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TJ Evert

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Scalable Online Education

My idea is to create a scalable peer-to-peer network for education.

While the final exams and instructional content could be set by the community, discussion and support could all be provided by the learning community itself. In short, the students (mostly former, but some current) would bear most of the weight of individualized instruction, leaving the more repeatable tasks content and assessment creation to "experts" in the field.

The real questions is "How to make such a learning community "propel" itself?" What would motivate someone to stay within a peer-to-peer "school"?

My thought here is using a social-media-like platform. To join, you must "pay-forward" by acting as a peer-tutor for a student in class in which you have been "qualified" as shown by the course's corresponding exam. These students, in turn, *rate* your tutoring, providing you with "credits" to join a class. The more (or better) tutoring, the more credits.

Once you earn enough credits, you can join a course of your choosing and ask for support - as much as you want. Now, every questions you ask is an opportunity for someone else to earn credits. Helping out other students out in your course (as judged by your fellow classmates) earns you more credits.

Clearly, care would have to be taken to insure students don't abuse the credit process. In the long run, it's just a motivational trick to encourage people to provide quality help - sort of a "monetized" ask.com.

At the end of your course, you can take a qualifying exam (as determined by the community) which should allow you to "advance" to other courses. This allows local communities (be they school districts or industries looking to "certify" potential employees) to set the bar and provide the instructional content to get there. Once that's set, it's up to the student community (with help from "qualified" members of the community).

I'd love to know what the TED community thinks. Thanks, in advance, for all you comments.

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  • Jul 29 2011: what you say about this tutorvista.com
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      Jul 29 2011: I just checked it out - it seems to be a pretty straightforward "paid" tutoring site.

      I guess what I'm more interested in is a site that doesn't specifically monetized content, but still creates "value" for its clients by requiring students to "buy-in" with their time.
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    Jul 28 2011: Hi, I think it's a great idea!! peer-to-peer network for education gives everyone the opportunity to access to knowledge. Look at this talk: Larry Cooperman "The future of virtual education" from TEDxMedellín 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uWHMdMC8HQ&feature=player_embedded
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      Jul 29 2011: Wow - what a great talk. And it was given on July 15! I was just two weeks shy of coming up with a TED talk.

      This is *exactly* what I'm talking about. Thank you so much for the link.
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    Jul 26 2011: Wow, TJ....this is a fantastic idea!! It goes along with so much of what I'm seeing in online education at both the K12 and higher ed levels. It seems to link somehwhat with my own profile's "idea worth sharing":
    The previously impermeable walls separating K-12 and higher education are starting to diminish. Teaching future educators about the immense joy and significant challenges to working with children in an environment entirely separate from those students is an antiquated notion. I look forward to the day when pre-service teachers are given the benefit of day to day training with practicing teachers as well as brief sabbaticals with the researchers and innovators who look beyond the everyday practice. It is with the steady influence of both that they can truly develop the pedagogical, technical, and spiritual skills necessary to thrive as a teacher in this rapidly evolving field.

    Some of my work has entailed training pre-service teachers and the problem I've had in doing that in recent years is preparing them for a job that will change SO radically in the next few decades. At the K12 online level, we're already seeing the job of "teacher" split into "student consultant" and "content specialist". There has also been talk at the higher ed level of something similar happening to "professor" split into "teacher" and "researcher".

    The notion of credits is a fascinating one and really seems to promote thoughtful guidance on the part of the tutor. What I'd love to know is how we can envision something like this in practical terms. From a day to day perspective, for instance, what might this look like at the university where I work? What might it look like for education or other practice-based majors? Can't
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      Jul 29 2011: Thanks for the kind comments.

      I really think setting up an online discussion group would really help your pre-service teachers. As well, I strongly suggest you find some established online discussion groups to try and glean ideas from experienced teachers. I participate in the AP Physics EDG (electronic discussion groups) and it's a great place for both experienced and novice teachers to propose ideas, share "best-practices" and complain (more of the latter than I prefer...)

      But the group is great and not a week goes by that I don't get an idea that is useful for my classes.