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There's a Better Way to Learn Together Online

One of the major topics of discussion at the Open Education Conference 2011 was building community amongst open education users. Learning online certainly presents its challenges, but luckily there are lots of great minds tackling it. We spoke with Andrew Magliozzi of FinalsClub.org to find out what they're doing to make online education more collaborative.

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Andrew Magliozzi

edited by Stacy Redd

Education-Portal.com: Can you start by just explaining a little bit about what FinalsClub is?

Andrew Magliozzi: In short, it's a website for students to collaborate, learn and share knowledge freely online. Unfortunately, the lack of networking in the classroom is a problem that most students don't often recognize.

Most students today tend to take notes on their laptops, generally typing the same exact information as every other diligent student. Meanwhile, the rest of the class is often engaged in side discussions via GChat or Facebook. Over the last decade, the internet has revolutionized encyclopedias, elections, and even friendship, but it has yet to transform the classroom experience in a positive way.

At FinalsClub.org, we realize there is a better way to learn together online. With our online tools students can collaborate in real-time on notes and post questions or comments for their peers (or even professors) to promote or answer in during or after class. Rather than learning in isolation, FinalsClub aims to help students collaborate and share knowledge within and without the classroom.

E-P: So you're finding that they're communicating real-time during the lecture and after the lecture, or just during the lecture?

AM: Ideally it starts during the lecture. And, in many cases, student activity does continue afterward. But the goal is to start something in class that can then be built on either later that day, later that semester or in subsequent semesters.

All of the tools that we have are collaborative, so if you're enrolled in one of our supported colleges, you can log in with your student e-mail address and start collaborating with your classmates in minutes.

If your school is not yet supported, we encourage people to email info@finalsclub.org and we will do our best to add your campus as soon as possible.

E-P: You've mentioned that it's been embraced a little bit more openly by professors than students. Can you talk about that?

AM: Since starting the project in 2008, we have made great strides reaching out to professors and students. Initially we expected professors to be most antagonistic to the idea of openness, but it turns out more than sixty percent are in favor of open education. Students, it turns out, are the reluctant early adopters. Most worry about the quality of notes and giving up a competitive advantage over their peers.

In practice, however, we have had great success at Harvard, where we've covered more than 25 courses. However, we still have yet to repeat the success of one of our earliest collaborative efforts with Steven Pinker and Kyle Thomas in the context of The Human Mind (spring 2007). With support from Professor Pinker and an incredible effort from Mr. Thomas, a dedicated teaching assistant, we created a free and open course companion, which nearly 90% of students read (and continue to read each semester). In addition to attracting more than 220,000 page views from 51,269 unique visitors in twenty different countries, these impressive notes drew distinguished praise from Professor Pinker as a veritable 'textbook on evolutionary psychology.' These notes can be viewed at the following link: http://finalsclub.org/archive/course/1563.

E-P: What's coming in the next couple of months or year for FinalsClub?

AM: First and foremost, We are also happy to announce that we will be collaborating with Professor Pinker and Mr. Thomas again this coming spring. Once again we will apply FinalsClub to The Human Mind. This time, rather than rely on the creativity of a single teaching assistant, FinalsClub will provide a virtual space for students and instructors to collaborate, learn, and share knowledge together online.

In the meantime, we are also excited about the early success of one of our satellite projects, LectureLeaks.org, your personal open courseware repository. With LectureLeaks, you can record, save, and upload your college lectures directly from your iPhone or Android device. You can also browse our library of recordings and learn any time, anywhere.

LectureLeaks, however, is merely a proof of concept for the collaboration we are hoping to pursue with UC Berkeley's OpenCast project. However, the details of that partnership are still pending. Stay tuned for more details in 2012.

E-P: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers about FinalsClub or Lecture Leaks?

AM: Both are open-source. Both are non-profit. Both are free. And I would say that the key for our success and the success of students right now is to broadcast their voice because right now I think the student voice is largely unheard in the OpenCourseWare movement. We just need people who are interested in supporting the cause. So I would say anyone who has any interest at all, please contact me at Info@FinalsClub.org.

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