This Guy Left Google To Put The Power Of Big Data Into Small Classrooms


pram-high-res-229x300Prasad Ram (aka Pram) is founder, creator, and CEO of Gooru, “an open and collaborative online community where the best free materials for learning can be found, created, remixed and shared.” Gooru harnesses the power of data to enable personalized learning.

Pram used to be a big research scientist: head of R&D for Google India and CTO for Yahoo India. He also contributed to the development of Google Maps, News, and Translate. Now, he’s dedicated to Gooru, a platform that describes itself as “a non-profit education technology start-up in Silicon Valley with a mission to honor the human right to education.”

Since I learned about Gooru, I’ve described it to friends and acquaintances, many of whom are classroom teachers. They often look at me confused. No wonder, Gooru is unique among offerings in the edtech space. There’s a hardly a context within which to understand what it does.

I’ll do my best to explain…

Think about the big search engines: Google, Bing, Yahoo!. They don’t just search the web; they sell advertising. They operate under the premise that what you’re searching for and what you enter into the dialogue box are not necessarily the same thing. You type “Church’s;” they crunch data and jump to the intuitive conclusion that you are not looking to learn about stained glass, alters, or steeples. Rather, you’re craving fried chicken and honey buttermilk biscuits. Search algorithms are built to cross reference and filter a large catalog of data in order to deliver results that prioritize advertising goals.

Imagine if search algorithms were built to find the best online learning resources, to collect metadata and analyze your learning habits in order to use predictive technology to suggest the best resource for the future. Gooru not only prioritizes educational goals, but also allows teachers to filter results by subject, grade level, and types of media (videos, slides, handouts, etc).

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Another example: think about Netflix. The video streaming service works so well because it knows your viewing habits. It remembers exactly what movies you’ve picked in the past. It records how many minutes you tolerated the Hemlock Grove pilot before you turned it off. It’s aware of what you choose on weekdays at prime time versus what you choose on Friday night at 2am. And Netflix probably knows much more.

Imagine if a teacher had the same kind of data. Using Gooru, teachers can create shared online “playlists.” Then, data about how the students actually used the resources is recorded and analyzed. “At every interaction, Gooru captures usage data, social signals and learning outcomes, which are used to develop user profiles, inform recommendation algorithms, and provide teachers with tools to deliver personalized learning to their students.” Consider the ramifications: I might think my students love videos, but Gooru knows that they turn them all off after three minutes. What’s more, I might discover that the students who only watched two minutes perform just as well as the ones who watched the whole thing.

Suddenly, we’re assessing the efficacy of our learning resources instead of our students’ ability to conform to our pedagogical practices.
Put simply, Gooru puts the power of big analytics in the hands of small classrooms. This is what makes Gooru so exciting. As Pram said to me during a recent phone call, “the teacher is at the center of the learning process for us.” Gooru is not edtech that attempts to automate the teaching or learning process. Instead, it makes intuitive suggestions by looking at the whole class.