Tag Archives: OpenStudy

OpenStudy’s Mechanical MOOC Collaboration Teaches You Python, Is Predictably Awesome

23 Aug


Were you aware that I love OpenStudy? The crowdsourced study space was one of the first examples I found of a platform that really accomplishes something that could only be done through crowdsourcing, and I’ve been proudly singing its praises ever since.

So naturally, when yet another fantastic new update landed in my inbox, I expected greatness and was not disappointed. OpenStudy has teamed up with some very heavy hitters to create Mechanical MOOC, a massive online open course that will teach users how to program using the Python language.

The collaboration will take the strongest aspects of several platforms and combine them for the ultimate learning experience. OpenStudy, with their fantastic discussion and organization tools, will provide the collaboration aspects; MIT’s OpenCourseWare takes care of the subject material; Codecademy provides the tests and exercises; and the whole thing comes together on Peer 2 Peer University’s established online course space.

This melding of giants should set the standard for ambitious crowdsourcing efforts, especially because it’s so rare to see one company, let alone four, that is able to swallow its pride and admit that a competitor has certain better features. The fact that these companies would team up to provide a service that none of them could provide on their own? Well, that’s the sort of thing that just makes someone all warm and fuzzy inside.

Could you imagine if other companies took their cue from this? If we started seeing computers with Microsoft features, Apple user-friendliness, and Google applications? A fast food restaurant that had Big Macs, Checkers fries, and Starbucks coffee? Or heck, just one social network that combines the best parts of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest, and Last.fm? How cool of a world would that be?

Sign up for the class (which starts on October 15) and see what can happen when companies put aside their differences for the greater good.


OpenStudy’s Catapult Update: Get Paid To Learn

26 Jul

OpenStudy Catapult Update

OpenStudy’s newest update, Catapult, is an effort to incentivize learning by giving students the opportunity to get paid for it. Through the website, students can set up simple learning goals like “get an A on this essay” or “finish my science fair project”. Friends and family can then pledge money towards those goals, and the student collects if the goal is reached.

OpenStudy has always been about polish, and it shows in how put-together this service is. Catapult is free to use, although OpenStudy and the payment system take a few percentage points for fees. A feature I especially like is the ability to post constant updates on your goals; if it looks like you’re doing well, or like you could use an extra push, your sponsors can donate extra money. Plus, making your goals known gives you extra accountability, which is another push to Get It Done.

Of course, I am not without my concerns. Offering money for studying has been effective in the past when it’s just between a student and their parents, or a similar setup, but I worry that adding it to a system like this may pull students away from the primary incentive of learning. There are already students who treat their final grades, and not the knowledge itself, as the end goal; this additional reward may push them in the wrong direction. It’s a minor concern, but one to keep an eye on nonetheless.

All things considered, I’m excited for this update. My parents gave me money when I was a kid if I made the grades, and I distinctly remember being ecstatic. OpenStudy has once again broke the mold with a feature that makes learning more fun and less of a hassle. If you’re a student, check it out, set up some goals, get knowledge, and get paid.

OpenStudy’s SmartScore Update Makes Me Feel Smart

17 Apr

OpenStudy Updates with SmartScore

I just woke up to an email in my inbox from the OpenStudy team, telling me about the exciting new feature they’re implementing called SmartScoreThis is a score the software calculates from your involvement that’s supposed to demonstrate not only your intelligence, but how well you help others, how skillful you are at problem solving, and how well you work in a group, among others.

Because data like this doesn’t often shop up on a résumé or transcript, SmartScore is a great way for employers to see how talented you are in areas they would normally be unable to measure. In this way, you can take your accomplishments in OpenStudy and better apply them to real life.

Bravo to the platform for a great improvement! OpenStudy gave me a SmartScore of 54, saying that most of my skills lie in problem-solving, and I find that spot-on. Go take a look if you’re on OpenStudy, and if you’re not… why?

The Three Tenets of Successful Crowdsourcing

20 Mar

The Three Tenets of Successful Crowdsourcing

Even in my so-far small experience with crowdsourcing, I’ve noticed that many campaigns succeed or fail based on the presence or absence of three criteria. I’d like to share them today, and get some feedback on how essential my readers believe these principles to actually be.

