Hi! I am a rising sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University studying Information Systems. My entrance into the world of solving global educational problems came in January, when I registered for the Heinz College Social Innovation Solutions Challenge. The goal of the challenge was to split students into groups to brainstorm products or services that meet a global need. This was the first year the event was opened to undergraduates, and I believe there were only four in the competition . The groups were randomly assigned by topic, and my group decided to search for solutions to educational problems in Latin America. I managed to keep the fact that I was at least 7 years younger than all other members of my group a secret until the day before our final report was due because I didn’t want them to reject my ideas due to lack of experience (they were more intrigued than disdainful but I thought it was legitimate concern).
We ended up winning the entire competition with the idea for a web portal called “ColaborNacion”, a play on words of “collaborate” and “nation” in Spanish. ColaborNacion (which has an accent over the last ‘o’) would provide a centralized system of online educational resources to help teachers in Peru and by extension the rest of Latin America improve their teaching capabilities. The initial content would come from American teachers, and later through various incentives, teachers in target countries would contribute their own resources. We decided to focus on Peru for 3 reasons, 1, because One Laptop Per Child had previously worked with the government in a plan to distribute 600,000 laptops around the country (the program didn’t work), 2, because on average, Peruvian high schools have a 50% dropout rate, and 3, because one of our team members was Peruvian. The project gave me great insight into brainstorming innovations and working with others who were more educated than I, as well as working with people of different nationalities (our team of 5 was comprised of American, Indian, Chinese and Peruvian students).
After the competition, our group sort of disbanded, but I wanted to continue working on the project so I applied for and received a grant to turn ColaborNacion into a reality. A month or so passed without much progress when through various mutual contacts I met Varun Arora, who introduced me to OpenCurriculum. OpenCurriculum is based on the same guiding principles that led our team to create ColaborNacion, except in terms of operations it provides more to teachers than our team could have possibly imagined. After a short period of communications and a couple of meetings, Varun and I decided I would commit to an apprenticeship of sorts at OpenCurriculum, which is where I am now. In my job I both learn front- and back-end web design and user-experience design, and apply the knowledge and principles I learn to create pages for OpenCurriculum.
I believe OpenCurriculum has the potential to create a worldwide network of teachers for K-12 education. Content that was once exclusive only because people couldn’t find it online will now be easily accessible by those who search through the site, and content that does not exist will be created by teachers both locally and globally collaborating on projects and articles for use worldwide. OpenCurriculum fills a gap in accessibility to content and teacher collaboration that many people want, but no one knows how to ask for, and when the site goes live, I believe the site will become any teacher’s go-to professional tool.
Editor’s note: Heinz College is Carnegie Mellon University’s graduate school for Information Systems Management and Public Policy Management.