Project Introduction: Part 1
Songbirds of Troy is a new project and my attempt to solve a problem with online learning. Since the very beginning of the Internet user groups and forum technology has been successfully used to bring people together in discussion on countless topics. But when it is applied to distance learning of difficult subject matter, such as Ancient Greek or Latin, a problem often emerges. The problem is how to efficiently create a successful and rewarding experiences for both the Learner and the Expert. This post will explore this problem and be followed by a later post that introduces Songbirds in detail.
The Challenge – How To Identify Individuals Serious About Learning?
Over my fifteen years of developing Internet learning and education content, one problem has nagged me. The problem is how to efficiently form strong and successful bonds between an individual seeking assistance and tutoring and the subject matter expert who is willing to share his or her time and skills. In Textkit’s language forum, I am grateful to have witnessed beginners who are outside of a traditional classroom setting and who know almost nothing of either Ancient Greek or Latin, go from very beginner status to being extremely proficient readers at a graduate school level. While their accomplishments were certainly due to their own hard work and determination, they were also helped along through the generosity of others who guided them with their feedback, suggestions – and encouragement. Our human nature to teach each other is simply wonderful and the Internet has been revolutionary in its ability to make these connections possible.
I have also witnessed beginning learners fail in their goals to learn a new language. It happens. Failing is apart of life and I don’t want to sound hard on quitters, we all put things down. But a consequence of failing is that a commitment failure consumes the time of the mentors and experts. Time that is limited, time that has value and time that could have been better spent on someone else.
False-start failure has had a consequence in Internet forum culture. Beginners ask questions and subject matter experts are often hesitant to answer the questions from an unknown person who is not known and vetted in that community – as they rightly should, since none of us want to have our time wasted. For example, it is common to observe a beginner ask a question which is thoughtfully answered and then only to see that the original poster of the question doesn’t even return to say thank-you. This leaves experts feeling burned.
Why do experts participate? There are I’m sure many reasons, but one important reason is that many people simply want to share what the know and they want to feel good about sharing. When there is frustration such as the example above, forum rules and Moderators can work to help reduce these kinds of frustrations but if there is too much noise from false starts and if it is too inefficient for experts to find learners who are serious about learning – experts drop out because their experiences are unrewarding.
The Challenge: How To Reward and Create Fulfilling Experiences For Experts?
We see some solutions towards this problem. One attempt is the Question & Answer style community where subject matter experts earn points for successfully answering questions. This solution is attractive because it rewards the experts by creating a valuable and measurable level of status. On example is StackOverflow.com where experts with high reputation scores are often rewarded in their real lives with easier to find jobs due to their high reputation scores.
We tried and failed at a system like this at Textkit called Textkit Answers. One reason I believe Textkit Answers didn’t take off is because of the complexity of learning Greek and Latin and the true needs of learners. Unlike technical problems which can often have very definitive answers, language questions are really much different. Learners arrive at Textkit with more than a simple question in mind- they are looking for community and individuals to guide and mentor them. They are looking for Mr. Miyagi.
The Karate-Kid Lesson
When I say Karate Kid – I don’t mean Will Smith’s kid. I’m talking about the original 1984 film – old school baby!
What was all that wax-on, wax-off stuff about? Sure, Mr. Miyagi was strength training Daniel, but do you also recall that at the end of a long hard day of sanding a deck, waxing a car, or painting a fence Mr. Miyagi told Daniel to come back tomorrow - and Daniel did. He kept coming back because he wanted to learn and Mr. Miyagi was testing his commitment. He was making sure Daniel was serious about learning karate.
But once the student demonstrated his will to learn, once Daniel made it clear that nothing was going to stop him from learning karate, Mr. Miyagi fully engaged in his role as teacher. Magic happened. Mr. Miyagi didn’t just teach Daniel karate – he fully invested himself in Daniel’s future. Wow! Their bond was so successful that Mr. Miyagi even gave Daniel a car and the two went on to make many a happy sequel together.
Who ever thought a quite mythical theme of a boy first proving his worth to master would ever come from a Hollywood karate movie? Epic stuff really. Click Here for the Cobra Kai gift shop.
I want The Wax-On/Wax Off Level Of Commitment
I mentioned earlier that Textkit is in a transition period. Since our very beginning our tag line has always been, ‘Greek and Latin Learning Tools’. What we mean to say is that we are a facilitator of learning. Our goal is to build content, tools and community that bring learners together. Learners do not learn anything directly from Textkit -we are not the teachers. Instead, we make the connections for community members to learn from each other.
We have been successful in the past with developing an online library and by creating our Greek and Latin Forum – but there is need for change. Maybe I’m just a foolishly dreaming – but I’m going for the wax on/wax off kind of change.
Next Time – Songbirds of Troy
Well, I know after all this reading this was a bit of a cliff-hanger, but that’s the point. For next time, I will introduce my concept which I call Songbirds of Troy. I can let the cat out of the bag just a bit to say that it’s a geo-gaming/educational technology that’s all wrapped into a story – a story that takes place inside the walls of Troy. Songbirds will work for young children to adults and at its very core – it’s a technology that builds relationships.