The University of Arizona

Teach Ourselves


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About the Grant

The Teach Ourselves project is supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop web-based learning communities for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Computing. Teach Ourselves is a community based around Facebook in which middle and high school students can pose problems and solve them, accruing virtual rewards that they can redeem for real goods. Teach Ourselves will introduce students to the knowledge economy and the idea that they can make a career of intellectual work.

PIs

Project Summary

Teach Ourselves will borrow the most engaging aspects of World of Warcraft and Facebook, but instead of beating trolls to death and posting banalities on virtual walls, players will design problems and exercises, do homework, answer questions, collaborate on projects, engage in competitions, participate in experiments in remote labs, translate materials into underserved languages, and so on. Each chunk of intellectual work will earn the student points. Students will learn quickly that they can be paid for being brainy.

Although Teach Ourselves will support a wide range of intellectual activities, one will get special attention. Problem posing is based on empirical results showing that students learn deeply about a subject when they are asked to design problems for other students to solve and to construct explanations for the solutions that can be used by others. Problem posing is well-suited to the social environment of Teach Ourselves, where potentially very large numbers of students will both generate and solve problems.

Teach Ourselves is intended to augment, not replace conventional classroom instruction. Problem posing activities will be aligned with state and national standards. But classroom education is not enough: Some subjects are not taught in many schools (e.g., Computer Science), and some schools do not serve all their students (e.g., gifted students or English Language Learners). Some students are social learners who thrive when they study with friends but manage less well alone. Some students, particularly girls in tough schools with interests in "hard" subjects feel they must keep quiet and not stand out. Not all schools counsel students for success, or provide peer counseling that encourages students to go to college. These students lack community support. Families are more mobile than ever (particularly military families), and when students move, they lose their cohorts of friends and teachers. In short, Teach Ourselves must augment not only the content but also the community provided by schools.

Content and community are treated as different domains by conventional schools. Teacher, tutor, counselor, and athletic director are different roles. But Wikipedia and similar projects show us that community produces content, and at a time when school budgets are stretched so thin, the power of communities to educate their own must be exploited. Teach Ourselves makes students responsible not only for their own educations, but for the educations of their friends - not as a purely altruistic activity, but as part of the valuable lesson that it pays use your brain to help others.

Questions?

For questions about this grant contact Jane Strohm at