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Rhea and the Ratite Project

Student-drivenTM learning

Rhea is a Purdue-wide online learning resource developed "for students by students". The goal of Rhea is to enable students to teach each other the material they learn as well as the connections between the material. Anybody in the world can browse the content of Rhea using a web browser. Anybody with a Purdue career account can log into Rhea and contribute content. Many classes on campus are actually using Rhea as part of the course. Like the student population it serves, Rhea is an evolving tool. To better understand what Rhea currently is and what we hope it will become, let me share with you a bit of Rhea's story.

In the spring of 2007, I had the idea to develop an online learning tool to serve the Purdue student population. My aim was to enable students to “teach each other” through an online repository of student contributed learning material, including outside applications, together with links between the material. What I had in mind was quite different than a standard “wiki”, where students would have been able to collectively edit pages on the subjects they learn. Rather, I wanted to create a place where every student’s contribution would be valued, both as a personal learning exercise and as teaching material. I wanted to create a place where it would be ok to have different views of the material, and where discussing and comparing these views would be possible. I also wanted a place where learning material that is not “filtered by an authority” could be shared and valued, so we could all witness the learning process and learn from it. In other words, I wanted a place where knowledge in its whole complexity could be observed and studied.

“Mimi’s Kiwi” was the first prototype that we launched. It was created with the help of Katie Bouman in the summer of 2007 and was powered by the software zWiki. I used this tool in my Fall 2007 ECE301 course. I was happily surprised with the student's response, who quickly volunteered to further develop and maintain the software. My student's content contributions were also quite significant and turned out to be very valuable. The next semester, we decided that we were ready to expand the scope of Mimi’s Kiwi. A few more courses were added in addition to a section on the ECE PhD qualifying exams. You can see the result for yourself.

The site was used for two months in the Winter 2008 semester until we were able to move everything to our own server for better control. Prof. Yung-Hsiang Lu loaned the server and student Dennis Snell orchestrated the move, which included a change of software from zWiki to wikiMedia. To reflect the global role of the site, we decided to shorten the name to “Kiwi”. Kiwi was featured in the Summer 2008 edition of the ECE Impact magazine. Click here to view the Kiwi instructional video created by Katie Bouman and William Ehlhardt.

Because of a name conflict, Kiwi retired in September 2008 and all its content was merged into Rhea. Rhea is version 2.0 of Purdue’s student-drivenTM learning tool. Thanks to Stephen Rudolph and the rest of the kiwi development team (Deen King-Smith, Dennis Snell, Mike Walker), it is running on a new, faster server. It is equipped with better security features, and the software used to run the tool is significantly improved. I hope you will enjoy using Rhea as much as we do.

What is the Ratite Project?

A kiwi and a rhea are two birds that cannot fly. They are members of a family of flightless birds called “ratites”. Ratites do not fly for physiological reasons: they have no keel on their sternum. However, they have other skills to compensate, such as strong legs for running. Likewise, Kiwi and Rhea are “teaching tools without teachers.” The Ratite Project encompasses education research to study these tools, and engineering research to develop algorithms and software to sustain them. You can learn more on the Ratite Project page.

Prof. Boutin
October 3, 2008

Alumni Liaison

Meet a recent graduate heading to Sweden for a Postdoctorate.

Christine Berkesch