Teaching with Oppia

My teaching experience with Oppia.

It’s been a long time since my last post and a lot of things have happened since then. But if there is one thing worth writing a blog about, it is this - Stumbling across Oppia. It was around mid-August, I was browsing some of the projects on Github, I came across the Oppia project.

For those of you haven’t heard about Oppia, here’s a brief description…

What is Oppia?

The mission of the Oppia project is simple - To help anyone learn anything they want in an effective and enjoyable way.

The site aims to teach students through the unique concept of an exploration. We don’t teach students, instead the students themselves explore the concept they want to learn. With Oppia, we can create explorations that help students learn in a fun and creative way, using videos, images, and open-ended questions.

This simple vision which was started in 2012 has since turned into an educational platform with over 5,500 explorations that are used by approximately 145,000 users worldwide. Have a look at the site yourselves - https://www.oppia.org/library - isn’t it wonderful!

My involvement with Oppia!

I was naturally intrigued by this idea. I filled up the Oppia Contributor Survey which asked me about my interests, which subjects I am passionate about. Soon I got a mail from Sean Lip (Founder of Oppia) advising me to work on a collection of explorations that would help students understand the topic of electromagnetism.

But why electromagnetism? I believe the reasons mentioned by Sean were spot on. Electromagnetism isn’t an intuitive topics for students to understand. If anyone tries to self learn this topic it would be very difficult for him/her. The information on this topic is scattered across the internet with no site offering a cohesive experience for students to feel comfortable with the topic. So if we could create a learning experience that made the topic more accessible, that would be a great thing to try and would be really helpful for many students.

So we first decided to come up with a plan. If we want to craft a nice learning experience for the learner it helps to have a concrete plan of action before we start creating the individual explorations. Otherwise if we just jump in and start writing them, we might end up writing into a dead end. Having a condensed outline also helps to ensure that there’s a coherent story throughout.

I created a document outlining the details of the explorations. I decided to teach students up till Gauss’ law for now. I divided the topics into 3 explorations - the first exploration to introduce the students to the world of electricity, teach them the basic laws of electrostatistics, the second exploration to introduce the students to the important concept of electric field and the last one to introduce them to Gauss’ Law.

While creating the document, there was only one thought going through my mind - How will I make the explorations enjoyable for the students? After all this is the thing that matters! I started thinking - Who would be an ideal role model for this? How would he/she approach this task? Almost immediately one name came to mind - Richard Feynman! Richard Feynman is a Nobel Prize winning physicist who has sometimes been called “The Great Explainer”. His undergraduate lectures summarized in The Feynman Lectures on Physics is perhaps the most popular physics book ever written. It was unimaginable to me that a subject so full of technical detail, formulas and equations, could be brought to life so brilliantly and vividly. I went to the library and bought a copy of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. The techniques used to illustrate even the most subtle concepts inspired me a great deal! Apart from The Feynman Lectures on Physics, I also referred ‘Concepts of Physics’ by H.C. Verma and ‘Fundamentals of Physics’ by Resnick & Halliday which helped me explain a few tricky parts.

After I was done creating the document, the most important part came - Review, the part that differentiates the great explorations from good explorations. Without Sean’s guidance and ideas the explorations would not have turned out as good as they are. Sean’s insistence on explaining each and everything intuitively gives a uniques flavour to the explorations. They were quite a few cases where I felt the explanations should be obvious to the learner (curse of knowledge, maybe?) but Sean was kind enough to point those out, thus improving the quality of the explorations far more than expected.

Going through many rounds of review this is the design document that we came up with - Design Document.

Once the design document was ready I was given the green signal to start creating the explorations. One of the best things about learning a concept this way is that the learner can get personalized feedback based on the answer he chooses. There is no right and wrong in an exploration. Some may be quick to explore a place, some may stumble along the way (but who knows? maybe they discover gold while wandering). Sometimes the path taken in an exploration changes depending upon which answer the learner chooses. This is the kind of personalization we want to introduce in education, lacking in other methods of teaching. It’s like a one on one education for each student.

After I had created the first draft of the first exploration, I invited Sean to perform his magic upon the exploration - in the same way he had done for the document. After many reviews, the moment to finally publish the exploration arrived. With a click of a button I had finally become a Oppia Teacher! Within a short amount of time, the exploration had been played more than 150 times and had received a 5 star rating! This gave me great motivation to complete the other two explorations. After a few months I completed the other two explorations and published them!

So as of now I have three published explorations on the Oppia platform. As of now these explorations have been played more than 200 times and this means a lot to me. It means that atleast 200 individuals have benefited from these explorations. I would like to thank the entire Oppia team for building such a wonderful platform. Thank you Sean for all the guidance and suggestions and proofreading the explorations. Finally I would urge you guys to have a look at the explorations. If you want to learn or you know someone who wants to learn ask them to explore there way through these explorations. You can find the explorations over here - Electromagnetism.

So that’s it for now! Thank you for reading and have a great day!

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