For two years, I have been reading the Silicon Valley experts talking about how Quora is poised and ready to explode. They claim it will be bigger than Twitter, more social than Facebook, and more helpful than Google. Yet most people have never heard of Quora…at least today.
So what is www.Quora.com? In their own words, Quora is: “Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question. One way you can think of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking other people. Eventually, when you see a link to a question page on Quora, your feeling should be: Oh, great! That's going to have all the information I want about that."
But essentially, Quora is based on a concept that many have tried to implement over the years. It’s a cloud that people have tried to lasso without much success. It's a social questioning website. I guess you could argue that Google has been the most successful, although searching for information is not really the same as searching for answers to questions. We’ve all had a question in mind, typed it into Google, and after seeing millions of possible pages and spending countless hours trying to find the 1 page that will answer it, given up. (Or maybe that’s just me?)
But think about Ask Jeeves, which became www.ask.com a few years back. They tried to figure out how to get the answers you want to the questions you have. Or think about other modern websites like www.askives.com. Listen to the opening remarks on their website: “In 2010, more than 86,834,103,519 questions were asked in the Internet. 77% of them didn't get a straight answer, you can change that!”
Then there is Facebook. Zuckerberg wants desperately for his website to be the only place you need to go in order to get answers. But that just hasn’t happened yet. When was the last time you went to your Facebook community to get a leg up on a work problem? It’s not that you couldn’t do it…but Facebook seems to be seen as more social than educational today.
However, the idea of social questioning got me thinking about education. This is something we (educators) have tried to set up for decades, possibly even centuries, isn't it? We try to create learning communities that can help each other discover and uncover the mysteries of the world, only to help one another create a context by which we can start to answer those questions. Right? I still remember the (albeit horrible) mantra of my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. O’Day. (I should also admit she was my favorite teacher in Elementary school!) “There is no such thing as a bad question.” (Really? I’ll bet I can come up with 10 right now! Do I need to buy this book for class? I’ll be gone next week, will I miss anything? Yada Yada Yada) But the spirit of the remark is understood. We want students to question – to seek answers. We want to encourage exploration and research.
Now, imagine the mission that educators have embraced for years being enabled by technology. Wow. Can you picture a student run tutoring service that is essentially social questioning software for your students? Actually, why limit it to your students? Wouldn’t that kind of social arena be excellent across campuses? How wonderful for a student to join the community as an “expert” of sorts in math or science. They could help others figure out complex issues, navigate scholastic concepts, or demystify terms that are difficult. Yet that same student could go to the community for help with their speech to be given in a week or a really hard calculus problem.
Creating social questioning groups on the scale of a class is probably not very helpful. But thinking about this on a much grander scale – an institution or even state system – is exciting. As social learning and networking weaves its way into education, perhaps it is now time to start thinking about communities of questioners and communities of answer-givers. It could change education as we know it! (Which, by the way, is a question I’m currently following on Quora…come join me in there...)