Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Wisdom Of Crowdsourced Education

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common.”
- Albert Einstein, given as part of a talk to a group of children. Published in Mein Weltbild, Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1934.

As a junior in high school I remember sitting towards the back left corner of my Calculus class watching and listening to my teacher scribble integral equations on the chalk board up front. There were maybe just under 30 or so kids in the class, a majority of them high school seniors. One of them, sitting next to me on my left, was having a particularly hard time comprehending what our teacher was explaining. I was having a hard time staying awake.

This classmate looked a bit distraught. At some point I leaned over and began explaining the Calculus material directly to him. I was being as quiet as possible. But in a classroom filled with intent listeners, my prolonged talking, however discreet, caught the attention (or rather initial wrath) or our teacher. Ultimately he stopped lecturing and scribbling and called me out. He chastised me for what he thought was idle social chit-chat. With the entire class now turned looking at me I explained that I was actually helping my classmate better understand the material. At this point my teacher celebrated my effort and encouraged all around to do the same when need be.

It takes a village I suppose. But that was then. This is now. In today’s 2.0 world, it takes an online social network.

Such is the premise behind Sophia.org.

Sophia has been described as a mash up of Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook — focused solely on teaching and learning. According to the website “it’s where you can teach what you know and learn what you don’t.”

Sophia.org is pulling together a variety of different tools and techniques to accomplish its mission.
a) it’s an academic oriented site (versus the overall vastness of the internet),
b) it utilizes 2.0 techniques of organizing, tagging, filtering and sorting information,
c) it includes student evaluations/ratings,
d) it includes ratings of self-identified experts to determine the academic soundness of the content, and
e) it’s designed in an open architecture so others can build upon it.

If you haven’t looked closely at Sophia.org you might think it’s simply an information delivery system and not geared towards innovation and new knowledge production. I don’t think it’s a centralized institution though. And some day, in ways yet unimagined, this new online village of educators may just surprise you with something truly unbelievable.

And did I mention it’s free.

Everyone knows something. Maybe it’s a mnemonic device for remembering the American presidents, and maybe it’s an advanced theory in quantum physics. Regardless, why can’t it be captured and shared with someone else in search of that knowledge? An oversimplification, yes. And I certainly don’t have all the answers. We created Sophia because we believe you do.” – Don Smithmier, Sophia.org CEO

1 comment:

Vivek Menon said...

Sounds good. Have asked for an invite. Older idea though - Parallel sites have been on for some time now. WIZIQ is one I came across an year back. www.wiziq.com

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