Tuesday, October 21, 2008

eTextbook Google 10 to the 100th Application

This is my second proposal for Google's 10 to the 100th project. Thank you everyone for the corrections and comments on the first one. This one is likely to be a bit rougher, but it isn't nearly as complicated so hopefully it will be almost as good.

8. Your idea's name (maximum 50 characters):

eTextbook – The evolving textbook

10. What one sentence best describes your idea? (maximum 150 characters)

eTextbook is a collaborative digital textbook that provides explanations for all different learning styles for K-12 and beyond.

11. Describe your idea in more depth. (maximum 300 words)

Print textbooks are obsolete in the information age. Schools spend millions of dollars every year buying textbooks that serve the learning styles of only a few groups of students. This makes them either too challenging for some or not challenging enough for others. Each school district uses different versions and publishers, making education inconsistent and inefficient.

While many textbooks come with supplemental materials, they are mostly inadequate and underdeveloped. My wife is a high school math teacher and constantly needs to create her own problems and projects to ensure that students are appropriately challenged. Not every teacher has the time or expertise to do this. Some materials are shared online, but it isn’t consistent and doesn’t always tie to curriculum.

The eTextbook will solve all these issues because materials can be shared by teachers and primary sections can be continually updated by experts. It will cover all subjects, providing links between history, science, math, language, and art. Digital ink is now a reality with readers already available for under $400, given economies of scale and advances, new versions will soon cost the same as a single textbook. Instead of lugging around multiple textbooks, students will have a durable reader that lasts all throughout their schooling. eTextbook won’t be limited by size either. If students need different explanations of concepts, it will be right at their fingertips.

Given success in developed countries, extremely high quality educational materials can be provided to developing countries at a very low cost. The OLPC is a nice idea, but its approach was backwards. Building the technology before the curriculum has left it disconnected from the day to day needs of a classroom. eTextbook will start with developing the curriculum first and will be available in a wide variety of formats, even perhaps helping the OLPC.

12. What problem or issue does your idea address? (maximum 150 words)

eTextbook will be a key to advancing education throughout the world. Static print caters to only a few learning styles, leaving many students struggling. eTextbook will provide learning approaches for all groups of students. Students and teachers will be able to provide corrections, share supplemental materials, and suggest alternative explanations.

eTextbook will be dynamic, unfolding individual steps to solutions of a problem, allowing students to move past where they get stuck without jumping straight to the answer.

eTextbook will link our knowledge back together as it was actually discovered in the real world. Science, math, art, and literature all occurred within the context of our history. The segmentation of our knowledge is not only inaccurate, but leaves the living connection behind.

Education is a fundamental human right. Since eTextbook will be freely available online, anyone that can be given access will able to access the entire world’s knowledge.

13. If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how? (maximum 150 words)

eTextbook would most benefit children all over the world. It will also help educators by allowing them to focus more on the classroom and student progress instead of having to spend valuable time creating new materials. eTextbook will also help adults that need to learn or relearn materials so that they can help their children with homework or to return to formal education in the quest for better jobs.

14. What are the initial steps required to get this idea off the ground? (maximum 150 words)

Much of what is needed is already available, but there needs to be an organized consortium to create the eTextbook. Wiki’s already provide a collaborative medium. Electronic ink readers provide a portable interface for students. The main challenge will be creating and organizing the content. It will need to be organized by the grade levels, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the content has to be the same as it is today. eTextbook will give educators the freedom to rearrange the curriculum allowing them to introduce simplified versions of more advanced concepts earlier in education. There will likely need to be funding to support the consortium and for purchasing readers for pilot studies. If the efficacy of the program can be proven within the first couple years, government funding should also be able to help with development.

15. Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure it? (maximum 150 words)

The first year will primarily be about creating the consortium, and researching the organizational structure of eTextbook. I would like to see hundreds of educators and tens of institutions involved in these first stages. Curriculum should start with grade school materials that can be used in classrooms and evaluated and advanced with each year. Within 5 years there should be materials for all of K-12 education, with higher education rapidly expanding.

17. You may also submit 1 YouTube video (max 30 seconds long) explaining your project.

Coming if YouTube ever comes back online! - Well it didn't come back online in time, but here is is anyway:



18. If you'd like to recommend a specific organization, or the ideal type of organization, to execute your plan, please do so here. (maximum 50 words)

No time obviously, but I'd still be interesting in hearing from those interested in case this makes it to the second round in January.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Google 10 to the 100th Application

So I worked almost all weekend on this application for Google's 10 to the 100th project and I have to submit it today (yikes), so any quick feedback on wording, the YouTube video, and the idea would be greatly appreciated. Also if you a part of an organization that could help this become a reality, please let me know and I'll add you to application. Finally, any thoughts on a better name? This one is a play off Google's Knol - A unit of knowledge.

