For my first in conversation with I will be speaking to Seneca Learning Chief Scientist Dr Flavia Belham.
Could you describe your background and involvement with Seneca Learning?
I am originally from Brazil, where I was a Science teacher. In 2014, I moved to London to do a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL. Since graduating, I have been working as Chief Scientist at Seneca Learning. I’ve had several roles at Seneca, from helping to develop our methodology to visiting schools around the country to provide CPD training. More recently, I have been focusing my time on managing our Brazil project and running virtual teachmeets and conferences for UK teachers.
For those that have not heard of Seneca Learning why should they use it with their students? How does cognitive science fit into Seneca’s development?
Seneca is a free online learning platform providing resources for more than 3.5 million students and teachers. Our content goes from primary to A-Levels and it’s all exam specific and written by amazing teachers – like yourself, Tom! Every single tool we have for teachers is free. The main idea is that teachers can set up classes and use Seneca to set assignments. Then, with our automated marking and statistical analyses, we help teachers identify and reduce learning gaps.
Our methodology is entirely based on cognitive science. The main principles we follow are spaced and interleaved practice, dual-coding and retrieval practice.
Which features are you most proud of on Seneca Learning?
There isn’t a specific feature… I am proud of the fact that everything we do is based on science and evidence. That’s really cool! The methodology we use, the algorithm my colleagues developed, the way we present and test information, it’s all based on research. That’s why it works so well! You can read our first paper published based on our RCT here.
How can Seneca Learning be used to its full advantage in closing knowledge gaps from September post lockdown?
Identifying knowledge gaps can be a huge task, but we can always use data to help us. For example, using the data collected during the lockdown from students’ online work can provide us with information about each pupil’s knowledge gaps. Our Seneca courses provide several “end of topic” quizzes that can also help with that. And, of course, all the data is stored and presented to teachers on the teacher platform. Once we have the information, we can differentiate the work we do with each student. Actually, Seneca is just about to launch a Smart Homework feature, so teachers can reassign particular topics to each student, based on their individual knowledge gaps identified by our algorithm. Another thing that Seneca is providing now is our SLT Enhanced analytics package, to help headteachers and HoDs to have more information about their schools.
How many current users do you have? Have you noticed any patterns as to who is using the platform and when they are using it?
The last time I checked there were 3.75 million students, nearly 200,000 teachers and about 40,000 parents signed up. Since lockdown started, these numbers have been changing very quickly though so it can be hard to keep up! I’m just glad we’re offering a product that has been so useful to so many people during this challenging time.
In terms of who is using the platform, we’ve seen more and more KS3 and A Level teachers using our content. Our content team have invested a lot of time in adding even more content for these age groups, including standardised assessments and exam-style questions, and it’s great to see teachers are enjoying this new content.
Usage is quite evenly spread across normal school hours with most activity happening just before lunch. It’s nice to see that students have been taking it easy in the evenings and relaxing with their families.
I have recently seen Seneca are offering an SLT Enhanced analytical package. How does that compare, improve and differ from the current analytical package?
The analytics in the platform gives great insights on a class-by-class basis. We’re working hard on adding extra features to make this data even more useful, such as adding multiple teachers to a class and providing a way of comparing data across classes. The SLT Enhanced Analytics package goes one step further by providing insights into usage across the whole school, including usage split by age group, by subject and by course.
To make this package as useful as possible for members of SLT, we’re also throwing in some bonus elements! These include early access to our free Virtual CPD Conferences and TeachMeets, personalised Seneca pages for all the courses taught in your school, and general extra support for students, teachers and parents.
It’s important to mention that, like all the analytics in the platform, this is completely free!
Would you be able to explain how the new smart feature homework will work?
Of course! This is one of the biggest features we’ve ever made so I’m super excited about it! So, Smart Homework lets you automatically reset specific parts of assignments based on how students did the first time around. A common example would be if 4 students in a class of 20 didn’t quite manage to finish off the last couple of sections by the due date, you’d want them to have another go at getting these done. Or maybe you want to make sure everyone has reached a certain score so you could reset sections to students where they got less than 70%.
I can see this feature being a massive help come September time when identifying and addressing learning gaps will be the name of the game. This has the potential to pile up the workload for teachers as they look to put together plans that are as personalised as possible. With the data that we have and how we are now able to use it, Smart Homework should make it much easier to get everyone back up to speed as quickly and effectively as possible.
A big thanks must go to Nesta and their EdTech Innovation Fund for helping make this happen.
What has the response been to the premium version of Seneca compared to the ‘free’ version? What is the major difference between the two?
The most important thing to mention here is that Seneca will always be completely free for teachers! All of the new features I’ve mentioned will be available for free forever! From the student’s perspective, all of our classic exam board-specific courses are still free and we keep adding more and more content to these, including standardised assessments, diagnostic misconceptions and exam-style questions. The main difference is access to even more of this content, some completely new course types and two extra learning modes. We have over 800 Premium courses across the age groups with loads of Exam-Style Courses being a highlight. Other course types include Hardest Questions, 7-9 Premium Knowledge, 4-5 Booster and some fun ones we like to call HyperFlashcards and HyperLearning! One of the Premium learning modes uses spaced repetition principles to plot optimal routes for students through their courses and the other lets students revisit just those questions they have previously got wrong to make sure they have them mastered!
I am also personally impressed with quality of communication from Seneca especially in response to questions on its features. What suggestions from users are you currently working on?
That is great to hear, we are always looking to find new ways to connect and share with our community of teachers, so it’s great to hear that you think we’re doing well on this front! We’ve actually been spending a lot of time creating subject-specific communities over on Facebook for talking about features as well as sharing useful resources.
I know I’ve already said Smart Homework is the best thing since sliced bread but what we have some things in the pipeline that could push it close! They are a bit less flashy but have been requested loads and will help make everything even easier. The first is being able to invite other teachers to a class, which will be great for Heads of Department and SLT in particular. After that, we’ll be looking at how we can better integrate with Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams starting with supporting Single Sign-On and then we’ll see what our teacher community would like us to work on next! We are actually running free CPD sessions about Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams. 300 teachers attended our first one so this seems like really useful for lots of teachers – all certified! We’ll be running more in late August/early September to help teachers get right back into the swing of things! And our conferences will also be back in September. They will be listed on Eventbrite.
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