight. In terms of education, the transition to remote learning has been one of the more challenging transformations to undergo.
However, seeking to streamline the process is AuraNexus.
It’s a video and AI technology platform that provides users with the ability to engage in conversation with pre-recorded video content. By pairing conversational interviews with vocal recognition, AuraNexus can provide a personalized, user-driven experience aimed at increasing engagement, instilling a greater sense of empathy, and improving learning via an accessible platform powered by the user’s voice.
Andrew Kimmel is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at AuraNexus. In our exclusive Q&A, Kimmel discusses the opportunity for schools across the United States to leverage this innovation as a result of the global disruption caused by COVID-19.
Can you give us an introduction into your career to date and explain how you came to work for AuraNexus?
Andrew Kimmel (AK): I started my career in the entertainment industry after graduating Syracuse University in 2008. Initially I had hoped to produce documentary films, but before the advent of streaming platforms like Netflix, the demand for production work was in reality television. I worked my way up to become a producer for some of the largest network reality shows on television, including “The Bachelor’’ franchise and “Dancing With the Stars.”
In 2015, I decided to leave the industry to take a chance on a documentary passion project of mine called “Stories of Syria.” The purpose of the project was to create an interactive viewing experience to humanize the refugee crisis. It led me to experiment with different filming styles and technology aimed at increasing viewer engagement. My original vision of the project was to film conversational interviews that could later be “asked” by the viewer by clicking on different topics that appeared on screen. The process was time-consuming and expensive, so I pivoted to conducting live streams from within refugee camps where viewers could participate in a live Q&A.
My live streams eventually caught the attention of the folks at BuzzFeed News, who ended up hiring me as a producer. Within a year, I became the Head of Live Video for BuzzFeed News where I ran a team responsible for both field and studio live broadcasts. During this time, I watched as vocal recognition technology became more prevalent and accessible. After two years, I left BuzzFeed News to revisit my passion project, but with the intention of doing something that hadn’t been done before… pairing vocal recognition technology with pre-recorded, live-action video to replicate a conversational experience.
By chance, I was introduced to an investor and innovation partner called Nex Cubed who was looking for AI concepts to foster. I pitched them on the idea and within a few weeks, we co-founded AuraNexus.
Briefly introduce us to AuraNexus. In your own words, could you outline its offering and what sets it apart?
AK: AuraNexus is a video and AI technology platform that provides users with the ability to engage in conversation with pre-recorded video content. The platform is currently being utilized in education to provide students with personalized learning at scale. Teachers use our platform to offer their students virtual office hours experiences with a familiar face to build trust, provide a safe space to ask questions, and an opportunity to learn at their own pace. Teachers gain valuable insights from our data which can be used to determine what teaching methods are most effective with their students, while also freeing up time.
We are the only company that offers technology like this in a cost-effective and scalable way. But what really sets us apart is our production style that replicates a face-to-face conversation.
In what ways are you revolutionizing learning?
AK: AuraNexus is providing a much-needed update to an antiquated educational system. Our technology makes students active participants in their learning. While most education is delivered passively for students as a whole, AuraNexus was developed as a tool to meet the individual needs of students.
Research shows active learners are more engaged learners, and higher engagement leads to enhanced comprehension and retention. Our incorporation of teachers familiar to the students also helps to build trust and increases a student’s sense of belongingness. This influences a student’s level of involvement with coursework and instills a greater sense of empathy that carries over into their continued education and professional careers.
Can you explain your COVID-19 mission? How is AuraNexus helping people during the pandemic?
AK: At the start of the pandemic, we recognized two major issues: 1) a lack of access for people to speak with experts and 2) the spread of misinformation. Our mission was to leverage our technology to slow and stop the spread of misinformation, while also providing everyone with the ability to speak to a variety of COVID experts who could answer specific questions, 24/7. The result was a free video resource page where users could ask questions and interact with doctors, scientists and other experts with first-hand knowledge.
As the pandemic continued and schools were forced to shift to an entirely remote curriculum, we pivoted our focus towards helping students and teachers. The lack of face-to-face interaction and tiresome or impersonal coursework was negatively impacting morale and lesson comprehension. Students today stand to lose $10 trillion in labor earnings over their work life due to our education system failing them in a time when it is needed the most. As a result of outdated technology and a one-size-fits-all teaching style, distance learning has failed our schools and students. It lacks personalization, is inefficient, and doesn’t provide students, especially those in lower-income communities, the connection to their teachers, classmates, and lessons that they need to achieve better outcomes.
COVID-19 has magnified the need for dynamic solutions to online learning. Our team is working towards this challenge and has provided a number of schools with a more effective tool that drives up engagement, offers a level of connection similar to what a real human interaction is able to provide, and aims to help improve student outcomes while reducing the stress on educators.
I understand you are leveraging technology that is the first of its kind to pair video with vocal recognition. What has this innovation meant? Just how important is this?
AK: The innovation we’re developing at AuraNexus is truly unique and our technology has reached a level we are proud of. That being said, we will always be working on improving what we’ve built. We speak with people every day who share their thoughts on how our technology can improve and make their lives easier, which pushes us to continue innovating with the goal of making it more accessible, while simultaneously increasing the value our technology can bring to everyone.
What we have done at AuraNexus is found a way to bring the human element back into a world consumed by technology where face-to-screen interaction is significantly more prevalent than face-to-face interaction. Rather than trying to push technology out of the way, we are leveraging it to make sure our interactions include that crucial face-to-face element again. We have a lot of ideas we are in the process of developing and are excited at the possibilities for where we see our innovation leading to.
With COVID-19, the importance of EdTech has never been so prevalent. How essential is it to equip students and staff with the tools they need in order to thrive from this new type of learning?
AK: COVID-19 has brought a wave of innovation to education. Yet only seven percent of schools in the United States say they have a thorough and extensive plan in place should remote schooling continue. It is imperative that we equip students and staff with the tools they need to continue their education remotely. That is why we built our platform to be easily accessible, scalable, and cost-effective, so that no school or student is left behind.
While our technology has been a valuable tool during the pandemic, we developed it for students to reach their greatest academic potential for when in-person schooling resumes as well. Should we find ourselves in a similar situation a few years down the road, we want to make sure schools are familiar with our platform, so students and teachers are better prepared to handle distance learning without sacrificing the quality of their education.
What does the future hold? What are the plans for the next few years and are there aims to diversify?
AK: The future of AuraNexus presents infinite possibilities.
It’s always fun to show our product to new users whose eyes light up and who start listing out all the different use-cases they recognize for our platform. While we are currently focused on growth within the education sector, our vision has always involved expansion into other areas such as corporate training, HR, and entertainment, to name a few.
We’ve started to use the platform for diversity, equality, and inclusion training and are now experimenting with automation to streamline the filming process, as well as setting the foundation for more accurate AI to enhance our machine learning. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with our innovation partner, Nex Cubed, to help accelerate the process and our growth.