Exploring the Valley eco-system and meeting the first of its inhabitants
Our first working day here in Silicon Valley. And what a day it was. Packed from sun up until way beyond sun down, as the rest of our week will be.
Russel Hancock, CEO of the Silicon Valley Joint Venture, kicks off the day with a very insightful analysis of what has kept this Valley going and growing for over 70 years now, riding wave upon wave of innovations.
Silicon Valley is not an administrative entity. It’s a number of communities, companies and universities, without any superimposed formal structure. Russel argues this is part of its success, because nothing gets in the way of all the innovation that is going on. But it is also part of its problem, as the region is expanding and its infrastructure is crumbling under its increasing weight.
But what more makes this place the sizzling hotbed of tech innovation? It is a biosphere, Russel says. All aspects are connected. You cannot just take a few parts, take them somewhere else, and expect the same thing to happen.
Many aspects are not unfamiliar to us in Twente. But some things definitely are different, at least to a degree. The work force is highly flexible, moving in and out from all over the world as demand fluctuates. Highly skilled professional come in, looking for their big break, but also to enjoy the quality of life this region has to offer. And of course there is a lot of money available from venture capitalist and angel investors willing to take big risks. Some 9 out of 10 start-ups will not make it. But failure is not something to be ashamed of. It is part of the process. If your idea does not stick, you learn and try again.
Stanford University plays an important role in this system, delivering talent and knowledge. It is particularly good at doing this, because it has actively torn down walls between disciplines and department on the inside, and between industry on the outside.
Still chewing on Russel’s insights, we meet with Sara Skvirsky of Institute for the Future, a Think Tank that works on 10-year outlooks in different fields, among which is Higher Education. In a very well articulated analysis, Sara does a great job at trying to convince us we are in a transition from a system ruled by educational institutions to a system focusing on ‘learning flows’, where learning can come from many different sources, and where your skills are not proven by a certificate but by reviews from peerd, teacher and employer, or through open qualification frameworks like OpenBadges.
At the same time, Sara says, we will see more examples of technology enhanced learning, up to the point of a human-software symbiosis. This will have effect both on the side of the teacher getting automated feedback on the learning process of individual student, and on the side of student, who gets his or her information and learning experience through augmented interfaces and virtual reality applications.
These new Education Technologies are steadily becoming a mature business, with its own business intelligence. EdSurge is one of the promising new start-up companies delivering this intelligence. We have a very inspiring discussion on the big red fluffy couches in their office, that has all the anarchy and energy you would expect of a start-up. They definitely know their business and give us helpful insights on the going-ons at mooc-platforms Udacity and Edx, which are so hot we can not share them here (follow their site the coming weeks). Also, they point us to a few promising new initiatives in online learning, like NovoED and 2U that are trying to go beyond the classic lecture model that is still the basis for mooc’s and to the upcoming Learning Managament System Canvas.
Another one of these promising platforms is OpenStudy, a online collaboration platform run by the ambitious Preetha Ram. It is a place where students go with their questions to engage in lively discussions with other students all over the world. In Preetha’s words: it is Google meets Facebook meets World of Warcraft. Students who help other students earn status points and can become higher level teachers, which actually motivates them to keep coming back and help more students. There are some 1,5 million of these teachers already, so any subject will have some of them online on any time of the day. And they don’t get paid ….
Next on our schedule is Robert Thijsen, who works at the Netherlands Trade and Investment Office in San Francisco. Robert, still thrilled by a pitch session at a conference on health solutions he just came back from, in which also some of our Twente entrpreneurs delivered a pitch (you did great!), tells us about the work NTIO can do for us and all colleagues who need support in building relations here on the West-Coast. Robert sees many chances, especially in the field of clean technology and health technology. Don’t worry Robert, we can deliver on those. He also sees many options in teaching collaboration, especially in blended learning collaborations.
Robert joins us for an informal diner with 10 UT-alumni working in Silicon Valley. We meet some amazing people, working at top companies and promising startups and even managing their own startups. We have students from all faculties in the room and from all age groups. Ed proudly welcomes them and of course hands them the silver UT-pin. Our alumni give us great stories of their adventures, great insight in the Valley and some very helpful feedback on the their time a student in Twente.
Wondering how the next days can possibly top this one, we try to find our hotel. Tomorrow it is Stanford, tonight we hope our jet lags and the impressions of the day won’t keep us awake.