  1. Incentive. I just got done reading a post by fellow blogger VisualBloke about the relations between human behavior and the social web, and it mentioned incentive as being influenced by tones of self-interest. Meaning, make it personally worth it for your participants. Most CS’ing campaigns have this built-in, offering participants the opportunity to contribute to something that would normally be out of their sphere of influence. Nissan’s Project 370Z is a good example of this; how many people have ever had the chance to design a mass-market automobile? Kickstarter offers a more clear-cut incentive system, with different levels of monetary contribution translating to “rewards”, extra influence, or early access to the final project. No matter how you slice it, participants need more incentive than “we need help”.
  2. Barrier to Entry. How easy or difficult is it to join your crowdsourced work force? The right answer to this question depends on the level of talent you need from the people comprising your crowd, but the bottom line is to make your barriers low enough as not to deter any sufficiently motivated individual, but high enough to ensure quality. This seems complicated; let me explain. OpenStudy.com, as a resource to all students, wants to set its barrier low for entry because everyone from elementary schoolers to graduate students and beyond needs to easily access the site. They accomplish this with simple design layout and a no-frills registration process, making it simple for any student to get involved. By contrast, the aforementioned Project 370Z demands gearheads and performance experts. Hiding the project on the performance-dedicated subsection of their Facebook page was a move that may have seemed less than prudent at first, but actually succeeds in weeding out the less-than-desirable opinions without resorting to a dedicated moderator, simply by virtue of them being absent.
  3. Compartmentalization. Present a crowd with a big problem, and you get a million less-than-helpful answers. This is the principle that rules overwhelmingly in the comments sections of political news sites. Break the problem down into manageable chunks for maximum crowd effectiveness. I hate to pick on Project 370Z again, but damn it, it’s such a good example of successful crowdsourcing. Had they presented their crowd with the simple directive of “help us build a car”, they would have gotten a hodge-podge of vastly different ideas, opinions, and (unfortunately) misinformation. Instead, they break the process down into parts, and then further into individual questions. “Help us build a car” becomes “which of the following three wheels best fits the Metalloy design?” Give people a manageable problem instead of an open-ended question, and you get more focused and relevant answers.

There are probably many more aspects of effective crowdsourcing, and even more that will guarantee failure, but I’ve noticed these three present in every successful attempt I’ve seen. Have you observed any crowdsourcing patterns worth noting?

OpenStudy Writeup: Can Studying be Crowdsourced?

14 Mar


I came across OpenStudy.com on Giorgio Bertini’s blog Learning Technologies of Change, and the concept severely interested me. In a sort of real-time Yahoo! Answers, students get their study questions addressed by other students, real teachers, and other experts in live chat and diagrams. Studying is one of those things that could really benefit from crowdsourcing, so I immediately jumped into this platform to see if it was any good. Here’s a quick rundown.


  • Easy signup and interface. Since elementary school kids use this site, it has to be easy. The sign-up requires minimal information, and this site has huge, colorful, easy-to-find buttons that make it easy for any literate person to find what they’re looking for.
  • Real-time is really real. The site tells you at any given moment how many people are online, how many people are in your specific subject group, how many people are viewing your particular question, who is in the process of responding to it… it’s a great way to gauge your chances of getting help, and to prevent 50 people from answering the same easy math question at once.
  • Gamification provides incentive. Answer a question correctly, ask a good question, or say something that people agree with, and you get a medal. Medals give you experience, and experience levels you up in a particular subject. The higher your level, the more credible a source you are. It’s a wonderful system that both encourages quality involvement and provides on-the-fly user moderation.


  • Relatively small community. Sure, the math and physics boards are blowing up, but if you’re in a less technical or popular subject, you may find only a few users at any given time willing to help you out. Sometimes a question can go days without being answered, which can be a real issue for students with deadlines.
  • Lack of group identity. As a new community, OpenStudy isn’t really cohesive yet. This means very little “etiquette”; math questions get posted in art history boards, spelling and grammar is atrocious, it seems like there is more of a focus on simply getting your questions answered and not actually learning the material sometimes. Some users care about these issues and some don’t, but the point is that unless moderators step in with some ground rules, differing viewpoints will continue to cause friction among users.

Both of these cons can be solved simply by having a bigger, more active community, so I’m just gonna go ahead and suggest that any student, educator, expert, researcher, or curious person should join this site immediately. It’s a great platform; it just needs that little push to be something really fantastic.

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