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The Philosophy Behind Teacherplex

The goal behind the creation of Teacherplex is to make getting a good education free and fun. Content is freely provided by virtue of a wiki-style interface that enables good-natured people to share their knowledge with others. Content is made fun by expressing it in a format referred to as Inverted Learning.

What is Inverted Learning?

If you've ever had fun watching the TV game show Jeopardy, or Who Wants to be a Millionaire, or if you've ever enjoyed playing the board game Trivial Pursuit, then you might be able to understand how learning can be fun. Suppose, while watching Jeopardy, its host Alex Trebek took the time to give you detailed explanations on any questions you guessed incorrectly, and suppose the questions involved whatever subject matter you wanted to learn, rather than just meaningless trivia. Now you are imagining the paradigm behind Inverted Learning.

The traditional learning paradigm starts with the presentation of educational material, eventually followed by a test to see how well it was understood. By inverting the order of lecture and test, the process can become much more fun and efficient. By presenting the questions first, a student is challenged, and thereby inspired to be fully attentive. The presentation of dry educational material is only necessary when corresponding questions are answered incorrectly, and therefore can be delivered in relatively small doses.

The Inverted Learning paradigm is completely compatible with the Socratic method of teaching, which stresses a focus on asking and answering questions. Further, by asking questions first, the Teacherplex system is able to probe the user's knowledge and identify areas of weakness, thereby increasing the efficiency by which knowledge is transferred (although, the system's ability to do this depends on its having a large number of questions at many different levels of difficulty for every possible topic, which in-turn depends on the creation of those many questions by good-natured users).

The Teacherplex system is organized around the Inverted Learning paradigm, presenting multiple-choice questions followed by answers and explanations on any topic that a student might wish to learn. Students learn at whatever pace feels comfortable to them. And they do so without any fear of humiliation, as can occur to shy people when interacting with others in a classroom setting or with a tutor. Using Teacherplex, a student can devote total concentration to the process of learning.

Eventually, when the Teacherplex system becomes fully populated with many good questions on every topic imaginable, parents will have a tool that they can use to measure their child's progress on any and every subject. Students will have no excuse for not being knowledgeable at their proper grade level. Teachers will have the means to keep themselves current on the subjects they teach, and a resource from which to draw well-prepared course material and test questions. By authoring and submitting carefully designed questions to the Teacherplex system, good teachers will be able to reach millions of students, around the world, with their skillful teaching methods.

Furthermore, in the domain of business, employees will be able to continuously advance their intellectual qualifications for higher paying jobs. And businesses will always have well-trained work forces. Everybody wins. Education in general will take a quantum leap forward, toward becoming easily available to anyone and everyone with access to a computer and the Internet.

How does the system get itself organized?

The Teacherplex system has elaborate mechanisms for: (1) discriminating good questions from bad questions, (2) automatically detecting the level of difficulty for each question, and (3) delegating levels of authority to users based on their proven levels of contribution to the system. The result is a website that gets itself organized by smart and good-natured users who fully understand the system and contribute heavily to it.

The remainder of this document explains in some detail how the organizational mechanisms of the Teacherplex system work.

How does the system discriminate between good questions and bad questions?

Every question has an associated rating that enables the system to tell how good it is. These ratings come from users to whom the questions have been presented. A question's rating goes up when it is answered correctly, or when a user answers it incorrectly but learns something from the associated explanation. When a user answers a question incorrectly and then doesn't understand the explanation, that user has the opportunity to give a bad rating to the question.

For each and every question, the system keeps a running tally of user ratings. If a particular question gets many good ratings, or is always answered correctly, its accumulated rating climbs higher. If a question gets many bad user ratings, its accumulated rating falls lower. Question ratings typically range from 0 to 100, although very bad questions can get ratings that are negative.

Questions with negative ratings are automatically presented for review to authorized users who can either edit the bad questions or delete them entirely. Questions having ratings well below zero become eligible for automatic deletion by the system. Very good questions eventually get ratings that approach 100 and thereby become immune to vandalism (discussed later).

How does the system determine a question's level of difficulty?

In addition to having an accumulated rating, each question has an associated grade level, which is constantly adjusted by the system according to the grade levels of users who answer it correctly and the grade levels of users who answer it incorrectly. The grade level for a particular question will rise or fall to whatever level causes it to get answered correctly half the time by users of the same grade level.

The system selects questions for presentation to a user so as to match the user's grade level. Among all the questions that are at the user's grade level, the ones with the highest ratings are chosen first. Among all those, questions that the user has not yet seen are presented first.

How does the system prevent vandalism and allocate authority?

Every registered user has an associated access level. Anonymous users (not logged in) and newly registered users get an access level of 10. This low level of access allows them to create new questions and to edit questions that have ratings lower than 10. But it does not allow them to edit questions that have accumulated a rating higher than 10. As a contributing user authors new questions, and as those questions accumulate high ratings, the access level of that user automatically climbs higher. And, as a user's access level climbs higher, that user gains more power to edit questions authored by other users. A user can edit any question having a rating less than the user's access level.

In addition to acquiring the power to edit questions, prolific authors of good questions also gain the power to add new topic categories, edit the names of existing ones, move questions and topics around and generally organize the system. So, organizational power is automatically earned by users who author good questions. The entire system is designed so that it requires very little administrative attention other than by the users themselves. It is intended to be autonomously self-organizing, by allowing smart and well-intentioned users to slowly acquire organizational power.

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