Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Åsmund Furuseth, VP Business Development of Kahoot! and Johan Brand, CEO and Co-Founder with Fred Schmidt, director of international affairs. Photo courtesy of Kahoot!

Åsmund Furuseth, VP Business Development of Kahoot! and Johan Brand, CEO and Co-Founder
with Fred Schmidt, director of international affairs. Photo courtesy of Kahoot!

“Play is our original language; then when we get to school, they remove the play,” said Johan Brand, CEO and co-founder of Kahoot!, a platform that lets students play a high-energy, high interaction quiz game in the classroom using their mobile devices.

Kahoot!, from Oslo, is the first company to join Capital Factory’s International program.

Kahoot! lets teachers either design their own quizzes, based on the curriculum they’re covering or choose from hundreds of games created and shared by platform users all over the world. Questions appear on a screen at the front of the class and students answer using their mobile devices. There’s a leaderboard on the screen that shows the top five respondents for each question. In the next iteration, soon to be released, students will be able to play against “ghost” versions of themselves on games they’ve played previously as well as play against teams all over the world.

Kahoot has 35 million unique players, 80 percent of which are in the U.S. and the largest group of those in Texas, Brand said.

The Science of Kahoot!

What sets Kahoot! apart from other classroom games is that students can’t get sucked into their own devices because all the questions and answers are on the screen. So they look at the screen, the teacher and each other, only looking at their mobile devices to tap the color corresponding with the answer, which creates a much higher level of energy and engagement, said Stephanie Castle, a science teacher at United Nations International School. Castle, who did her master’s research on the use of mobile devices in teaching, said she’s an early adopter and had tried a number of different tools to create engagement; but “Kahoot! Pretty much wiped them all away.”

“This is the only one that has come close to eliciting this level of enthusiasm,” Castle said. “Others created some energy but they didn’t feel social in any sense…. This makes the kids look up and look out…. the smart phone just becomes the tool it doesn’t become the object of attention.”

Kahoot! Was created by Brand and his co-founder, Jamie Brooker, based on research done by Morten Versvik and his professor Alf Inge Wang for Versvik’s master’s at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. While Wang created the quiz, Brand, Brooker and Versvik created the platform, Brand said. It was part of the work they did creating their behavior design company—We Are Human—in London.

unnamed-3Brand and Brooker researched and incorporated a lot of elements of human behavior science in developing Kahoot!: Social behavior, emotional engagement, neurochemical reward systems and reinforcing learning. But, Brand said, “it was all for good. If I was going to lose my house it was going to be for the sake of something good.”

The team has raised $2 million for Kahoot! from investment from the founders, research grants from the Norwegian Research Council, cash prizes from startup events and grants from impact funds such as the Norwegian Discovery fund.

“We measure Kahoot! on impact,” Brand said. “Our focus is Return on Education (Learning) and if we do well with impact the consequences will be a good ROI. We are student centered and truly believe we will build a sustainable business as a direct result of our impact on learning.”

They intend to keep the current classroom product free for learners and teachers forever, but “we will offer added value services & products as we mature. This will also be impact driven. We will continue to also work with organizations and government grant funding to unlock our social impact.”

The company is also doing a beta model of a “corporate pilot account” which does provide a revenue stream.

Kahooting in the Classroom

Kahoot! can be adapted to almost any subject but Cathy Yenca, a math teacher at Eanes ISD’s Hill Country Middle School, said it works best on subjects where speed is crucial.

“The kids would Kahoot! every day if I let them,” said Yenca. She uses Kahoot for classes in which recall is a crucial component and not as much for multi-step processes like certain kinds of algebra problems.
One of the best parts of the tool, Yenca said, was a bar graph that shows, after the game, how many students got the answers right.

“This is where you can interrupt the process and say ‘Hey kiddo, you don’t know this yet. And you stop and do a mini re-teach. You’re not waiting until a test or quiz to see who doesn’t get this.”

Castle said that, as a science teacher she can’t testify to the effectiveness of Kahoot! on performance without doing experiments.

“But anecdotally we’re seeing kids recognizing where they have misconceptions, points of regular confusion…you put it in a quiz and they go ‘Ohhhhhh.’ While student achievement is obviously important I don’t think you can belittle or forget the importance of reengaging kids….” Anyone, she said, can become distracted and tired in 40 minutes of lecture. With Kahoot!, she said, “they’ve been concentrating without even realizing it.”

Fred Schmidt, director of international affairs for Capital Factory, said Kahoot! Is the first of several international companies that will establish offices at the incubator.

“When Johan and Asmund (Furuseth, vice president of business development) arrived in Austin for a CF tour the day before SXSWedu even started, they put down their bags at the end of the visit and said ‘We’re staying!’,” said Schmidt. “They immediately fell in love with the space, the vibe, the people and the obvious natural networking that goes on every day. We gave them a couple of temporary desks on our recently remodeled and expanded 5th Floor where they worked for the entire week they were here.”

Brand said Austin has a good kind of “cowboy” atmosphere: Enterprising, honest, straightforward, that fits well with Norwegian culture. At 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, he said, Norwegians all disappear into nature. Sounds about right for Austin.