Take 10 Teach 10

Sergio Alvarez is a 9th grader in NY, failed every math class through 8th grade despite numerous teachers and paid tutors. He dreams of a future where he engineers planes, but you and I know the harsh reality: this is very unlikely. Kids like him get discouraged, bored, drop out of school, and wait tables all their lives. However, Sergio discovered OpenStudy, met Hero, an OpenStudier who took interest in him. Six months later we received a note from him telling us he was making 90s in his math class. This is fairy tale with a happy ending, only it is not a fairy tale. Sergio is an actual user in OpenStudy and there are many more like him. And for Sergio and the others, it is not an ending, but a beginning.

Our venture OpenStudy is unique. We call it open social learning. Help is always available for all the learners in the world, who raise their hands and ask for help. We offer a highly scaleable, low cost, global solution to the problem of providing learning help through an open social platform for peer-to-peer learning.

We have proven this disruptive model over and over again, to thousands of learners. Today there are 100,000 registered users, from over 40 partnering institutions including a who’s who list of the MITOCWs and OpenYales to the community college systems of West Hills and Piedmont. Our users ask over 1000 questions a day in Math alone and are usually helped within 5 minutes. Our impact on learning: 80% of our users surveyed reported that using OpenStudy had helped them gain a better understanding of their course material. And there are stories like Sergio’s.

Our solution is really blindingly obvious especially to anyone with a teenager. Give them a Facebook like social site and the social interactions will then lead to engagement, the peer to peer learning creates a win-win scenario and users complain happily that they are addicted. Addicted to math! When was the last time you heard that?

As satisfying as this is, there is more. As our users engage with one another, young with old, the middle schooler with the MIT engineer, American, the Pakistani, the Tanzanian, the Turkish, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the black, the white, brown… they learn to interact, be courteous, they learn to be helpful, they learn to work together, to communicate. For the most active of our users, OpenStudy becomes their passion.

Communication, Teamwork, Passion, Helpfulness.

What does that sound like to you?

To us it was apparent that in our social learning platform, we had also created an ecosystem where our users could move beyond subject matter expertise to learning soft skills that matter. They were moving from the mind to the heart. Think of it as learning things that are not captured on a grade. Not only do our users practice these important skills of the heart, we can then report on on what they have learnt. With crowd sourcing, game mechanics and analytics, we can report on teamwork, problem solving, and most of all the elusive attribute, but in a way the most important: passion! You and I know this should have been taught in school, somehow? Right? But tragically, all too often it isn’t.

And finally, this is my core belief. In education, what lies between failure and success is a human. A teacher, a mentor, a friend, a peer. I believe all the technology being developed today will not solve the problems of education if it does not deliberately and purposefully include the social element. And I believe in the power of open social learning systems to solve some of education’s biggest problems.

Here is my Call to Action. Come experience OpenStudy for yourself. Be a Hero to a Sergio. Take 10 minutes to teach 10. And you may well learn something too.


This is the talk I gave at the gathering organized by the Institute for the Future “Hack the Future of Education Day” http://www.iftf.org/ReDesigningEd


About Preetha Ram

I am an educator (Dean for PreHealth and Science Education at Emory), social entrepreneur (Cofounder of OpenStudy, a global study group to connect learners) and visionary (let's build a classroom for the world to study together). A chemist by training (Yale), I like to solve problems by building bridges at the edges and interstices of disciplinary boundaries.

Posted on March 29, 2012, in E-learning, Hacking Education, open social learning and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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