Friday, June 8, 2012

The end of last January, my wife noticed a flyer somewhere that mentioned that the deadline for the Executive MBA program at the University of Nevada was mid-April. "You should do that." She was right. I was in the midst of growing my small business (read "one employee") and I had several more ideas I wanted to turn into companies. Without even realizing it I had fallen into my third career path. I got everything together for the application and scheduled the GRE test ten days earlier than suggested by the GRE Exam people based on when they report results. (One thing I learned in college is to double check everything.  This is its corollary - prepare for worst case scenarios). The test results made it on the same day as the deadline. Everything was in and I was eventually one of 20 that were accepted.

I have always loved education. I had always planned on going back to school for further degrees. I just assumed that day would be after my business had become enough to support us and I had both more time and more money. I had intended on receiving my masters in classical archaeology and my doctorate in education. I love education. But I never intended to be on just one side of that equation. Little insight - I actually prefer the other end of didactics. I substitute taught for two winters when I was unemployed and first married. In fact, I had early on wanted to institute a private high school.

This high school was going to solve all of the problems in our current educational system. Parents were to be deeply involved. Both hours per day and days per year were to be greatly increased. Teachers would completely lack a teaching degree, instead being led by in-field education and a native talent. The school budget would be almost entirely for educators. There would be no more textbooks (when I saw the tblet I instantly thought of Google's Guttenberg project - goodbye textbook costs), only historic texts. Math would be taught using Copernicus and Kepler, chemistry from Lavoisier and physics from Einstein.

I know that the field of education is rife with problems. I used to blame it on a terrible bureaucracy. Then I blamed it on the parents. Then I blamed it on the lowered expectations where everyone is a winner. Michele Rhee was right, but she was only removing the first rotten brick in a quickly collapsing wall. My idea was to change attitudes of everyone involved and hold everyone's hand along the way. The teacher, the administrator, the student, the parent...everyone needed to change what they considered normal and forced to give more. 

Well, it looks like technology will completely change the face of education just as it has or will with so many other areas.

And it looks like it will be quite disruptive as well.

The first clue I had that education will forever be changed was watching the new Star Trek movie a couple of years back. The Vulcans had a "school" where each individual sat in a depression in the floor and was taught in a one-on-one format with a mentoring program. It quite shocked me. It instantly became clear what Kurzweil had been saying - today a young boy in Africa has more access to information than the President of the United States did 30 years ago. Or something like that. (did I mention that this blog is not well researched?) 

I knew early on when mentally forming my school that there are at least two parts to an education - the information and its digestion. The former is no longer the sole property of the belongs to everybody. Knowledge has become democratized. Let me give you a few examples - Google and Wikipedia to start, Sal Khan and the Khan Academy, EdX the child of MITx and Harvard jealousy, and Sebastian Thrun with Udacity. (I had an office mate who was the Jeopardy player type. She knew history QUITE well. She would always bait me by asking a question about Churchill or Egyptian Dynasties. As our backs were to each other I would quickly go to google or wikipedia and go tit for tat. When she found out how I knew details she did not she became flustered and upset and called it cheating. It may have been cheating ten years ago, but now it just is). 

Now that the information is out there, it only remains to determine that latter part of an education, teaching digestion. This is where the current battle is playing out. How will we teach our children how to gather, digest and synthesize? It will be exciting to watch as it unfolds. Let me give you a hypothetical view of the future (15 years)....

The children are given access to several types of mentors in elementary school. The main purpose of these mentors is to keep the questioning mind alive. Why do rabbits run from coyotes? Why does wood float? These mentors will be in several forms including software, robotic and flesh. This stage will be devoted to learning facts  in order to build the foundation. You will know the alphabet, what wood is composed of and why there were 13 colonies. From here the child will begin to specialize - science, social science, creative, or what have you. An introduction to an advanced set of knowledge will be given. Finally, the student will know how to access all knowledge and the focus will become on how to use the current knowledge to create new knowledge. 

OK, duh. But here is the kicker. At what pace? At what location? Who will say what you know? Right now we all go through at the same pace in the same building and receive a certificate. In 15 years your son may be done with extensive math training at 14 via software at home. My son may become expert at economics at 18 and attend a group in a community building mentored by someone in the field.  There will be staggering decisions and choices. Certification will be replaced by ability tests and your resume will be a list of projects you have completed.

I am not saving up for my childrens' college fund. At first it was because I paid my way through college and it taught me a lot. My grades suffered but I learned what an education is really worth. I actually want them to have that. Now I put off any savings program simply because there will be no college. If you do not believe me, check out what Mark Cuban said about it. Check out the inflation rate per credit and the growth in student debt. I do not know what will happen to these universities (maybe become completely research oriented I suspect) but people will no longer go there for credits and degrees. That era is over.

Obama just finished paying his loans off 8 years ago. It is no longer worth it. I am using my student loan to subsidize my business. Get as we know it is done. It will become what it should have been about - learning. 

Have fun.

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