WiseSalmon: Simplifying the future of teaching and learning with AI

20 Mar 2023

Siobhán Ryan. Image: WiseSalmon

Founded by teachers for teachers, Dublin-based WiseSalmon is on a mission to streamline grading and feedback at all levels of education.

It is said that teachers who love teaching teach children to love learning. But sometimes, when teaching gets hard, learning isn’t as efficient as it can be.

A recent survey by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation found that nine in 10 teachers are facing severe burnout as a result of increased workload over the past five years. One of the major findings of the survey published last month is that teachers often end up working overtime consumed by paperwork – reducing their productivity in the actual classrooms.

Now, one Irish start-up founded by teachers and for teachers thinks it has found the silver bullet needed to address the problem.

WiseSalmon, named after the mythical Irish Salmon of Knowledge (An Bradán Feasa), is on a mission to automate the process of grading students’ work and giving them feedback using machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The goal is to simplify teachers’ workflow so they have more time to add value to teaching and learning in the classroom.

The story so far

For founders Siobhán Ryan and Dr Daithí Ó Murchú, the story of WiseSalmon is one of frustrated teachers innovating to make the lives of everyone in their profession easier.

Ryan started out as a lab scientist, and later brewing shift manager, at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin before moving to Africa with her family in 2009. A mother of three teenagers, Ryan’s keen interest in education developed while being an advocate for her son – who is on the autism spectrum.

She retrained as a secondary school teacher in 2019 but soon found the workload to be unsustainable when combined with her busy homelife. Ryan then took time out of teaching last year to focus on her son and it was during this time that she explored the idea of a technological fix to the problem at hand.

“Our aim is that our solution will have applications everywhere there is teaching and learning,” Ryan told SilconRepublic.com. “We want students and teachers to efficiently, effectively and meaningfully utilise their time to ensure success using our platform.”

She teamed up with Ó Murchú, who is an expert in education and emerging technologies, after connecting with him through their shared passion for improving education and soon got accepted into the New Frontiers programme based in Dundalk Institute of Technology and Dublin City University.

WiseSalmon has collaborated with bespoke AI company Gemmo AI to build an automatic grading app for students and teachers. Currently, its algorithm uses machine learning to automatically grade students’ answers using former leaving certificate biology exams.

“Our AI is like a student learning a new subject. It needs inputs from students and teachers so it can learn, and we can improve its accuracy over time,” Ryan explained.

“We are starting with science subjects because we want to capture and retain students’ attention in the sciences from the first day they enter secondary school.  Our technology aims to ensure no student is left behind.”

The platform uses a technique called formative feedback – understanding where you are on your learning journey – as a method of teaching and learning. The ultimate goal is to build out a full suite of subjects at all levels of education, starting at the post-primary level.

“This technology will be of huge benefit to those students who are differently abled and to teachers adopting 21st century teaching and learning methodologies. We see the huge value that the data can bring to future research in education and development of educational policies.”

Looking ahead

Eventually, WiseSalmon will explore the possibility of gamifying the learning experience and make it more fun using emerging XR technologies and game-based learning environments in the metaverse.

But for now, it needs to focus on getting its initial product on the market. According to Ryan, there are around 350,000 post-primary students in Ireland and another 3m in the UK. But the real prize will be entering the US market, which is home to around 25m post-primary students.

WiseSalmon has already started trialling its prototype in several schools in Dublin, onboarding more on a weekly basis.

“Ireland is a great place to prove out our technology before we launch into these bigger markets,” said Ryan, who will be attending the Irish Science Teachers Association in a few weeks hoping to find some early adopters of the tech.

Ryan said that WiseSalmon will be generating revenue from the start, charging an estimated €5 per student per year, up to a cap of €25 per student per year once the start-up can offer a full suite of subjects to schools. To do this, like any other ambitious project, it needs funding.

“We are now looking for further investment and/or grants so that we can cover salaries for technologists, teachers, marketing and financial advisors. This investment would speed up our route to market and help us build our full suite of subjects at a faster pace,” she said.

Seeking out organisations such as Enterprise Ireland, as well as angel investors or VCs, for help in the form of a pre-seed push, WiseSalmon hopes funding can take it to the next level.

“This is a great opportunity to invest in a company that is focusing its efforts towards creating a pool of student talent to supply the skills needed for the future.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic