Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration

I’ve decided to make this  entertaining and surprising TEDx talk, by Luis von Ahn, required watching in an online undergraduate course (or subject) I teach on community engagement (HLSC2241). Although the course is online, I haven’t included much material about online community engagement. I recently included the new version of  100 ideas to help engage your community online by Bang the Table in the required readings, and there are a couple of other optional readings about online community engagement, but it isn’t an area of community engagement I look at in any great depth.

In his talk, Luis discusses how small tasks on the internet (entering CATCHPA phrases, and tasks involved in learning a language) can be harnessed to achieve large-scale projects.

I’ve included his TEDx talk for a number of reasons:

  1. It is an interesting example of how technology has opened up new ways of working with large numbers of people to achieve specific tasks. Even though I think there could be debate about whether or not it is really an example of community engagement in its own right, it certainly has ideas relevant to community engagement.
  2. The last example he discusses (Duolingo – a website that allows people to learn a language while also helping to translate the Web) shows how something can meet the goal of an organisation (translating the Web) while also providing people with something they want (learning a language). It might not be two-way engagement (which I emphasise is important throughout the course), but it does address the interests of both the organisation and the public.
  3. Duolingo has an interesting business model – it is free and largely without advertisements. It seems to offer a way to provide socially beneficial outcomes (learning a language) at no cost to the user.

One of my aims in the course is to inspire students to consider ways in which community engagement could be relevant in a range of settings. Hopefully this talk will inspire at least some of them to think about possibilities when engaging communities online..

You can see the transcript for the talk at

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Online community engagement – from tools to strategy
  2. Teaching community engagement to students from 29 disciplines
  3. Updating a course on community engagement
  4. A community engagement reading list
  5. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
  6. Ethics and community engagement

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Being an academic, Facilitation & teaching, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration

  1. Jeni James says:

    I think This is absolutely amazing I would have never thought a human teaching a computer But amazing idea about the language can’t wait to find out about those program


  2. BBC says:

    Delighted to be a part of the discussion.


  3. oliver says:

    Thanks for the great discussion


  4. Sutara Ling says:

    What a kool guy and an awesome idea; I have re-posted it to my Fb page with thanx, to keep spreading the genius value of our time spent.

    Liked by 1 person

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