Design goals of Bolt

Bolt is designed to meet the needs of:

  • Distributed thinking projects, in which volunteers must be trained to perform various tasks.
  • Volunteer computing projects, in which educating participants can increase their enthusiasm and commitment.

These areas have the following properties:

  • Churn: constant turnover (scores or hundreds of new students per day);
  • Wide geographical distribution;
  • Wide age distribution;
  • Motivation: most volunteers have a pre-existing interest in the topic, and are motivated by recognition (e.g. being marked as an "expert" on the project web site).

What Bolt does

Using Bolt, you can

  • Create exercises of various types: multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, graphical, etc.
  • Specify a course as a sequence of lessons and exercises.

Given such a course, Bolt does the following:

  • It guides students sequentially through the course;
  • If the student fails an exercise, they repeat one or more lessons and retry the exercise(Bolt courses are designed to be "fail-proof");
  • Each student's progress is recorded in a database, and when they return to the course later they resume at that point.
  • Bolt maintain an estimate of each student's mastery of the course material.

In addition, Bolt lets you create better courses; specifically, you can

  • make statistically valid comparisons of alternative lessons;
  • make "adaptive" courses in which different lessons are used for different groups of students

This is done as follows:

  • Bolt records the timing and results of each student interaction (viewing a lesson or completing an exercise) in a database.
  • Demographics (age, sex, education level, nationality) are stored for each student.
  • Course documents can have various types of "control structures". For example, they can specify that a lesson should be chosen randomly from a given set, or should be chosen based on student demographics.
  • Bolt offers analytic tools that let you evaluate the effectiveness of your lessons, and that help you make your course adapt itself to different types of students.

Other features of Bolt

By default, every Bolt page includes an "ask a question" link. These questions are delivered as private messages to the course developer.

The bigger picture

Bolt's primary goal is to serve the needs of volunteer computing and skill aggregation projects. However, we believe that it can also become a tool for research in education and cognitive science, for a variety of reasons:

  • Experiments can be deployed with large sample sizes.
  • Experiments can be deployed immediately, with no dependence on the academic calendar. Significant results are available in days rather than months or years.
  • The student population varies widely in age, language, and education level.
  • The student population is self-selecting for interest in the topic area, and has diverse learning goals.
  • Experiments are not limited by standards or syllabi.
  • Experiments can be conducted without dependence on educational institutions or teachers.
Last modified 15 years ago Last modified on Jan 24, 2008, 1:44:05 PM