‘Social listening’ proves effective for learning technology company

3 Oct 2014

Ruta Danyte, customer experience manager with Fishtree

Ruta Danyte, from educational technology company Fishtree, practices ‘social listening’ to better understand what teachers need.

Danyte spends a lot of her time listening. As customer experience manager with Fishtree, which makes adaptive online learning platforms, she is the interface between the engineers and developers that make the product and the teachers who use it.

“I am in between the engineering team, the business team and the community of users, and I have to have speak all of their languages,” says Danyte when we meet near the company’s office in Dublin 8.

The main aim of those conversations is to get students and teachers using technology in a way that lets them find resources and chat to each other in a safe, online environment, while also allowing the teacher to assess each student’s progress easily and step in with guidance if needed.

Fishtree’s users (who are mostly in the US) include schools, homeschoolers and higher-education institutions, and Danyte sees the Fishtree platform as enabling diversification in a standardised education system.

“If as a student you are struggling with learning or you are in need of something more challenging, sometimes teachers don’t have the resources available to help you learn more effectively,” she says. “So we empower teachers to help every student in the classroom by providing personalised resources for the student and by giving the students personalised data about progress to the teacher so the teacher can mediate.”

Social listening

Danyte’s role is to help improve the experience for users, so spends time talking with engineers and users, and practising what she calls ‘social listening’, where she can pick up what the education community is talking about online.

Twitter is a particularly rich source, and Danyte engages with #edchat discussions. This month should be a particularly noisy one in the tweeting networks because in the US October is Connected Educators month and teachers are encouraged to get more colleagues online and talking.

So what is she hearing? “One of the big trends we are seeing in education technology now is this change in mindset among teachers,” she says. “More and more teachers are now seeing they have to embrace changes in technology, they can learn about it from each other and from their students and that it is so much easier to make this journey in education together.”

From listening to the education community, Fishtree’s platform has put an emphasis on protecting the privacy of student data and on making it easier for teachers to know when a student needs help, notes Danyte. “For us as a company, social media is so important – how we deliver our products and campaigns come from those insights, they reflect what has been said in the community.”

Nor is it a one-way street – Fishtree has been able to apply learning analytics to help teachers understand student performance more readily: “Sometimes educators wouldn’t know what is possible and that learning analytics could be so easy to implement in the classroom,” says Danyte. “And that is where we can come in with the technology.”

Growing ambitions

Originally from Lithuania, Danyte has been in Ireland for four years – and almost two years with Fishtree. Her background in digital marketing and psychology brought her into the education sector, and she harbours an ambition to eventually open her own school to help people grow their personal development and digital skills. “I see myself in education and technology, working with people and helping them change their lives for the better,” she says.

Meanwhile her advice to students who are thinking about what they would like to do when they graduate is to build up their online network of connections (through Twitter and blogging) and figure out what it is they want to say to the world. “Create a personal learning network,” she says. “By doing that you can learn about digital marketing, tactics you can try and you will find out more about what you want to do in life.”

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication