MINNEAPOLIS, March 7, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Sophia, a first-of-its-kind online social teaching and learning platform that offers academic content to anyone, anywhere free of charge is now available in a public beta. The site (Sophia.org), which has been described as a mashup of Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube focused solely on education, also lets educators supplement their teaching methods with tools to create a customized learning environment in a private or public setting.
The invitation-only beta has drawn people from nearly 200 educational institutions in 16 different countries.
Sophia uses Web 2.0 tools and methods to create a credible, crowd-sourced platform where information is organized in "learning packets" – bite-sized tutorials tagged to specific academic subjects or topics, including standards-aligned objectives. The packets can be created by anyone, anywhere using text, images, presentations, video, audio and more. Packets are rated for quality and evaluated for academic soundness by users and experts within the community.
"We're at a point in history where it's actually possible for anyone to teach anyone else, regardless of geography or status," said Don Smithmier, founder and CEO of Sophia. "Each of us has the potential to be contributors, to share our knowledge to make education better and more effective, and we want to help fuel that revolution. Sophia connects people wanting to learn with those willing to teach."
In development since 2009, Sophia was created by a team of online education pioneers, academic advisers and digital innovators. Before founding Sophia, Smithmier was a long-time executive at Capella Education Company, which grew during his tenure from less than 50 enrolled online learners to more than 25,000 in all 50 states and 70 different countries. Capella Education Company is an investor in Sophia.
"I watched online learning grow from a fringe concept in the '90s to an established part of the education landscape, but we need more innovation because online classes primarily solve an access problem while coursework and instruction are still treated in a very traditional way," Smithmier said. "By integrating online teaching tools and social networking capabilities with content that meets the standards of the current education system, we have a much better chance of creating genuine engagement. We can meet students where they're at in a way that makes sense to them."
The Sophia leadership team includes Angie Eilers, Ph.D., the organization's vice president of academic outcomes. Eilers has more than 20 years of experience as a researcher, evaluator and professor of educational policy. Her teaching and research associations include Stanford University and the University of Minnesota. Eilers also is a former leadership fellow for the Bush Foundation.
"Sophia has the potential to connect millions of teachers, students and tutors outside the formal classroom to share and exchange knowledge without traditional barriers of cost, time or geography," Eilers said. "Just as the social experience has been digitized by online sites, social teaching and learning applications like Sophia are digitizing learning to supplement and assist what is taking place in brick and mortar schools."
Learning packets on the Sophia site will be rated and ranked by users and academic experts to ensure quality content is organized and easy to find. All registered Sophia users have the option to rate a packet based on its overall appeal, creativity and usefulness. Learning packets also will be reviewed for their academic veracity by subject matter experts within the Sophia community.
In addition to providing content, Sophia enables teachers to create invitation-only learning environments where they have the option to share their content in a private learning environment that can be viewed only by their students. Individuals with access to the controlled area can post questions, provide answers, share ideas and build a "bookshelf" of learning materials for the group to use.
To learn more or create a packet of your own, go to www.sophia.org.
Sophia is a social teaching and learning application that makes free, credible academic content available to anyone at anytime. It is a mission-driven organization that aims to break traditional cost and access barriers to post-secondary degree attainment. For more information, go to www.sophia.org.