Big Brands and Possible Disrupters

Think of three brand names that are big in education. I bet at least two of the brands you are thinking of will be on our schedule for today.

We start the day at Coursera, a privately funded platform for the delivery of MOOC’s that are produced by universities. As startups do, this one is growing like crazy, with some 160 employees at this moment. Chief Academic Strategist Vivek Goel, who only recently left his position as provost at the University of Toronto to join Coursera, talks to us about the ways in which Coursera is trying to tackle known MOOC-problems like low retention and test-fraud. The new interaction tools that are added to the platform look promising, as do some of the case stories on how universities have gained benefit form publishing a MOOC through Coursera. These benefits come mostly from increased reputation. MOOC’s are a tool for universities that are strong in a specific field, but lack recognition for that strength, Vivek tells us. Coursera offers these universities a stage.

Kahn Academy platform
Our next stop is Khan Academy, but the trip over there is somewhat hampered. You know the one about these nine academics trying to change a flat tire? Well, in the end they call a garage.

Luckily we have two cars, so we do not have to keep Murayl Berner waiting too long. Her demonstration of the new Kahn Academy platform is enticing and her vision on its uses inspiring. Kahn Academy is a not-for-profit organization, aiming primarily at people that have limited access to education. Their platform is also a great tool for primary and secondary schools with limited resources. Yet, we can also see uses in university, specifically for foundational courses in math. And it is also a great tool for students who want to independently work on their math foundation.

Parallel sessions at Apple and IBM
Feeling compelled to help these people in their social mission, our group splits up for two parallel sessions. One group is off for Cupertino to visit Apple’s headquarters. The others visit IBM’s research lab in San Jose. The question which of these you would choose should be part of any personality test.

Apple’s headquarters

The Apple-group gets the full brand rubdown. In Apple’s Executive Briefing Room on famous 1 Infinite Loop (no photo’s!), an extensive lunch is waiting. It’s hard not to cheer when Mr. Vroom appears in front of the huge presentation screen. His talk is about Apple’s history and values. It only leaves Education Business Developer Jay Matheson half an hour to talk about Apple’s vision on education. Basically, this is delivering classroom tools, notably the iPad, as a platform for third party apps. Some of these apps are impressive indeed. But no talk about iTunes University or the iBooks platform anymore.

IBM Research Lab and project Watson
Meanwhile, at IBM’s Research Lab, the first part of the session should be a videoconference. But it is severely hampered by technical difficulties … Jim Sprohler, Director of IBM’s Global Universities Program, takes over with a very insightful presentation on IBM’s vision on education’s future. Project Watson plays an important role in this vision. Through AI-like systems like Watson, it will become possible for teachers to deliver individually optimized learning experiences, where the software can also independently offer teaching and counseling to the student.

IBM is investing substantial resources in this field. The reasoning is that traditional institutions and modes of instruction cannot meet the growing demand for education in developing economies. Interestingly, IBM combines its mission to help out in this field with a vision on learning that, like us, also takes the T‑shaped professional as its developmental goal.

Last stop - the Minerva Project
Our last stop for today, and for this trip, is the Minerva project. Triggered by a fascinating article in the Atlantic Monthly, we added this one to our itinerary only in the last week. Minerva aims a developing a unique blend of education technology and campus experience. It is a college with a dorm, but with no lecture halls. Students attend seminars through an online interface. Both teachers and students can check in form any location that has broadband internet. But students do live together!

The platform enriches the interaction with a host of tools, all founded on insights from cognitive psychology. Among the driving forces are Academic Dean Stephen Kosslyn, a former Harvard Dean, and Chief Operating Officer Miriam Rivera, a former Stanford Trustee. With them we discuss Minerva’s didactical and operational approach, and they leave us thoroughly impressed. As Stephen says, they pushed the reset-button on higher education. This might very well be the big disruptor.

Sister campuses Europe and Asia
Minerva started its program with 30 students this year (co-developers; not guinea pigs!). It aims for 300 next year and 600 the year after. The main proposition: better teaching at about 20% of the regular US-price. The first sister campuses will open in Europe and Asia next year. Students only spend their first year in San Francisco. Every consecutive semester will be in one of the sister campuses.

Final day, full American experience
We end our final day with a full American experience: the San Francisco Giants vs. the San Diego Padres. It is the first thing this week some of us truly do not understand …

Go back to the report from 24 September