Interview | Rafi Holtzman: Giving Education A Stronger Reach

In 1995, while working at Electronics for Imaging (EFI), a company specializing in digital print controller technology, Rafi Holtzman noticed that his team had difficulty interacting with their engineering counterparts abroad when discussing product changes and developments. “Unfortunately,” says Rafi, “this ‘close collaboration’ involved the time-consuming process of—believe it or not— faxing drawings back and forth while participants attempted to explain edits via phone.” That’s when they thought: there must be a more effective way to make content dynamic and make collaboration effective. Rafi created the concept for what today is known as eBeam technology—the cornerstone of the interactive solutions they make at his company, Luidia. The technology transforms virtually any flat surface into an interactive workspace where people can manipulate, capture and share content in real time. “At the time, I felt the idea resonated with teachers who were facing very similar challenges to what my team faced, but in the classroom,” he says. “The typical classroom was hopelessly passive and analog, making it very difficult for teachers to capture students’ attention. We keyed in at the right time on the opportunity to apply our technology to make a difference in the education market,” he says. Today, they have expanded, and create interactive solutions for schools, companies and government organizations to capture and share ideas. They also partner with industry leaders, such as Sony and HP, who integrate their eBeam technology into their products. Here, Rafi further discusses in depth what the technology does, how it works, how it works for education, what his thoughts are about the future of education in light of such transformative technologies—and a moment in his own learning that really resonated.

Victor:  What does Luidia mean?

Rafi: Luidia is named after Luidia ciliaris, a species of starfish with multiple arms, each with a sensor at the end, to make it faster and stronger vs. others. Similarly, we give users more tools – essentially “more arms” – so they can be more effective.

Victor: Briefly what does the technology do?

Rafi: It seamlessly and digitally captures everything you write on virtually any flat surface (whiteboard, glass, or a big notepad). It’s stored so you can share it in real-time.  In addition, we have a projection component that makes presentations come to life – essentially what you’d be able to do on a computer screen, plus more. Using our technology, it’s easy for multimedia that is projected onto a variety of display surfaces (like a whiteboard, wall or an LCD), to be manipulated using an interactive stylus – just like a mouse on a giant tablet – to navigate, add notes, manipulate images and create diagrams.

Victor: Today’s teachers want to make their classrooms more interactive. What’s the benefit of having one of your products in the classroom?

Rafi: Yes, many teachers have already gravitated towards interactive whiteboard technology. And they know that traditional IWB technology is cumbersome, ineffective and very costly for schools.  That’s troubling, considering that most schools are already finding it difficult to invest in new technologies, given budgets and the state of our educational system. With our products—considerably lighter and more portable, effective and inexpensive—schools can introduce technology to the classroom and foster experiences that help make learning dynamic, engaging, lively, interactive, modern. They can capture notes, brainstorms, and lessons, archive these so they can re-use them, and distribute content via e-mail and the web. For example, one of our users recently used our technology to keep a student up to date on curriculum while she healed from surgery at home. Remote access to classroom materials is also a great opportunity for parents to stay involved as they work with their child to review archived notes and help them do homework assignments.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market? 

Rafi: We have the smallest, lightest interactive product on the market that you can attach to virtually any surface. It’s so mobile that you can take it from classroom to classroom, and it’s retrofittable, so there’s no costly install or need to “rip and replace” with our technology, unlike the whole-board solutions available from companies such as SMART or Promethean. When we’re creating our products, we’re constantly thinking about the user experience, so it’s also important to us that our products are by far the easiest to use. We’ve also heard again and again from the field and our industry partners that our solutions are flexible and easy to integrate into an existing ecosystem of products—for example, on a classroom level, with the Kindles or iPads a school may already be using.

Victor: Where can you get it now?

