[iDC] Can DIY education be crowdsourced?

John Bell john at novomancy.org
Mon Sep 5 19:35:57 UTC 2011

Hi all,

As Jon said, we'd like to think about how community sites and online social mediators can contribute to self education.  Sites like Khan Academy, the various Open CourseWare implementations, and many others have done a tremendous job of opening up information access, but--as was mentioned in some recent discussions on this list--that is only a necessary condition for DIY education, not a sufficient one.  Once a student finds the information they’re after they have to do something with it and evaluate the result, and this is where most online offerings fail.  Unless they are part of an organized class, feedback is generally limited to automated quiz grading (if even that) and thus the course is limited to either easily measured skills or very shallow evaluation of more complex ideas.

In order to enable DIY education and not just DIY skill acquisition, I think we need to crack the problem of scaling evaluation and discussion to the same level that we’ve scaled information access.  DIY students have to find or create support systems to provide that kind of feedback on their own now, leaving them adrift in a sea of ten-minute videos.  Without evaluatory feedback students don’t get the chance to iteratively work through ideas that require more depth than simple skills.  A site like quora where students can ask questions may be a good start, but it is more useful for in-process guidance than evaluating the application of what has been learned. 

Our approach to this problem at Still Water has been to build a tool for peer evaluation of iteratively created projects called The Pool (http://pool.newmedia.umaine.edu/).  The Pool provides mechanisms for giving both text comments and numeric ratings on in-progress work--and in The Pool, all work is "in-progress" because it doesn’t recognize that a project is ever definitively finished.  We based its feedback model on critique instead of grading in an attempt make an online, asynchronous system that goes beyond grading multiple guess quizzes.

Since its inception The Pool has expanded from one class to multiple classes at the University of Maine, and in the past couple years to a handful of universities, including UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and USC. So far it's harbored 1200 participants exchanging 9000 reviews. This cross-campus feedback has made for some interesting discoveries about cultural differences between students on different campuses.

The current implementation of The Pool is not scalable to larger groups of students for some fundamental technical and interface reasons.  But the issue we’d like to discuss with the list is what a system with the same goals--ongoing, deep evaluation of complex learning--would look like if it were designed to work on the same scale as, say, the Khan Academy.  Is peer feedback sufficient to meet those goals?  If so, quality would somehow need to be controlled so that it doesn’t turn into a stream of YouTube comments, and if not some other method would have to be used to deal with large volumes of students.  Would the sort of social interaction created by such a system move a site like Khan out of the skill acquisition space and closer to the more rounded goals of academia?  If not, what would?

- John

On Sep 5, 2011, at 12:57 PM, Jon Ippolito wrote:

> Thanks to Trebor Scholz and Caroline Buck for inviting my Still Water colleague John Bell and me to contribute to this discussion. This week we'd like to flip the Self / Community coin upside down to consider the community underpinnings necessary to promote DIY learning.
> First our bios:
> John Bell is a Web developer and data artist based in Maine. He has contributed to the development of The Pool, a system for fostering and documenting distributed creativity in digital arts; released several open-source web authoring tools; and given birth to an artificial intelligence that accidentally committed suicide.  Many of his projects focus on trust in online communities and maintaining intellectual integrity in environments where there are few consequences to ignoring it. His work has been featured in Wired online and he presented CodePlay at UMe at Ars Electronica's Electrolobby Kitchen in 2003. He holds an Intermedia MFA from the University of Maine and is currently a research fellow for the University's Still Water lab, working on the Variable Media Network's "Forging the Future" project.
> I'm an artist, writer, and curator (http://three.org/ippolito/) who co-directs Still Water with Joline Blais. I see my career goal as building creative networks that can hold up to media monopolies (http://three.org/openart), accelerated obsolescence (http://variablemedia.net/), and co-optation by academia (http://thoughtmesh.net/).
> With those introductions out of the way, I'm passing the ball to John to frame some questions about whether DIY education can be ramped up to the scale necessary for crowdsourced feedback, without degrading into lectures or mobocracy.
> Looking forward!
> jon 
> ______________________________
> Still Water--what networks need to thrive.
> http://still-water.net/

More information about the iDC mailing list