8. Your idea's name (maximum 50 characters):

Dyknol – A dynamic unit of knowledge

10. What one sentence best describes your idea? (maximum 150 characters)

Dyknol will be an online problem solving tool that uses a system of sciences organized around models to address the world’s most challenging issues

11. Describe your idea in more depth. (maximum 300 words)

Dyknol is a mash-up of Knol, data analysis and visualization, video, GIS, and other services that are all organized and structured around mathematical models recreating aspects of different problems being studied. Dyknol will be used in sponsored projects led by experts, educators, and policy makers to develop real solutions to our most pressing problems.

Similar models are already used both in academia and industry to reveal the root causes of complicated problems, forecast issues before they become a crisis, and test possible solutions. Models allow experts with conflicting explanations to make their assumptions explicit which can then be compared to real world data. Through this process even the most conflicted problems can be reconciled. Models can also be used to describe a problem at different levels of detail for different audiences. From grade school, to college, to professionals, we can help people engage with finding solutions to any problem they finding interesting.

This tool would be similar to the debates in Knol, but instead of simply an exchange of text, facts, and figures, Dyknol would structure arguments though a causal model that is based on real data and observations. There is already software for building these models, but it is all offline and unable to link data, text, video, and other media to help explain and justify the model’s structure.

Imagine this scenario on global warming. A grade school student looks at a simple model explaining the causal relationship between CO2 and global temperatures. They simulate the model with different rates of change in CO2 and see the impact it has on temperature. Within the same space a college student explores the more complex linkages between our energy needs and CO2 emissions, while policy makers work within Dyknol to come up with practical policies that strike the best balance.

12. What problem or issue does your idea address? (maximum 150 words)

Dyknol would address the key issue we have with solving any of the world’s most challenging problems; we have no effective means for resolving conflicting ideas and finding shared solutions. Dyknol will be a focal point for addressing any problem there is a large enough community to support it.

In the last few decades we have seen the challenges facing us grow ever more complex. While technology has helped keep pace, it has also caused new problems. Dyknol will give us a powerful tool for breaking down problems to reveal the root causes, as well as an ability to test policies and forecast issues before they become a crisis.

The science of systems has already been applied to designing physical solutions such as bridges and skyscrapers. It is time we bring it to the mainstream for addressing systemic issues that are not just physical, but intertwined with our social fabric.

13. If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how? (maximum 150 words)

The whole world would benefit. With Dyknol, we’d finally be able to tackle the most challenging issues facing us today, before they become even more of a crisis. When listening to today’s society one can’t help but notice the overwhelming apathy mixed with frustration about the state of the world. Through this system we’d be giving people a way to learn the reality of our problems, affect change, and be part of something of purpose.

I personally believe that mankind has already been seeking to build this tool, but it has yet to take any real shape. Computers, the Internet, and connectivity are evidence of this change, but right now it lacks any real order. Structuring all this information is certainly no small task, but the science of systems is the key to making it happen. Building Dyknol, will help to bring about the global community we all hope for.

14. What are the initial steps required to get this idea off the ground? (maximum 150 words)

The first thing needed is a web application for building models. This will require programmers that understand web applications and numerical simulation. The models built with this application will then need to be able to be embedded in web pages and Wiki’s like Knol.

In the early stages researchers will need to be sponsored to address some of the most engaging and pressing issues. Energy, the economy, healthcare, education, war and conflict would all be ideal candidates for demonstrating the potential of Dyknol. After gaining traction, other problems could be sponsored by groups of stakeholders, i.e. health insurers on healthcare, oil, gas, and electric providers on energy, banks on the economy, and anything else that gets enough support for the researchers and moderators.

15. Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure it? (maximum 150 words)

In the first year I would want to see the web application developed and tens of projects reaching thousands of registered users. I would also want to see several solutions that were discovered through Dyknol put into action. In the second year I’d want hundreds of projects and millions of users creating a comprehensive network of students, educators, and professionals. Many of the projects should also be officially sponsored both monetarily and with donated time.

Eventually I can see Dynknol being incorporated into the curriculum of K-12 and beyond, helping students discover the issues they want to work on in life. The ultimate measure of success will be achieving a sustainable world that is capable of solving any problem that arises.

17. You may also submit 1 YouTube video (max 30 seconds long) explaining your project.




18. If you'd like to recommend a specific organization, or the ideal type of organization, to execute your plan, please do so here. (maximum 50 words)

I have already received encouragement from numerous organizations that may be able to help with execution:
WPI - Department of Social Science and Policy Studies

Your organization! Please let me know if you would be able to help!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Terrorism Story Model

I finally got around to creating an online story version of my terrorism model from my Bachelor's Major Qualifying Project. I did these updates as part of one of my proposals for a Google 10 to the 100th project. I'll be posting the proposal online to try and get some feedback, but the general gist is to create an online social problem solving tool. This tool will models like this one that are linked to the underlying data and explanations for why the structure is the way that it is. The idea is that by tying our most challenging problems to models, we'll be able to come up with far better solutions.