Second Life, MTurk, and on-demand education

In a follow-up email conversation with Tim Fahlberg, who's featured in last Friday's podcast about math education, we were batting around ideas for getting kids engaged with online math resources like the ones he creates at Here's the wild idea that struck me.

Imagine a mashup of Second Life, MTurk, and web-based screensharing. In this world, kids earn Linden dollars for advancing through sequences of mathcasts and interactive tests. But to really excel in the game, they'll want to solicit help from tutors who appear as wise mentors in the game. Tutors also earn Linden dollars for their effort, and can earn bonuses when their students perform well.

Tutors and students rendezvous by way of MTurk. Students might advertise their tutoring needs, or the system -- sensing the need -- might do it for them. During a rendezvous, one or more students and a tutor share a whiteboard, converse in audiochat, and use a shared virtual calculator.

Now in truth, though Second Life would be maximally trendy, a basic web application would be more practical. Likewise, although tablet PCs would be ideal, something like a Wacom tablet would do fine. The essential ingredients would be: a pool of students, another pool of tutors, incentives for both, a mechanism for brokering supply and demand, and an appropriately equipped shared space in which to meet.

Where do the incentives come from? Parents. We'd fund this system in a heartbeat if it were proven to work.

Of course this scheme wouldn't apply only to math education. Everyone, either in school or on the job, needs on-demand learning at some point. Screencasts can meet some of that demand. As CJ Rayhill discussed in our podcast, for example, she's getting tons of mileage out of But if you could go interactive as needed, that would be awesome.

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