Bili: Impact and Research

I set up Bili as an indirect result of my MA in Education at the IOE. The weekly evening sessions (after my longest 7 period day), provided a space to reflect on the bigger picture than the piles of photocopying, marking and countless phone calls on my to-do list.

It is probably not surprising then that research has been embedded into Bili’s growth from the very beginning. In 2016, I was fortunate position to be able to coordinate a pilot across several different academies in my group of schools. We had recently moved to a centralised curriculum in year 7 and I set up control groups in each of the schools to measure the impact of this intervention on the 200 students’ attainment and motivation. The impact on motivation was significant. This was a positive outcome a first trial (you can download an overview of this research below) and I left the classroom to commit to Bili full-time.

I hadn’t appreciated at that point how rare it was to be able to test and launch a first iteration of a platform like this, but over the course of the next year or so it became very clear!

I was lamenting the challenge of maintaining high quality research embedded, during a conversation with Ian Bauckham (who had recently chaired the TSC’s MFL pedagogy review). He replied: ‘why do you need to test whether learners interacting with native speakers is a good thing? Isn’t it obvious?’

This conversation helped to shape our ongoing approach around 3 central questions.

Putting language students in touch with students of their own age abroad, and exploiting this contact for focussed and learning-related mutual benefit is a critical part of effective language learning.  Bili provides an effective and hassle-free way to make such contacts happen.  The guidance for collaborative improvement of work means that contact at student level is purposeful and productive. I would recommend all language teachers taking a look at this product.

Ian Bauckham
CEO Tenax Schools Trust
Chair, Teaching Schools Council Pedagogy Review 2016

These questions are embedded in a continuous research cycle as we develop the platform further, work with new and different partners, and expand our reach. Working with Educate, helped us to tie together our work with schools and learners, understanding the research and developing the technology.

What do we do?

This has always been an important question for us to define. We set out to transform the traditional penpal exchange into something regular, engaging and impactful.

It is about ongoing communication between the students far beyond a termly letter or a short-lived project.

“With Bili, my students can write in English, and forget they are learning. They can be experts in French and learners in English. They can build a relationship across languages in a completely secure environment. They want pals and I want security. Bili gives us what we need!”


Isabelle Julienne, English Teacher, Collège St Michel Rosporden

Whether schools join with existing partners to deepen that collaboration, or schools match with each other through our network, our priority is the regularity and quality of exchange between students in both of their respective languages.

When does it work?

Bili’s secret is not AI, blockchain or machine learning. There are two very human elements at each side of the exchange. We provide the tool for teachers to connect their students in a constructive and safe environment. For maximum impact, there needs to be complete buy-in from the teachers to the students.

At its best:

  • Teachers integrate their normal writing or speaking tasks into the curriculum.
  • Students can apply their recent knowledge in a real context, and support each other in their learning journey.
  • Teachers can save time on marking, while students get personalised feedback from their new Bilipals.

“I like communicating with someone my own age because if I make a mistake they can give me a correction in a way that I understand.”

Year 7 student

See our recent blogpost on our Bili Connects project, which shows how students engage and support each other in a successful Bili exchange.

How do we know it is working?

We collect and analyse (anonymised) usage data on the Bili website, we can look at logins per week and the number of tasks completed, to get an idea of engagement. However, we find the most useful data comes directly from the students and teachers who are experiencing it first hand.

There are many tools that learners can use to improve in a foreign language, but without first addressing their motivation they won’t be able to sustain it. By simply connecting them to another person in this way, we create authentic engagement over the language barrier that drives their learning forwards.

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