Interview | Chong Yew Shares Gnowledge

A friend approached Chong Yew one day and asked him if he could develop for his kids a simple application that might randomize the order that questions and answers were presented. “They were memorizing answers and answer locations of all the paper-based exercises that were given to them by their teachers without necessarily understanding what they were learning,” says Chong Yew, founder of the Malaysia-based Gnowledge, a quiz and test sharing site. One train of thought led to another and the eureka moment was that easily accessible tools like this weren’t available—or if they were, they weren’t easily accessible or easy to use, according to Chong Yew. If he were to build it, nurture it, and set the content free, then he figured that it would do a whole lot of good to many people in the world if it was put on the Internet. “Everyone in this world is a student at a certain point of time in their lives,” he says. “Every student sits for exams, takes tests and quizzes and does exercises. We created Gnowledge to provide an easily accessible education platform to fill that void.” Chong Yew shares more about Gnowledge in this interview.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Chong Yew: Gnowledge as a name was created just as a play on the word “knowledge” and that phonetically, it would be pronounced the same way. It helped a lot that the .com domain name was also available. We’ve also applied for a trademark on the name. “Create. Share. Learn” was born out of our goal to democratize education by creating, sharing and learning using assessments.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Chong Yew: Gnowledge (www.gnowledge.com) is the world’s online test publishing platform. We aim to provide a global-repository for self-assessment and user-originated content for exercises and test papers for every conceivable education syllabus worldwide. The idea for Gnowledge originated from me, and together with a financial wiz and an angel investor, incorporated it into a business based out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My background is in software development and consulting, and I’ve been running my own custom software development shop for the past 15 years.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Chong Yew: Gnowledge enables and empowers everyone to take, create, or share tests, exercises, quizzes and assignments anywhere, anytime. Some of the benefits include:

- Assessments are marked automatically and results are available immediately.
– Randomization of question order and answers, allowing for repetition of the same test without falling into the pitfall of answer sequence memorization (a limitation of conventional paper-based workbooks)
– Access to any and all tests published on Gnowledge
– Allows test creators to have their own Vanity Page within Gnowledge which displays only their published tests (accessible via http://www.gnowledge.com/yourusername)

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Chong Yew: Other online test sites have some combination of the following:
– Single solitary source of content. Gnowledge enables users to create and publish tests, quizzes and exercises, share them via their Vanity Page and/or link to their individual pages or tests from other sites, i.e., blogs, bulletin boards, social media networks.

- Feature creep and overload, many of which are ignored. With so many features, the interface of other sites are often cluttered and unintuitive. Gnowledge instead wants to build from a small base of core essential features and add-on based on usage and demand as well as key internal metrics.

- Many other similar sites are closed in nature: if a university employs the system, you will only see and be able to access content for that university. Our site is public by nature.

Other sites dealing with quizzes and surveys in the field of education are seen as the closest threat. However, none have had quite the same model we have as to the field of self-serve assessments.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?


Chong Yew: From the aforementioned eureka moment, there was a 2-year journey before Gnowledge was officially incorporated as a legal business entity. During this time, the concept went through a few iterations before an early proof-of-concept prototype was developed for demonstration purposes. Before the advent of cloud computing, the Internet infrastructure cost was too prohibitive for Gnowledge platform to scale beyond a few thousand users. Gnowledge was put on hold while I concentrated on my day job as a business solutions software developer. When Microsoft officially released Windows Azure, their cloud computing platform, we realized that Gnowledge is now able to scale “infinitely”. Gnowledge was officially incorporated as a business entity in Octoboer 2010 and an early beta release was launched on February 24th 2011. We’ve been improving the product continuously ever since.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Chong Yew: It originated as and remains a website (www.gnowledge.com) that anyone can access via the Internet.
The company and its core team are physically based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Chong Yew: Gnowledge and all of its current features are and will remain free to use. More advanced features are planned that may be subscription-only, but they have not been finalized as of this writing.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Chong Yew: You can view examples of how to use Gnowledge on our Tutorial Videos page: http://www.gnowledge.com/main/tutorial_videos.aspx

Additionally, our blog (http://blog.gnowledge.com) will cover new features as and when they are released, on top of video tutorials.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? 

Chong Yew: It is most suitable for educators, students and parents.

