Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Principles of Online Sharing

Thanks so much to Pat B for helping to publicize the Stack Exchange idea on his blog. Here's an elaboration of why I think Stack Exchange might be the right platform for online sharing.

It’s fairly uncontroversial that the math/science education community has created,
collectively, a dazzling array of resources and ideas, but that the online presence is sprawling and unorganized. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a better way of discovering great resources.

My intention is to convince you that there’s a promising platform for resource sharing that we haven’t really explored yet, and that the community should give it a shot. That platform is a Stack Exchange Q&A site.

I attempted to create a short list of principles that ought to guide online sharing. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Anybody should be able to participate.
2. The good stuff should be easy to find.
3. Resources are only helpful if you know how to use them.

Anybody should be able to share. You shouldn’t need to be able to write an awesome
blog or maintain a twitter cohort to be able to get help with problems that you’re having. Also, if you have an awesome idea people should be able to get access to it, even if you’re not well-known as a great resource. The second principle is that there should be some sort of mechanism for elevating the most helpful material above the rest.

Finally, we shouldn’t just be in the business of dumping our resources (read: documents) onto the world. That’s not helpful. What is helpful is explaining the important pedagogical decisions that go into the resources that we’ve created, and perhaps providing a link to a worksheet or a set of slides. But sharing documents without their context just isn’t helpful sharing. Our online platform should encourage pedagogical thoughtfulness and educational problem solving, and discourage a plug-and-chug approach to teaching.

I think that a Q&A site is a pretty good approximation of my ideal sharing site. For those of you unfamiliar with the Stack Exchange platform, here’s how it fulfills my principles:

--Anybody can sign up to ask or answer questions. A typical question would be
something like a question that Kate asked a few weeks ago, (I have never had
success getting the cherubs to see the connection between the coordinates on
the unit circle and sine and cosine.”), but anybody could ask it.
--You are able to subscribe to various topics that you’re interested in via RSS. For
example, you might only follow questions on high school geometry, or only on
SBG implementation. When you see something that interests you, you chime in.
You can also search the questions for topics you’re interested in. For instance,
if I’m working on an Intro to Trig sequence, I might search the questions
for ‘trigonometry’ and see a discussion about the best way to introduce the
functions, with links to a few blog posts or worksheets that implement interesting
--Anybody can vote on the best questions or responses, immediately sorting out
approaches or resources as quality ones.
--As more people vote for your questions or comments, you get awards or points or badges and other fun stuff. So there’s definitely a fun factor, as well as a
meritocracy built in.

I took the first step and created a pilot program for such a Q&A site. In order to launch we need a bunch of folks to sign up and participate. This is worth trying. Please give it a shot.

Here’s the link:

[Other concerns:
Q: Aren’t there other sites that do this?
A: Well, yeah, but they’re either defunct or about much more than math and science pedagogy, making them less fun to participate in.

Q: Is this really worth investing my time, since it might not work out and then we’ll have another half-useful resource just laying around the intertubes?
A: Consider this: if this Q&A platform doesn’t work out in the long run, we’ll still have organized at least some of the math resources out there, and this will be a first step towards some other attempt at organizing the sprawl.

Q: What’s something sorta like what you’re proposing?

Q: What’s the process like for launching this thing?