It’s one thing to talk about AI. Who isn’t? Then there is Professor Daniel Nathanson from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, who can talk about how he actually uses it, right now, in his classes.
Nathanson helped pilot an AI tool from Breakout Learning, an edtech company that helps educators moderate and grade scenario-based, small-group discussions. The tool acts as a consultant, offering suggestions and synopses, making grading more meaningful over time. The tech also aids in understanding how deeply students engage with case issues and fosters more meaningful class discussions.
I had the chance to discuss with Dan how the method reinvents the way he teaches and assesses students in large classes. While it’s not perfect, he says it significantly enhances the teaching experience by helping him focus on key learning points, encourages active participation, and fosters in-depth discussions. Have a listen and scroll down for more details.
Some of the benefits Prof. Nathanson has discovered include:
- It’s an enhanced grading system that assigns grades to both individual students and their teams, along with a synopsis of the issues.
- It’s valuable for the way it summarizes what students know and discuss, helping to identify focus areas and areas of difficulty.
- It provokes student participation, particularly in large classes, where traditional methods may hinder engagement. The tool encourages students to read and listen to course materials, providing options for various learning preferences.
Led by CEO and Co-Founder Ramit Varma, Breakout Learning closed a $4 million funding round earlier this year. Varma is also the co-founder of Revolution Prep, a Los Angeles-based tutoring and test prep company that was acquired by Apax Partners in 2021. Varma’s co-founders are Chief Technology Officer Joshua Oster-Morris—an accomplished technologist with a track record of building groundbreaking AI products, including natural language processing and image analysis tools for educators—and Chief Content Officer Steven Walters, an award-winning executive producer known for his work on multiple critically acclaimed podcast series such as “American Election: Wicked Game,” “Business Movers,” and “History Daily.” He is also the co-creator and head writer of “1865,” a podcast hailed by The A.V. Club as “the best audio fiction podcast of all time.”
The Business School Beta
While the Breakout Learning format has applications across a wide range of academic fields, the initial rollout this fall is focused on business education, where storytelling and the case-study method are widely used to apply concepts to real-world situations and make them more memorable for students.
“We’ve done little to improve case studies in the 100 years we’ve been using them for business education and the current state falls short,” continued Varma. “With our reinvented case-study method, instead of sending students home with boring PDFs and asking them to prepare for class by writing one-pagers—a meaningless exercise in the post-ChatGPT world—we deliver the stories through dynamic multimedia. We then tee up highly engaging discussions that are evaluated by AI, providing instructors with data to assess students based on their participation and deliver more customized and engaging lectures.”
Breakout Learning has additional UCLA Anderson faculty on board to use the product next quarter, including Entrepreneurial Studies Department Chair Olav Sorenson. Meanwhile, this fall, the company is seeking a limited number of additional “Founding Faculty” members to participate in beta testing. Professors will have free access to Breakout Learning’s platform and case-study library through the end of the year, in exchange for integrating them into at least one graduate, undergraduate, or executive-education class and providing product feedback. Business school professors interested in participating can apply at breakoutlearning.com/beta.
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