Education/Compiling the best educational material
Some rare people have an exceptional talent at explaining difficult concepts clearly and interestingly. Masters of verbal explanation include Alan Watts, and , but there are also those with talent at crafting visual, diagrammatic, experimental, interactive or other non-verbal ways to convey ideas. Hans Rosling's colorful visualizations of data are a great example of this. A well-made animation can allow us to easily understand a complex process, see for example these videos of DNA transcription.
Alan Kay, the founder of the Viewpoints research Institute, in his TED talk gave some remarkable examples of the power of good explanations, including a method of teaching differentiation to six-year-olds.
For the first time in human history, we have the means to pull all of these educational materials together in one place, covering every level of education and every subject, and make it freely available to the world's youth. That means is open collaboration.
It is a matter of finding the best teachers in the world and encouraging them to contribute to the common educational resources for humanity (like those linked to above). It may be necessary at first to incentivize contributions from these people, and it is vital to publicize open-source education as much as possible, to generate the greatest possible collaboration. Occasionally particularly talented teachers spring up such as Sudhir Karandikar who got 91 of 104 high-school students to pass a college-level course. Wouldn't it make sense to videotape these people and make their lessons available to the world? Academicearth.org is making an organized effort to find great educators and film their lessons, but there is another, complimentary approach — to allow online communities to upload lessons and allow the best teachers to organically rise to the top.
As with all open collaborations, plenty of bad material is submitted (have a look around Connexions for examples). But with the help of ratings, recommendations and dynamic testing, the cream will soon rise to the top. One exciting possibility of a large-scale online learning system is dynamically testing different lessons so that the most effective can be found. Imagine three different videos have been created explaining how molecules come together in a chemical reaction. If these are put into an open-source learning hub, they can each be shown to thousands of users. After seeing one of the three videos, each user is tested on their understanding of the chemical equation. From the results of these tests, the software will be able to know which of the three videos is most effective at explaining the chemical reaction. Anki is an open-source software program that has used this method to calculate the optimal time intervals for repeating facts in order to facilitate memorization.
It is even possible in to program software to dynamically model the student's mastery of the material and adjust the difficulty level accordingly. This ensures that the difficulty is always at a level that challenges the student to the full of their ability without being either so easy as to bore them, nor so difficult as to baffle them. Suchis being introduced more and more in computer games. It is ideal for creating that peak state of creative engagement which Mihály Csíkszentmihályi named and which has been identified as a key factor in fulfilment, learning and growth.
Teachers if they wish could then use any of this material where appropriate, and use their own skills to check it has been understood by their students and elaborate further where necessary. The current education system necessitates the same thing to be explained again and again by millions of teachers around the world - a massive reduplication of effort. It would be a better use of teachers' time to have just a few top-quality explanations of each idea available on-demand, so that teachers can spend time giving students personalized attention.
With open collaboration, we have the opportunity to create a global educational curriculum for all levels of education and all disciplines, built from nothing but the most engaging, most colorful, most entertaining and effective explanations, as determined by statistical data gathered from thousands of samples.
It will be exciting to see the results of this sort of education. How much music, physics, chemistry, mathematics, programming, engineering will a young person of eighteen have mastered when they have studied these materials full-time since the age of three or four? How many languages will they speak? How will our medical system change when all our doctors have been trained by 3-D interactive visualizations of human anatomy and biochemistry?
What we are talking about here will be more powerful than any educational system yet seen. However, unlike the "best" educations of the old system, these materials will be as available to a farmer's daughter in Malawi as a politician's son in New York.