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A Different Approach to Digitally Enhanced Education

April 6, 2012

Harnessing the increasing capacity of advanced information and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education has become a goal for many in the education system at the local, state, and national level. However, finding the best ways for the education system to take advantage of rapid and significant advances in information technology has proven to be a challenge. Former Google executive Prasad Ram has suggested that the best way forward may lie in an innovative community-based approach, leading to a novel web-based system, Gooru, intended to revolutionize digitally enhanced education around the world.

Gooru is, put simply, a search engine for learning. Teachers and students can search on Gooru to find collections of web resources and quizzes; currently, Gooru focuses on 5th-12th grade math and science topics.

"I'm an engineer, not an educator," said Ram, Founder, CEO and Chairman of Gooru and former Director of Research at Google. "We're focusing on the tools rather than the content. Our approach is to create a platform so that educators can add content themselves. The notion that expertise can or should be concentrated in one source is fundamentally against everything the web has taught us. Gooru is a user-driven model."

To get Gooru started, a large number of teachers from California schools and the rest of the country are co-creating Gooru to ensure that all collections of web resources are age-appropriate and aligned to standards. Gooru offers a wide variety of multimedia resources types, including videos, interactives and digital textbooks, which can be grouped into collections. It currently includes 5,000 standards-aligned collections that are curated by a community of teachers and content experts. Users can also easily assemble any resources they choose into custom collections.

"This is not just a Google search - it focuses on the experience of learning," said Ram. "Resources are chosen and vetted by approved 'publishers', and their value is then voted upon by other educators." Gooru enhances its results by keeping track of which resources are selected most often by educators for use in their collections - and, critically, it tracks student outcomes as well, correlating student performance on quizzes and interactives with the resources they used previously. This allows the system to identify which resources, or combinations of resources, are most effective in preparing students for the quizzes, and even to customize those results by demographic, identifying which resources work best for ESL learners, for example.

Gooru is still in development, in the 'alpha' stage, but early reaction from educators has been enthusiastic.

"I can't wait to use it!" said Heidi Haugen, vice chair of the California Teacher Advisory Council (Cal TAC). "I am especially excited about the potential for data acquisition and analysis."

"I'm impressed with both present capabilities and the plans [Ram] has as Gooru 'builds'," added Cal TAC member Jeffrey Foote. "I've had a few experiences with shared sites and social teacher exchanges, but not with the simplicity and raw power of Gooru."

Gooru is scheduled to enter a wider 'beta' release in June.

"As Californians, we can lead the charge towards a true revolution in building a digitally enhanced education experience, and show the world how it's done," said Ram. "It's not about avoiding mistakes - those are inevitable. It's about making the mistakes quickly, learning from them, and adapting, so we can get it done."


CCST Spotlight is a weekly newsletter focusing on CCST activities and highlighting innovative science and technology research, applications, and policy issues in California. The Spotlight editor is Danny DeCillis. We welcome information and feedback from our readers about science and technology at work in the private, public, and education sectors. To send us questions or comments, contact us at ccst@ccst.us, or (951) 682-8701.