Maxwell Brodie, Founder & CEO
It is December 2012, and Maxwell Brodie wants to build a new kind of business: an organization merging the necessity of growth typically found in venture-backed companies with positive social impact typically the domain of nonprofits. Brodie recalls, "I chose quite early on to focus on education, because if we could help people learn faster by making education more efficient, accessible, and affordable, then maybe, in a very small way, we can help solve some of humanity's other great problems."
But in December 2012, Brodie didn't have a product: "The difference between a dream and a vision is details-and in 2012, I knew I was missing a lot of details." He set out to discover the details that would eventually form the basis of Kaizena, an education technology company transforming how educators and students give and receive feedback.
Noting “process is important when the outcome is uncertain,” Brodie adhered to a strict process for discovering, then ranking the impact of problems he encountered: “Problem discovery is essential for creating a scalable business in any field, but in education the problems are incredibly interconnected. It took a while to identify feedback as the linchpin issue.”
Brodie embedded himself in classrooms and conversations with educators. What he discovered was striking: educators would spend 10-15 hours per week reviewing student work such as essays, projects, and presentations. Students would skip to the grade. In some cases, the essay ends up in the trash: “Looking at educators’ time investment in feedback and comparing it with student reactions, I suspected there could be something there. Then I found an incredible body of research and all the details started to mesh.”
Making the most effective teaching method practical for educators
Brodie’s investigation of the existing literature revealed feedback results in 2.6x more learning progress than reducing class sizes at 1/4 the cost, 4x more learning progress than extending school hours at 1/3 the cost, and 1.6x more learning progress than tutoring at 1/4 the cost. Compared with thirty-six other teaching practices, feedback was most effective.
"I’m incredibly proud that with every dollar Kaizena earns, we have necessarily enabled educators to engage in the most effective teaching practice–and investing that money to further grow Kaizena necessarily grows our impact. It’s a beautiful and exhilarating way to do scalable good"
Galvanized by the topic, Brodie opines: “Since our first moments on this planet, we have been using feedback to learn about the world around us. It’s everyone’s natural learning process, and we are making it practical for educators to focus on feedback.”
Digging deeper, Brodie found additional research that reminded him of a previous conversation with an educator: speaking feedback was far better than writing feedback for both students and educators.
With 67 percent of millennials agreeing they can find a YouTube video on anything they want to learn , Kaizena’s Lessons feature aligns perfectly with our desire to create practical technology for educators, and improve the quality of feedback students receive on their work
Building on this theme, Brodie asserts “Voice comments became Kaizena’s first feature because it was both practical and impactful; it saved time for educators and was better feedback for students. This subsequently became the basic requirement for every feature we develop.”
Just highlight and speak
Kaizena’s voice comments are magically simple-just highlight some text in any Google Docs or Word document and start speaking.
However, Brodie did not realize the full impact of voice comments until Katherine Cozens, an English instructor from Melbourne, wrote: “I guess I’ll start off by saying that last year, after seven years in the profession, I wanted to quit.” Like most educators, Katherine worked far more hours than her compensation suggested: “Every student can potentially hand in dozens of drafts prior to an assessment/exam. I teach over 100 students, and at peak times, the workload of marking drafts can be, to say the least, tremendous.”
Katherine was “constantly trying to balance competing needs while marking papers: not giving them so much red pen that they felt overwhelmed, and not going into so much detail that I’m writing their papers for them, whilst at the same time trying to be clear, encouraging and effective as I go.”
Providing feedback began to affect her health-in particular, “I even had put in a Work Cover compensation claim earlier in the year because I developed a condition in my wrist and forearm from the hours spent pouring over students’ writing!”
When Katherine found Kaizena, speaking feedback not only relieved her wrist pain, but “sped up the process a great deal: I’d say it’s reduced my marking time by 40%. This has made a huge difference to my general sense of satisfaction at work: I feel less burdened by the marking load, I’m putting more time into planning, and I have decided to stay on the profession for at least another year.”
True to Brodie’s desire to create technology improving the feedback process for both teachers and students, Katherine’s students were also benefiting from voice comments: “Now, my kids are receiving more feedback, and much more detailed feedback. No longer constrained by the amount of space left on the page, or the ache in my forearm, I can offer complex thoughts, constructive criticism and praise in a far more natural way. My students are happier too-they appreciate the greater detail and also the sense of encouragement that they get from hearing my voice.”
From Voice to Video
As impactful as voice comments were becoming, one feature does not make a business. Kaizena had to expand its feedback offering to continue growing.
Educators were asking for a way to reuse their comments-but Brodie remembered his commitment to create feedback tools both practical for teachers and impactful for students: “The lessons concept evolved from what educators were originally asking for, a way to reuse comments, to a simple way for educators to embed short explainer videos on common mistakes.”
Like voice comments, the lessons feature is simple-just highlight, type the first few characters of the error, and choose a relevant video.
“With 67 percent of millennials agreeing they can find a YouTube video on anything they want to learn , Kaizena’s lessons feature aligns perfectly with our desire to create practical technology for educators, and improve the quality of feedback students receive on their work,” states Brodie.
Kaizena’s lessons feature has revolutionized how Vivian Cassel, an English instructor at ÖstraGymnasiet, in Huddinge, Sweden, gives feedback: “The amount of time it takes to read the essay is how long it takes to give feedback. It used to take 30 minutes minimum, and now it takes about 10-15 minutes. And that would be an essay of about 1,500 words.” Vivian is quick to note that providing faster feedback with Kaizena did not come at the expense of quality: “My students talk about how well I give feedback, how quickly I give feedback, and how technologically advanced I am; they love it!”
For all the success brought by voice comments and lessons, Brodie asserts that Kaizena’s future is to be built on the skills feature: “The skills functionality lets educators highlight and rate evidence of learning objectives that students demonstrate in their work. Right now, we use this data to autocomplete the rubric, but soon we will be launching skill-tracking, which gives students, educators, departments, and programs visibility into how students’ skills are developing over time, across assignments.”
Kaizena employs a freemium model, offering a base suite of free features for educators and an enhanced set of features for both educators and institutions. With the paid version, educators gain additional insight on skill progression, metrics on what feedback students have read or heard, and additional voice comment recording time. “Institutions typically want Kaizena’s skill data in their LMS or data warehouse, which is the type of collaboration we engage in once schools purchase Progress,” Brodie notes, referring to the premium version of Kaizena. Looking ahead, Kaizena will be launching a module enabling video comments, automatic transcription of voice comments, and automated feedback assistance from machine learning systems.
Before deployment, Kaizena typically meets with institution stakeholders to discuss the school’s implementation objectives. This conversation identifies existing systems, and whether Kaizena skill data should integrate with those systems. For institutions using Google’s G Suite for Education, Kaizena is listed on the G Suite Marketplace and can be deployed “in less than five minutes” across the domain or to an organizational unit. For educators, Kaizena’s customer success team offers flexible training via ongoing webinars.
Reflecting on his journey to date, Brodie remarks, “Kaizena’s greatest achievement is creating a growth engine for feedback. We cannot simply expect educators, already laden with designing and delivering their courses, assessing student work, research, grant-writing, and serving on committees to also investigate and implement new teaching practices. There is not enough time in the day. I’m incredibly proud that with every dollar Kaizena earns, we have necessarily enabled educators to engage in the most effective teaching practice – and investing that money to further grow Kaizena necessarily grows our impact. It’s a beautiful and exhilarating way to do scalable good.”