Educators
Educators can utilize the Gnowledge website to store frequently used exercises and test papers, which can then be assigned to individual students or entire classrooms. Assigned exercises can be handed in electronically with the results automatically corrected and completed, thus saving precious time on manual individual exercise correction.
Test papers stored on the site can be reused and reassigned to as many students as frequently as desired. 
Students worldwide have free ready-access to exercises and test papers pertaining to their studies with results delivered to them instantly upon completion of each individual exercise.

 Parents with school-going Children 
(increasingly) busy parents can use the site to keep tabs on the academic aptitude and progress of their school-going children in a similar way that teachers use the Gnowledge website for. Detailed results of exercises completed by their children on the Gnowledge website can be forwarded to and subsequently viewed and evaluated by parents.

Victor: Who is Gnowledge not for?

Chong Yew: Gnowledge was designed from the ground up to scale to thousands, if not millions of users. Those looking to use Gnowledge with open-ended assessments might have problems. Gnowledge was designed to automatically assess answers and the sophistication required for marking open ended questions/essays just isn’t currently viable.  As such, educators that utilise open-ended assessments day by day probably will not benefit from using Gnowledge as much. Please note that allowing educators to mark open-ended assessments by themselves IS possible, it’s just doing it automatically isn’t viable at the moment.  However, letting users manually mark their tests beats the purpose of us providing an automated marking system in the first place. Imagine waking up one morning with 10,000 tests to manually mark?

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Chong Yew: Education today is a gateway, a prerequisite to securing a job, via complex certification paths. Education should be a journey, not a destination, should be a life-long process that shouldn’t end with an accredited certificate. Education in its current state has been adulterated into a business, albeit a lucrative one, when it should be equally accessible to everyone of every segment of society, rich and poor, the haves and have nots. Access to education, even quality education should not be determined by a person’s origins, background or geographical location, just as a person’s lifespan, survival and life expectancy should not be determined by the place he or she is born.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Gnowledge?

Chong Yew: I was schooled in the traditional public school system. Going to school was fun till my teenage years when I discovered that there were many other fun things to do besides studying, i.e., computer games, extra-curricular activities, etc.

In hindsight, studying became a bore (and mostly a chore) because it became a routine and we learned to circumnavigate the system – “crowdsourcing” homework, learning to spot exam questions, etc. My last few years in high school was really a cat-and-mouse game intent on scoring the best I could while studying the least, sometimes deploying social engineering skills on unsuspecting teachers, especially teachers who are not directly involved in teaching us.

My passion was (and still is) computer programming, which has been my career since I left high school. (I skipped tertiary education). My computer programming skills were largely self-taught from publicly available resources. I read up on books, did the exercises, absorbed information and knowledge. This was the early 90s, when the WWW was still in its infancy and definitely pre-Google, when Microsoft’s motto was still “information at your fingertips”.

I’d like Gnowledge to be the prime go-to resource to promote the understanding of everyone’s field of passion in every aspect of education worldwide.

Victor: How does Gnowledge address some of your concerns about education?

Chong Yew: Gnowledge democratizes education content. Any test published on Gnowledge is accessible to anyone worldwide who is interested in it. Tests are categorized by country, subject, grade and school and this makes it “easy peasy” to knowledge seekers.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Chong Yew: The future of education will be defined by the outliers as government funding of education and education-related expenditure is funneled elsewhere, to bail out society’s screw-ups. Every major tipping point in every field is tipped over by outsiders, never the pillars that support status quo – witness the renaissance, industrial revolution, transatlantic flight, the computing revolution, the Internet revolution, the advent of social networks, etc. As we move forward, I like to keep in mind a favorite quote of mine from Margaret Mead: “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Gnowledge? What makes you say that?

Chong Yew: Educators who are using Gnowledge, reach beyond their classrooms. They teach beyond their teaching hours and their students continue learning even after class is dismissed. Students who regularly use Gnowledge learn by understanding and repetition. They take the same tests over and over again because they are not under pressure to succeed. It’s like a game to them. Every time they take the same test, it’s different, due to question and answer order randomization. With repetition, comes knowledge absorption and understanding. Practice makes perfect. Gnowledge transcends language and culture. Prime example: http://www.gnowledge.com/saveurfle   Jocelyne Perreard is an active Gnowledge user. She’s a French language teacher from Mexico (a predominantly Spanish-speaking country) using an English-language website to publish French grammar tests.
As of this writing, she has published 52 tests, brought in more than 100 students, and they have in turn taken the aforementioned published tests 1,272 times. That’s more than 10 tests taken per student. This is the future of education. Global Internet era, Internet scale, universal accessibility.

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

 

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