Oppia: Google’s New Free Learning Tool

bannerMy daughter attends a private independent school that doesn’t have a curriculum. All learning is play-based and self directed; it’s basically a school that uses an unschooling model (but also has a democratic system of discipline and policy).

This fact freaks people out. Even my open minded mother proud earner of a PhD struggles to believe that my daughter will succeed in life with this education model. But my daughter is happy and healthy and is actually learning a great deal all the time, so I’m not particularly worried.

However, we do make great use of the many online tools that are out there for kids to supplement their learning. We’ve used a multitude of apps and websites like ABC Mouse, but we are always on the lookout for additional tools. So when Google announced Oppia, a new open source project that makes it possible for people to create interactive online activities, I was intrigued. Here’s how Google describes Oppia:

We’re excited to announce Oppia, a project that aims to make it easy for anyone to create online interactive activities, called ‘explorations’, that others can learn from. Oppia does this by modeling a mentor who poses questions for the learner to answer. Based on the learner’s responses, the mentor decides what question to ask next, what feedback to give, whether to delve deeper, or whether to proceed to something new. You can think of this as a smart feedback system that tries to “teach a person to fish”, instead of simply revealing the correct answer or marking the submitted answer as wrong.

I went in and gave it a shot. There aren’t very many explorations available yet, but I tried out the geography option (mostly in honor of that PhD my mom has in geography), a couple of the mathematics options (completely failed at the Root Linear Coefficient Theorem section, but that’s why I’m a writer and not a mathematician), and the coding option. It’s completely easy to use, and I really like the way it manages to get what you know and respond accordingly. Google explains.

Oppia gathers data on how learners interact with it, making it easy for exploration authors to spot and fix shortcomings in an exploration. They would do this by logging in, finding an answer that many learners are giving but which the system is not responding to adequately, and creating a new learning path for it, based on what they would actually say if they were interacting in-person with the learner. Oppia can then give this feedback to future learners.

Google has made Oppia simple enough that anyone can create a new exploration (no coding needed), and you can embed any exploration in your website.

I couldn’t help but wonder if Google’s announcement is related to the success of Microsoft’s Bing for Schools program, which offers daily education content (disclosure: I have a professional working relationship with Bing). So I reached out to Matt Wallaert of Bing to get his reaction. “It is great to see Google joining us in creating education tools,” he told me. “But this isn’t a Bing for Schools alternative. Just creating a tool doesn’t guarantee that you will get the same high quality content that Bing for Schools offers. And Google still doesn’t offer ad-free safe search. We are committed to ad-free safe search, and daily high quality content that teaches digital literacy. We also are committed to offering parents a way to get involved.”

Have you check out Oppia yet? What do you think?

 

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