Innovative Educators: Quitch is making learning fun


Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

Making learning fun – a concept that many educators worldwide have tried many times over. Dr Grainne Oats is precisely one of those educators and is succeeding in spades. 

Enter Quitch, an education technology app that has various gamification elements to enhance a first-year student experience at university. Using the Quitch app has already shown many proven benefits to education, and has now been adopted in a number of other disciplines across universities.

Back in 2015, knowing it would be a struggle to retain the focus of the 1500 students undertaking a core accounting unit, Dr Oates was determined to connect with her students. Shortly after, the first version of the mobile app was developed. Forty-seven students took part in the trial of the app and early results showed strong engagement from the students, with three quarters using the app regularly.

Dr Oates recently travelled to Austin to take part in the Australian Government’s startup initiative at the South by South West interactive festival. Read about her experience in Austin below and how it influenced the next direction Quitch is going to take.

Can you tell me about your recent experience in Austin? How long were you there for, primary reason for attending? Had you been before, or was this your first time?  

This was my first time both to Austin and to the SxSW festival. The trip came about when I was informed by Austrade in Australia that the Federal Government were selecting eight Australian startups to the US to help promote innovative Australian business. Our company Quitch successfully applied to be one of the chosen eight. As part of the program, we were given access to a coach before we left for the US, to help us with presentation and pitching skills which was extremely beneficial – we did a lot of that while we were in Austin. All eight companies undertook a “boot camp” with the pitching coach and the Austrade staff in Melbourne before we left. We were then in Austin for a full week.

As part of the program, we pitched to a very well represented panel of judges, including a representative from Atlassian, Good shift Venture Capitalists, TechSydney, and the founder of GoCatch. We were judged on both the quality of pitch and the idea behind our business. All the companies were so diverse and our pitching styles so different – it was great exposure. Quitch received incredibly positive feedback from the panel.

You started an app that describes itself as “making learning fun”. What was the main impetus for this? 

Students lead very busy lives, and they have become increasingly disengaged from course content resulting in high fail rates, and low retention. For a medium size University with ~20,000 students a 1% drop in retention can cost a university $3.5AUD million a year. There is also the cost to the student. 

The idea for Quitch came about when I was watching students in my lecture theatre – every single one was on their phone when they were leaving the building. I realised we were trying to communicate with them the wrong way. Email doesn’t have a high response rate, and nearly every university uses a Learning Management System that is web based. I thought that if I could design something that’s mobile and interactive, we would be able to get through to the students in a really effective way. It has been incredibly effective.

The app itself includes elements of gamification which students respond to well. We have a leaderboard where the users can see where they rank compared to other users. The students get daily push notifications prompting them to answer a question. This works well for them, because students generally need to be reminded to do something! Quitch encourages students to check their comprehension and to go back and work through material again until they felt they understood it. It works well for both the student and teacher as we receive real time analytics on areas of difficulty, allowing us to adapt lesson plans to meet the needs of students. 

Currently we have about 20-25 different disciplines using Quitch – it’s content neutral and therefore a whole of Institution solution. 

We did a study of the students who used Quitch and found that retention had improved by 12%, and students who opted to use Quitch performed 7% better than students that did not.

The app has also taught me a lot as a teacher. It gave me an idea of what areas of the course students were having a hard time with. I began to spend less time on areas of the syllabus where students were understanding things quickly, and more time on the areas that were more difficult. At the end of the semester, the students' performance in the overall exam was much improved.

We’re on a great trajectory. The first version of the app was released in July 2015. Professor Dan Hunter joined the team soon after, and with expertise in gamification, helped with the design on Version 2 released in July 2016. We are currently working on Version 3 due for release in the middle of the year. It will have many more features and our users are keenly awaiting its release.

It was great to advertise Quitch at SxSW. Austrade did an excellent job of promoting all the different ventures, and we were visited by so many interested parties at the tradeshow.

There were also many Australian companies that were far more established than Quitch for example Huddle, who’s CEO was an invited speaker at SXSW. They too have offered us their advice, and we may be able to work on some projects together, so overall a very positive experience. Again, the support from the Australian community was fantastic.

Austrade did a amazing job – the pitch event was well promoted, well represented, and ran seamlessly. The post-event networking event was a great opportunity for us to speak with members of the audience, allowing us the opportunity to follow up with investors, potential customers etc.

What makes Austin unique as a city and for startups? What does it do well?

It does a number of things well – I know there are a number of people moving there every day. The community is young and vibrant, hip and keen to explore innovative ideas. There’s also an incredible amount of support within the startup community and for innovative entrepreneurs, no matter where someone is on their journey. 

It’s incredible in terms of number of events that are going on and high energy that surrounds them all. I definitely want to go back.

Is there anything that you think that Melbourne/Australia could learn from Austin or vice versa?    

I think the Australian Government is doing a lot for innovation, and promoting Australian startups internationally, much more than they have done in the past. It’s great to see, and to experience it.

How do you see Quitch scaling in the future? Did you time in Austin give you any ideas for this?

I see Quitch scaling very well in the future, and offer an endorsement from Oji Udezue, Head of Product, Atlassian HipChat as an example:

“Quitch is a fabulous mobile platform: Pour any type of engagement and learning content into it, and watch Quitch motivate your audience to engage using their phones. And then see how well your engagement campaign is doing using Quitch’s data analytics—which is available via mobile as well. Quitch is a genuinely scalable engagement platform for brands, students, health and more; at your fingertips.”

The state of Texas is renowned for innovation and education in their universities, and I wanted to start the expansion of Quitch to the US through Texas. It is very well respected in terms of education. 

The next version of Quitch will have other gamification elements – for example, a challenge mode, additional gamification elements, a social aspect and more analytics for the teacher and student.