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Deepak Joy Cheenath (left) and Ankit Gupta, founders of Quizizz, say they enjoy getting feedback from teachers and students around the world.  (Raj Sam/Mint)
Deepak Joy Cheenath (left) and Ankit Gupta, founders of Quizizz, say they enjoy getting feedback from teachers and students around the world. (Raj Sam/Mint)

Why US kids are raving about an Indian quiz app

  • Quizizz, an edtech tool that turns school lessons into games, has gained a fan following in American schools
  • A key element as Quizizz evolved was to turn it into a multiplayer game. Students were soon vying with one another to top leaderboards

BENGALURU : Holiday cheer comes in many forms. For two young entrepreneurs working out of a third floor office in HSR Layout, Bengaluru, nothing is more cheering than to receive email, tweets and videos from teachers using their quiz app in places like Alaska, Mombasa and Jakarta.

“Geography @quizizz relay races on our last school day of 2019… Happy winter break to all!" tweets Elana Lazarus, a social studies teacher at Deer Path Middle School in Lake Forest, Illinois, US. The accompanying video shows students in a quiz-cum-relay that’s fun but also competitive: a student has to dash across the classroom, answer a geography question, and rush back to pass the baton to a team-mate.

Vincent Okuba, an English teacher in St. Teresa’s Girls’ School in Mombasa, Kenya, emails a video showing a class full of girls squealing and cheering as they do a quiz as a multi-player game. “My main aim of writing is to request for support in making Quizizz known in the far outposts of Kenya," writes Okuba.

In four years, Quizizz has gained 20 million monthly active users (MAU), twice as many as a year ago when it raised $3 million in a funding round led by Nexus Venture Partners. Its MAU puts it in the ballpark of Duolingo, a unicorn with $1.5 billion valuation, whose language learning app reports 30 million monthly active users. Three-quarters of Quizizz users are in the US where it has a presence in 50% of schools, says co-founder Ankit Gupta.

“Students receive immediate feedback on the skills they need to practice, and they can do so at their own pace. I’m no longer facing piles of assessments to grade tediously by hand," says Allison Wilken Curry, who teaches language arts in grades 6-8 at the Joy K-8 School in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The app is catching on in other countries too, with Indonesia and Japan showing the most traction in Asia. In India, the early adopters are in international schools.

The Quizizz co-founders, Gupta and Deepak Joy Cheenath, both 30, were roommates in BITS Pilani, where they majored in information systems. Gupta worked with a consultancy firm in Delhi after graduating in 2011, while Cheenath became a software development engineer at Amazon in Hyderabad.

Gupta missed the excitement he felt in the last semester of college in 2010 when he interned at Flipkart. Cheenath spent his spare time as a volunteer at a school.

They quit their jobs and moved into a relative’s spare room in Bengaluru in 2013. Edtech is a crowded space but the two engineers believed they could create an app that would hook kids just as Destiny and other gaming apps do.

From the experience of their own school days, they knew how hard it was to tear themselves away from games. Why not use those hooks to engage students? “We felt existing tools were superficial and didn’t do justice to what was needed," says Gupta.

AVATARS FOR MATH

Gupta and Cheenath built a virtual world for math learning, Wizen World, in 2013. Users with avatars had to solve problems to progress through the game.

The first surprise they got was how fast it picked up organically in US schools. Better access to computers and the internet than typical Indian schools is one reason. Further, US schools are oriented towards interactive rather than rote learning, and teachers are encouraged to keep their students happy. Word about the game spread in teacher forums.

The two-man team behind Wizen World soon ran into the problem of keeping up with the demand for new content. Teachers wanted to set their own problems related to what they wanted to teach. This led to the creation of Quizizz in 2015 with a simpler quiz format and a platform model which enabled teachers to create quizzes.

They would sit up late at night in Bengaluru for hangout sessions with “super-passionate" teachers in the US who suggested new features. “We’ve always been good at building things quickly," says Cheenath.

A key element as Quizizz evolved was to turn it into a multiplayer game. Students were soon vying with one another to top leaderboards.

“I notice they consistently offer new ways to use the tool. I use it seamlessly with Google Classroom to assign games to my students from the Quizizz platform. Students click on the game in Classroom and it takes them to the quiz. I am able to track progress using Quizizz’s reporting, which can be filtered by class, student, or question," says Curry.

The Quizizz team has expanded to 20 to work on improvements. ‘Redemption question’ is an example. This repeats a question a student got wrong earlier. “It encourages students to reflect and learn from their mistakes," explains Gupta. “There’s science behind this. When a fact or memory is retrieved, it becomes more accessible in the future."

A new “name factory" generates game names like Guava Grant or Squash Rodgers for students to pick without wasting time wracking their brains to come up with clever names. These names are auto-generated combinations of a fruit or vegetable and a literary figure. Ankit Gupta’s favourite is Acai Holmes.

Although there are a number of quiz gaming apps, the one that comes closest to the Quizizz model is a Norwegian app called Kahoot. Where Quizizz differs, say its founders, is in its approach which is to make the environment fun and non-judgemental. For example, on Quizizz, students can answer questions at their own pace instead of feeling the pressure to keep up with the quicker ones.

Its virality also makes for a differentiator. Teachers have created over 10 million quizzes on the platform, most of which are publicly available for others to use. As teachers spend time creating these resources to use in their classrooms and homework assignments, they become loyal users. The community also flags mistakes or inappropriate content.

Gupta and Cheenath have been developing Quizizz with a lean team and no advertising spend. At some point, they will start to monetise it with a freemium model, such as by putting some self-study features behind a paywall. That’s still a work in progress. “The next stage for us is figuring out how to support the student’s education beyond the classroom where teachers set quizzes," says Gupta.

One thing the Quizizz founders are clear about is to stay focused on education, which is their passion, even though Quizizz can easily be adapted to corporate training, marketing campaigns and so on. “It was really moving for us to see a video from Kenya showing how much school girls enjoyed the experience," says Gupta. “From day one, we built it so that you can create content in any language and we now have quizzes in over 50 languages. We’re able to impact education at scale globally."

*Malavika Velayanikal is a contributing editor with Mint. Write to her at malavikaworks@gmail.com

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