Posts about hacking education

Hacking education: Google U

I’m lucky to be at a great Union Square Ventures session on hacking education today. I believe education will be restructured radically and that will be accelerated out of the so-called financial crisis. You can follow tweets at #hackedu; Union Square will put up the entire transcript later.

In honor of hacking education, I’ll put up all of the Google U chapter in What Would Google Do? (the rest after the jump):

* * *

Who needs a university when we have Google? All the world’s digital knowledge is available at a search. We can connect those who want to know with those who know. We can link students to the best teachers for them (who may be fellow students). We can find experts on any topic. Textbooks need no longer be petrified on pages but can link to information and discussion; they can be the products of collaboration, updated and corrected, answering questions and giving quizzes, even singing and dancing. There’s no reason my children should be limited to the courses at one school; even now, they can get coursework online from no less than MIT and Stanford. And there’s no reason that I, long out of college, shouldn’t take those courses, too.

You may suspect that because I’m a professor, I’ll now come out of this litany of opportunities with a rhetorical flip and demonstrate why we must preserve universities as they are. But I won’t. Of course, I value the academy and its tradition and don’t wish to destroy it. But just as every other institution examined in this book is facing fundamental challenges to its essence and existence in the Google age, so is education. Indeed, education is one of the institutions most deserving of disruption—and with the greatest opportunities to come of it.

Call me a utopian but I imagine a new educational ecology where students may take courses from anywhere and instructors may select any students, where courses are collaborative and public, where creativity is nurtured as Google nurtures it, where making mistakes well is valued over sameness and safety, where education continues long past age 21, where tests and degrees matter less than one’s own portfolio of work, where the gift economy may turn anyone with knowledge into teachers, where the skills of research and reasoning and skepticism are valued over the skills of memorization and calculation, and where universities teach an abundance of knowledge to those who want it rather than manage a scarcity of seats in a class.

Who’s to say that college is the only or even the best place to learn? Will Richardson, who teaches fellow educators how to use the internet in the classroom, wrote an open letter to his children, Tess and Tucker, on his blog, “I want you to know that you don’t have to go to college if you don’t want to, and that there are other avenues to achieving that future that may be more instructive, more meaningful, and more relevant than getting a degree.” He said education may take them to classrooms and lead to certification but it also may involve learning through games, communities, and networks built around their interests. “Instead of the piece of paper on the wall that says you are an expert,” he told his children, “you will have an array of products and experiences, reflections and conversations that show your expertise, show what you know, make it transparent. It will be comprised of a body of work and a network of learners that you will continually turn to over time, that will evolve as you evolve, and will capture your most important learning.”

If that is what education looks like, what does a university look like? I asked that question on my blog and entrepreneur and technologist Bob Wyman (who works for Google) responded by abstracting the university and identifying its key roles: teaching, testing, and research. I’ll add a fourth and unofficial role: socialization. Let’s examine them in reverse order.