The Evidence For Upside Down Academy

Posted on December 3, 2011


I just stumbled across an article from Time blog:

It describes exactly why I built Upside Down Academy

Trying to teach is a great way to learn something. Ideally you want to try and teach someone who understands the material less than you do, so it doesn’t feel like a completely pointless exercise, but at a scalable level that can be a challenge. It’s just hard to coordinate such efforts with live tutoring.

That’s why the article talks about the students trying to teach a character on the computer. The character can be customized to be the perfect recipient of the child’s teaching. There are a few downsides, though:

  1. I’m guessing that the programming is no easy feat and that building these teachable agents for every subject is essentially impossible.
  2. At the end of the day it is fake. At some point kids will recognize this and the effect may diminish. Maybe the kids already recognize this and the effect is still strong, but imagine if it wasn’t fake, maybe the effect would be stronger.

I built Upside Down Academy to create a potentially more realistic environment where students can try to help someone else learn what ever they are learning. Students create lessons (these can be a video or an audio recording or text with images, etc) that try to teach someone else the same material they are learning right now. Then they upload the lesson to the site and another student can use that lesson to learn the material.

So far the site exists, but there’s no community on it. No one is using it yet. I’m working with a few schools to try it out in the classroom. Divide the class in to 4ths maybe and have each portion of the class create lessons that try to teach another portion of the class something. Then rotate and have the kids learn from the lessons each other created and then try to create their own lesson. Then rotate again and have students learn from the lessons that were just created and again try to create their own lessons on the same material.

I know this probably sounds a little confusing. I haven’t figured out how to explain it more simply yet. Basically it would be like the game telephone, but instead of a phrase being passed down the line, each student would be using the previous student’s lesson to learn something and then creating a new lesson that the next student would use to learn.

In any case just happy to stumble across some research around the benefits of peer tutoring even when it is not live and in person.