School House Wonk

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine." Benjamin Franklin

Best of EduTech 2011

The end of the year inevitably brings out “best of” lists.  And continuing the trend of “Top 11 in 2011” is Michael Staton’s “11 Tech Factors That Changed Education in 2011.”  Staton’s company Inigral develops social software for student recruitment and higher education retention; it was named one of the top 10 innovative companies in education by Fast Company. Staton’s list picks trendsetters that are “quickly impacting how young people relate to and absorb education.”

I’m most intrigued by number 1 – the “Uncollege Movement.”  The “who really needs college” uprising gained steam this year when PayPal co-founder (and early Facebook investor) Peter Thiel announced the first winners of his “20 under 20” Thiel fellows.  From hundreds of applicants Thiel chose 24 entrepreneurs (he couldn’t narrow the field to 20) under the age of 20 to receive a $100,000 grant and access to a network of high-profile mentors so that, in two years, these budding entrepreneurs could turn their business hopes into reality, reports Jennifer Wang in Entrepreneur Magazine.  The only condition: Thiel Fellows cannot attend college while in the program. Why? Because Thiel believes entrepreneurship can’t be taught in a classroom, and that college with its commensurate mountains of student debt serve to hinder, not advance, young talent today. Hence the “Un-college Movement.”

So, if you aren’t Thiel Fellow, but traditional college doesn’t light your entrepreneurial fire, what do you do?  Writer Anya Kamenetz describes the way forward for “Uncollege” credentialing in her book The Edupunks Guide to a DIY Credential (is it too late rename my blog “Edupunks”?).  Kamenetz’s book offers a “comprehensive guide to learning online and charting a personalized path to an affordable credential.”  In assessing the impact of the “Uncollege Movement,” Staton wonders how soon (not whether) employers will accept un-collegians as readily as they do traditional graduates.

And my favorite trend is number 11 – “Schools are scaling, and so are professors.”  Staton recognizes how online university learning has the potential to democratize higher education by bringing name brand schools and degrees like the University of Southern California’s Masters in Teaching to a lap top near you (a huge development this year).  Readers of this blog will recognize the other trend – the scaling of instruction from world-renowned professors through popular online courses offered to anyone and everyone.  Stanford’s Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thru headlined this effort with their wildly popular online course in artificial intelligence.  “Now that the cost of distributing content is zero and the potential to reach anyone is limitless,” writes Staton, “all-star professors should be teaching every class.”

Beth T. Sigall

December 22, 2011

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2 thoughts on “Best of EduTech 2011

  1. Ingersoll on said:

    Isn’t Senator Harkin trying to crack down on online universities?

  2. there are a lot of issues at play with online learning, such as consumer protection type issues (as you can imagine, the potential for fraud from an online purchase of anything is pretty significant), also union issues (whether one professor teaches 50 students in a college class or 500 online dramatically impacts the number of professors/instructors a college needs to hire). Also, for K-12 education, funding formulas are complicated, and based essentially on headcounts. So, how do you calculate funding for a student who attends a brick-and-mortar school for one-third of the day, then does online school for the rest? Also, lots of issues w/ cheating in online courses. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have online learning (would be impossible not to have it). But there issues that should be addressed. Some are even theorizing that online learning is INCREASING the achievement gap, b/c kids who already have a lot of advantages are gaining by using online teachng tools like Khan Academy (a favorite of Bill Gates), but lower income incomes are not using these tools as much (it’s a theory — not proven yet).

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