Explaining things differently: A Crowdsourcing approach

Awardees: Jacob Whitehill (CADM-VPAL) and Margo Seltzer (SEAS)

Summary: Awardees will build a crowdsourced repository of video tutorial explanations of key course topics.

Jacob Whitehill and Margo Seltzer investigated a crowdsourcing approach to collecting a repository of video tutorials in order to address the challenge of providing illuminating explanations of important concepts to all students. They collected 399 tutorial videos explaining key concepts related to logarithms from 66 unique teachers. The “teachers,” recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk, varied from ordinary people to experts, and even students. The best videos were more statistically significantly more effective at increasing students’ learning compared to a control video on a math topic unrelated to logarithms. For more details on project scope, implementation, and results, please see “A Crowdsourcing Approach to Collection 399 Tutorial Videos on Logarithms.”

Awardees estimated spending 200 hours on the grant project, with the largest amount of those hours devoted to substantial computer programming, and the planning and brainstorming involved at the start of the project as a close second. While they found that some people made “some very creative mathematical blunders” in their videos, it was an admitted surprise to see how often ordinary people were willing to put significant effort into crafting good explanations of abstract mathematical concepts in these short tutorial videos.

Whitehill gave a presentation at the CharlesRiverX lunch symposium in March of 2016 in which he discussed this project, along with a colleague who has completed similar work through VPAL research. The work completed by Whitehill and Seltzer also inspired and contributed to an NSF grant proposal submitted in July, 2016 as a joint research project between Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Harvard VPAL, and Georgia State University. Whitehill plans to continue this research as a new faculty member at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in August of 2016.