Waze of Learning: On Crowd-Sourced Education

Have you come across Waze yet? I use it all the time – even during the short trip to work and back, when I don’t need help navigating. And when I need to go further afield my wife-like girlfriend insists on coming along as a navigator so that she can earn Waze points.

In essence Waze is a simple mapping and navigation app. But it’s so much more. Just by introducing rewards and a social aspect, Waze makes commuting interesting and fun. Whoever thought the daily drudge to work and back could be an enjoyable experience?

Because I’m always thinking about learning, I see in Waze a powerful metaphor for what education should be.

Waze makes driving a game. You earn points, badges, rewards and progress through levels as you drive and interact more. As conflicted as I am about ‘gamification’ in the classroom, done properly, it works – and it works well.

  • Using Waze, before you embark on your journey, you can see average speeds along main roads and where traffic jams are. These are measured an averaged automatically by means of the clever software underlying Waze. You can also see where road works are and where traffic light are malfunctioning as your fellow Wazers come across them. The parallel with learning here is for the teacher to give students a road map of the potential pitfalls and difficult areas up front. And for students themselves to help one another through these bottlenecks. The point is not for students to avoid these, but to muster their resources and be prepared to face these challenging topics when they get to them. When you go through a tough bit on Waze and in learning, it helps to know there are others there with you.

  • Report and see where the po-po are taking pictures of the hapless Wazeless folk. The translation to the field of learning here is to eliminate the fear associated with standardised tests by teaching kids to hack the process. Honestly, I don’t think we’ll ever get beyond tests and exams. At best we will slowly make them more student-friendly and relevant. But I do think the best way to handle the evil little lurkers (by which I mean standardised tests) is to teach kids to handle them like they do the police: slow down, pretend to follow the rules, give them what they want – and then go back to learning the way you learn best. This does not means students are wild and unruly, but that they learn in the way that is best for them.

  • Waze allows you to report where the base map is incorrect. You can also make changes to the map (once you have enough points). In education, this means that students and teachers collaborate on everything from lesson content to methodology. More significantly, the system itself adjusts and changes when it no longer works. It is designed to change. Imagine that: an education system that constantly tweaks itself according to the needs of those who use it to become more user friendly and effective. Now there’s a thought.

  • You choose the groups you want to belong to – and you can create your own. I hate it when I am ‘strategically’ placed into a group during staff training, and I can imagine how much many of my students do too. I challenge my students to form their own groups. With one proviso: that they make them diverse. This is the key factor in leveraging the wisdom of crowds: contributors must come from diverse backgrounds. When I tell them it is not a popularity contest but a way to maximise learning, its amazing how those who usually aren’t chosen are snapped up first. The ‘outsiders’ with the weird ideas become highly valued commodities. And you know I love outsiders! (Of course the group challenge needs to be authentic and challenging in such a way that it cannot be solved independently and must require strange, creative solutions.) But to really make things work, the groups themselves need to be connected to harness the power of a greater number of diverse contributions.

  • You can go invisible if you don’t want to interact on Waze. Let’s embrace our introverts and let them do the same thing. They are not shy and socially inept, they just prefer being inside their own heads. And their contributions can be included in ways which do not involve them being put on the spot.

  • Even as a total noob, you don’t feel like you want to hide away because you haven’t got the points or the experience that power-users have. When you see a Wazer on your map, you feel connected – no matter who that person is. My contribution might be smaller, but I am still part of something big – something important. I achieve my goals and get to where I’m going without feeling the need to be number one. There are implications here for education about inclusivity, setting a bully-free, collaborative atmosphere and allowing students to set personalised goals. But more importantly, it’s about letting kids know that they are not their grades – and that doing the best they can do, while getting the most they can out of the learning experience is the only goal.

  • You can change and personalise both your car and your avatar and a few other things on Waze. You can choose what landmarks and layers you want to see. This is a great part of the attraction. If we are going to make education more student-centred, meaningful and nurture life-long learning, we need to allow kids to customise and personalise their own learning experiences.

  • You keep your points on Waze – you don’t lose them because you drive less, or more slowly. It can take you as long as you want to reach the next level. Or you can jump up as quickly as you want to. It is like this with so many other things in life. But at school, you have a week or a term or a year. And if you don’t make it, you fail and have to start over again. You are not given any credit for the achievements you have unlocked. You’re just thrown back to the beginning, your self-esteem in tatters. Alternatively, if students ‘get it’ quickly and easily they’re stuck having to go through the motions until the teacher decides it’s time to move on. How does that even begin to make sense?

  • Waze is a high-quality free app, open to all. Shouldn’t education also be?

Now, combine the lessons crowd-sourcing has for education with the entrepreneurial and creative revolution spawned by crowd-funding service like Indiegogo and Kickstarter and you’ve got something big. Really big.

Before you rush off to download Waze, please stop and think for a moment about the real message of this post. It is not that Waze is awesome (and it is), it is that our education systems should be more like crowd-sourced apps. They should draw on the knowledge of those using it to adapt and become more relevant. They should offer customised and customisable experiences. And they should create an atmosphere of collaboration and feeling that you’re doing something worthwhile. And your contribution towards making education this way is greatly valued.

Now go ahead and download Waze and see for yourself.

Pay me a visit on Twitter: http://twitter.com/seanhcole




One comment

  1. Another amazing thing about Waze is that you contribute to the Waze ecosystem simply by turning the app on. Waze uses data from satellites, traffic bureaus, and, most importantly, from the users themselves.

    So when I switch the Waze app on, and I hop in my car and start driving, Waze uses all of my phone’s various sensors to report datato the network.

    This is what makes the average speeds so accurate… every user is also a contributor.

    In a schooling paradigm, the metaphor can be interpreted as this…

    You contribute to your class and your school simply by being there. You don’t have to make any special effort. You just have to show up.

    In other words, your presence, your authentic presence, brings the data from your sensors into the classroom. You don’t have to be happy, intelligent, active. You just have to be.


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