Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Acabee: Visualizing the Future of Online Education

By Derek Ouyang

The following is an overview of a nonprofit project I am working on with two friends, started last October. Please check out our website:

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The Problem

According to an article in The Economist , the U.S. education system recently slipped again in world rankings. As of 2009 the richest country in the world also sports the most disappointing education system, ranked at number 11 far behind China, South Korea, and Finland. Throwing money at the problem does not seem to be producing adequate results. I believe that part of the problem is geographical - the U.S. lacks a uniform distribution of teaching talent across its fifty states. A child in Massachusetts receives a far different educational experience than a child in Mississippi. Even within states there exists a severe difference in education standards and teaching standards between counties. Children who want most to learn and succeed are not always paired with good teachers. Consequently the U.S. faces a huge problem of wasted talent that increases yearly with the growth of our population.

The Solution

Acabee’s mission is to provide high-quality educational videos on academic subjects for students, made by students. Two of my friends and I were inspired by Khan Academy, started by Salman Khan, who has been very successful with his YouTube videos. However, we have one major difference in ideology: we believe that the process of learning happens best through the act of teaching. Many viewers believe that Khan is qualified to teach because he is intelligent. On the contrary, we think that the process of creating videos is precisely what broadened and deepened his intelligence. In other words, we think Khan Academy has it backwards; an even better system would be to give anybody the tools to make videos, add those videos to a growing community of knowledge, and allow all contributors to grow intellectually through the process. Only recently have we realized that the act of teaching is one of the most powerful ways to learn. We want to turn that idea into a social movement through this website.

Our end goal is to create a library of knowledge for students in areas of the U.S. where access to the best teachers or schools is limited. If we could create high-quality videos on every subject, then any student would have free access to the best one-way instruction possible. Using the connectivity of social media, we can ensure that geography will never again limit a child’s potential for success.


The impact our organization could have in terms of scale is potentially huge. One talented teacher in the public school system could teach maybe a maximum of 280 students per year (40 students per class, 7 classes per day). One talented teacher on Acabee can reach an unlimited number of students. Every year a total of $634.1 billion in government funding is earmarked for education. Yet, according to education director for the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “There are countries which don't get the bang for the bucks, and the U.S. is one of them.” Furthermore, $624.5 billion of that total amount is provided by local governments. It is precisely local governments in states within the Sunbelt, such as Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama , that struggle most with reaching national education standards, and with whom we believe we would find the most initial success.


On the night of founding, my roommate and I made four simple videos and realized that the model could be scaled. After two weeks of production, we had a website with sixty videos on topics ranging from high school-level algebra and physics to college-level economics and computer science. At that point, we decided it would be more efficient to focus our efforts on structured curricula, or sequences of videos on a certain concept. To do that, we organized a sophomore fellowship with the Freshman & Sophomore College at Stanford University, in which we formed a team of undergraduates from a variety of fields to meet on a weekly basis, producing small video series based on core textbooks, International Baccalaureate guidelines, Stanford courses, or simply personal interest. Meanwhile, we were contacted by high school students who had noticed our site and wanted to expand our high school educational content. Currently Arcadia High School in southern California has a team of students producing AP Physics videos and will soon explore other curriculum projects.

In five months, despite our heavy Stanford workloads and almost no publicity, Acabee has managed to produce over 200 videos from over 20 contributors, with hundreds more to come.

For more videos, please check out our website:

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