Rafi: Our eBeam products can be purchased via our online store at http://store.e-beam.com/. We also work with a large number of US and international re-sellers. Our products are used by hundreds of thousands of users in multiple industries and geographies and are also licensed to industry leaders, such as Sony, Hitachi and HP, who incorporate our technology into their products.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Rafi: There are a number of options for the Education market, from our whiteboard capture systems to the multimedia-rich Engage, which sell for roughly from $750-1000.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Rafi: We are regularly impressed by how teachers are incorporating eBeam technology in the classroom—applications range from using it to take lunch orders to assisting special-needs students with classroom engagement. In general, the teacher uses the interactive stylus to transform a normal surface into an interactive learning space, directly involving his or her students in the lessons in more visual and physical ways. For example, we know of a case of a teacher of special-needs students leveraging eBeam technology. She often starts class by engaging her students in an activity about the day’s weather, having her students drag in images of coats and snow to illustrate their conclusions. She also involves them in the learning process by having them cross out days of the week on a projected calendar, as well as following math lessons on their own worksheets as she does them on the board.

Schools administrators and those at the district level also take advantage of the eBeam technology. At the district level, we know of a curriculum developer who activates lesson plans for administrators/teachers using one of our products. Before purchasing our products, the curriculum developer sat behind his laptop when giving presentations. Now, he is able to provide compelling instruction by presenting plans while facing his audience and engaging them readily with the content at hand.

These are just two quick examples of eBeam in action. You can check out more case studies at http://www.e-beam.com/casestudies.html.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Rafi: Really, anyone who works in any kind of collaborative way.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Rafi: These days, the term “educational technology” often refers to technologies that seek to replace teachers. The life of a teacher is hard, certainly, and they need all the help they can get, but the belief that prepackaged digital lessons or a big screen can in any way replace a teacher is ridiculous.

While the possibility of more self-directed learning and technological educational help is exciting, the most important technologies are those that support teachers, not those that seek to replace them. I do not believe that technology will make a teacher better, but that it can help them be their best; I believe in technologies that give teachers powerful tools to help them manage their workload and bring added interactivity into the classroom.

Although budget cut woes and the call for enabling educational technologies both continue to dominate the press, I often think we lose focus on what’s important—the students. It’s not about politics, or photo ops, or business. It’s about what is best for our kids, and I believe using resources, all resources, wisely and effectively, to give our children the most excellent education we can, is one part of that.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating eBeam technology?

Rafi: One of my favorite memories is a moment in which a teacher of mine was teaching our class about maps. He drew on his own thumb with a dry erase marker and pressed it onto the whiteboard. Using that thumbprint he showed us how topological maps worked, and proceeded to bring out actual topographical maps for us to examine. But that moment of using the world creatively to explain something—actually pulling a visual, physical example into a lesson—really stuck with me. I hoped in some way to make eBeam technology a portal to draw outside media dynamically, spontaneously and creatively into the classroom.

Victor: How does eBeam technology address some of your concerns about education?

Rafi: How students learn today has fundamentally shifted from when I was in school.  Their “digitally-wired” brains are tuned to interact—not simply consume. They are used to a world of video games, social networks, texting and tablets. In short, they’re consuming knowledge interactively, by creating and sharing information. With eBeam technology, students can create alongside teachers and interact with material in a way not previously possible to make it not just more engaging and relevant, but also fun. Furthermore, eBeam technology is an effective way (in terms of cost, space, and effort) to transform a normal classroom into a digital and interactive one; my concerns about spending resources efficiently and to the greatest effect are one of the reasons I have created the technology the way I have—small, retrofittable, cost-effective and flexible.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Rafi: According to U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly 50 million students are heading off to approximately 99,000 public elementary and secondary schools this fall. An estimated $540 billion will be spent related to their education before the school year is out. But what is that money buying us?

According to the last Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assessment of education attainment across the world conducted in 2009, the United States ranked 30th in mathematics, 23rd in science and 17th in reading. These numbers are extremely powerful indicators of how well the students of today will be prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow. If we wish to remain internationally and economically competitive, education must be a leading national priority.

Ongoing reform efforts, such as the President’s 2012 budget proposal to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED), are a step in the right direction, but not nearly enough.  We need to analyze what technologies are truly effective tools for teachers and how they can be fluidly introduced into the educational system without costly overhaul. I firmly believe in the transformative role technology can play in education. Otherwise, I would not be here at Luidia.

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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One Response to Interview | Rafi Holtzman: Giving Education A Stronger Reach

  1. Pingback: Interview with Luidia’s CEO « eBeam Rocks!

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