“To Boldly Go Where No Grades Have Gone Before”

Grades never tell the whole story.They are one-dimensional, subjective, non-standardized and unreliable. Most teachers would agree that there are better ways to evaluate students and assess their progress.  Students stress about grades and all agree that it kills collaboration and sharing. And yet we keep using them.

April is the time of year when colleges decide who to admit into their hallowed ranks.  This is the time when the panic about grades, GPAs and scores hits an all-time high.  Studies of Kuh, Pascarella & Terenzini, and others have established quite clearly that student engagement rather than grades is the most significant predictor of student success and retention. Engaged students are the ones who raise their hands in class to ask questions, who chat with their classmates, and who stay back to interact with their teachers.  They are the ones who join clubs, participate in sports, find a cause to champion, volunteer, and who help out in the community. This is important, right? Well then, where is this included in the curriculum and where does it appear on the transcript?

When was the last time you were offered a job based on your college transcript? When employers sift through entry-level applicants, they look beyond the GPA for evidence of teamwork, passion, problem solving, communications. And yet you will not find any of these attributes on the college transcript. These skills are developed during experiences outside the classroom: experiential learning, problem based learning, real life experiences, projects, co-ops. Our learner faces two challenges—to pick the right experience to learn these skills, and to produce credible documentation of these skills.

Today’s world is dynamically changing, technologically evolving, highly global, constantly online, and demandingly collaborative. Do we have educational experiences to train our young learners for this brave new world, a connectivist world where Google places encyclopedia facts at a eight year old’s fingertips, where online chats connect an Atlanta coed with an Ankara teen in seconds, a world where notions of privacy are being challenged by texting tweens. At OpenStudy, we asked ourselves what environment would make it is easy and fun for learners of all ages to prepare themselves for the new tomorrow? Our answer: Open Social Learning.

OpenStudy’s first disruptive innovation was to enable peer learning.  We set out to prove that learning could occur in an open social platform that offered peer learning help. The platform exceeded expectations. It has grown to over 100,000 users from 170 countries, and it offers a free, scalable, 24/7 learning help that users report is “addictive”. 80% of surveyed users report improved learning outcomes.

But there is more.  I’ve written countless letters of recommendation to help students apply for jobs, graduate school, and medical school by evaluating and documenting soft skills. I could see something remarkable emerge on our peer learning platform. Students began building and demonstrating these very skills. They learned to articulate their questions and answers, to maintain courtesy and openness, to work together in teams. They were truly passionate about learning. Some became leaders and offered support and mentoring.
Watching the interactions on OpenStudy, we realized that this ecosystem was just the right environment to develop key soft skills: helpfulness, courtesy, teamwork, problem solving, engagement, to name a few.  Today, OpenStudy is a global extracurricular extraordinaire, experiential learning for the 21st century, with access for all.

SmartScore is OpenStudy’s bold new initiative to challenge the traditional notions of intelligence normally quantified by grades. SmartScore will report on skills and competencies demonstrated on our platform that are relevant and meaningful for both student and workplace success. SmartScore is a 21st century version of real world intelligence.

We are hacking education and rethinking evaluation and assessment. You can think of it as going beyond grades. We call it a SmartScore.

Join us for our SmartScore launch on April 17th at the Education Innovation Summit to learn more.

Got your SmartScore?


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 April 9, 2012, in E-learning, Hacking Education, homework, open social learning and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Preetha – looking forward to learning more about SmartScore! I’ll be at the Education Innovation summit next week as well. It will be good to meet f2f


  2. Hi Preetha – looking forward to learning more about SmartScore. btw – I’ll be at the Ed Innovation summit next week. It will be good to meet f2f!

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