>Hack – n. a particularly appropriate application of ingenuity

This blog is the repository for reflections, reading reviews/summaries, and project updates for my senior project. Right now that project has been loosely defined along the lines of “do something cool, useful, and that will impress future employers that involved education, curriculum design, and the internet.” This reflection is an attempt to arrive at a set of more concrete goals for the project and outline my thinking about it.

I have said for a while now that there are basically two main obstacles to getting an education. First is finding the information that you want to learn. Second is proving that you have learned. There are all kinds of additional obstacles and sub-steps to this process, but those are the basics. The general shape of this project is to create a website that helps solve both of these problems using open education resources.

The biggest problem I see in open education resources is usability. It is fairly easy to find a video about almost every topic under the sun, but for those who do not yet have an education on the topic, it is very hard to determine if the video is valuable you might get something like This video that claims that, “local tea growers” in america were protesting tax cuts. While it’s not really open content, it is one of the first results that comes up if you Google “Boston Tea Party History Video” and is exactly the kind of problem that I see with this. In some areas, particularly math, and science this problem has been much reduced by superstars like Sal Khan that are easy to find and have had major media coverage.

The second problem is much thornier though, because to learn effectively you need solid assessment. Assessment is especially important for self-directed learners who do not have a mentor to guide their learning. In some areas, many arts and crafts come to mind as examples, it is immediately obvious even to a non-expert if learning has happened or not. In the early stages of learning it is easy to tell if what you are doing works. When a child draws it is easy to tell if they are drawing something we can recognize or not. If I write code, someone who doesn’t program can’t tell if it is clean or elegant, but they can tell if it works or not. In other areas it is much harder to test your own understanding, how can you be sure that you really do know US History, or Psychology? That is much of what Grades do for us, they provide that feedback. Degrees and Certifications provide a larger grained assertion that the granting institution believes that the person they are giving the degree to has mastered particular content.

For open learning tools to be “pick up and learn” they need to include easily accessible self-assessments. And if we want to see them widely adopted by teachers the will need to include the kinds of features that commercial textbooks do, lesson plans, worksheets, and supplementary material. What the, as yet unnamed, website I am building will do is try to solve both of the problems I’ve described by making available some, “pick up and learn” materials, open and freely redistributable materials that include a study guide, and high level overview of the unit, self-assessment tools, and some kind of interactive progress tracker. There should also be content that is useful for teachers, such as the extras that come with textbooks. The end goal is a website where an individual learner can come to learn, with materials that are useful for teachers who need to teach these classes. To be really useful I think they should be available in learning “packages” that a teacher or student could burn onto a CD or DVD, and use from their home computer, without an internet connection.

For my project I will build at least two of these unit, one “US History I” type unit covering a particular period or set of standards. This unit will focus on utility in a traditional academic environment for users like teachers and students needing to make up the class, or extra study help. For that reason it will be aligned to Utah’s curriculum standards for the class. It must still be useful and easy to follow for home learners and other self directed student in addition to those goals. Second I would like to help with the Teaching Open Source project by building a CS 1 at the high school level using the TOS textbook, with Python as the computer language being learned. This project is aimed more at self-directed learners, focusing on providing a set of tools to help you teach yourself the skills needed. Like the first unit it should remain useful for all user types, and if I can locate a suitable set of standards align to those.

    TODO: for next week
  1. Examine name options for the site being developed by this project.
  2. Locate readings on the topics of online education, and open education and post a series of reviews on the topic
  3. Determine what kind of technical resources I will need to make this happen
  4. Email the TOS list to determine what thoughts and suggestions on the idea of doing something related to their project are
  5. Narrow down a period of US history to focus on for that unit
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