The Floating University: Ivy League lectures for little money

The Floating University may be the beginning of yet another way to reach out to  bigger number of students. Famous profs from Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League universities give visually appealing lectures that can be seen on your laptops or tablets anywhere, anytime…

Stanford Professor quits job after online lecture to 160 000 students

Sebastian Thrun, who led the self-driving car project of Google, has started to look for new ways of teaching computer programming. After the experience of delivering an online lecture (on search engine design) attended by 160 000 students from around the world, he said: “…he can’t teach at Standford again”. Surprising lesson: also Stanford students, who pay at least 30 000 $ a year, preferred to see him online.

Prof Thrun has set up Udacity, an online school which will deliver university-level education for low cost to anyone with an Internet connection – for free. He aims to reach out to 500 000 students.

The web is full of news about the move by this prominent prof from an elite educational establishment of the US. Fueling the discourse about the future of classroom with fresh energy.

So here are two articles. the second one gives a more critical account:

From “Hack Education”:

Peer to Peer University: P2PU

We have had Open Universities and various e-learning platforms around for a long time. But now there is something new. A year ago we saw the birth of an exciting new model of online learning: It is the entirely free web-based ‘Peer-to-Peer University’ that draws its morale from the Education-for-All (EFA) movement. Its learning model is based on a mix of online dissemination of knowledge and its diffusion in a virtual network of learners. Networked learning has established itself as an expansion of the linear ‘transmission model’ of one-to-few (classroom) to a multi-scalar, non-linear ‘network model’ of many-to-multitudes (Davidson and Goldberg 2009).

In countries of transition economies like Brazil, India and others, but also increasingly in developed countries, we see the demand of education by far exceeding the supply. Millions of learners either cannot afford a high-class education or they just don’t get a place to study. The model of a great teacher standing in front of students in a classroom, teaching them and then grading their papers, and finally issuing them certificates will simply not work in the traditional way in many (in fact in most) places of the world.

In this video, one representative of P2PU gives an excellent introduction to this exciting new type of school, and indeed, a new space of learning. He also addresses tricky questions like accreditation, business models, sustainability etc.

Here is the website. Look into the totally open communication between tutors and peers, and peers and peers…

Davidson, C.N. and Goldberg D.T. (2009). The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press/MacArther Foundation

Prof Sugata Mitra’s Experiments: “Hole-in-the-Wall” to SOLE Self Organized Learning Environment.

Dr. Sugata Mitra, physicist, cognitive researcher and pedagogue is certainly one of the most intelligent and original thinkers I have come across. In fact, many years ago, when he was doing his post-doc in Vienna, I had the pleasure of getting lessons from him on calculus! Now professor at the University of Newcastle, it’s indeed great to see him today speak at TED Lectures, at the UN General Assembly, CNN etc…. I have been sending links about his stories to friends saying: “I know this guy”.

Dr. Mitra became famous with a curious socio-pedagogic ‘experiment’ in New Delhi (when he was technology head of NIIT – one of the big five e-training institutes of the world). I’ll never forget the chills that ran down my spine when I first saw the public space experiment in Delhi . It was one of those moments, when I felt we were entering a new age.

The story started with Mitra’s digging a hole in a wall which separated his office from an area of  neighbouring ‘slums’, inserting a computer with its screen and touchpad turned towards the slums, and attaching a high speed internet to  it. I don’t know how he came across the idea.

The appropriation of the computer and the Internet by thousands of illiterate children – all without any supervision – delivered unanticipated evidence about the high intelligence and capacity of illiterate children to acquire substantial computer skills and other knowledge without the help of teachers. It became somewhat of a sensation in the area. Wolfensohn, the then director of the World Bank went to see it personally. A media hype started to build up. Soon the experiment was replicated in scores of other urban public spaces and villages around India and in a number of other countries like South Africa.  They all delivered the same message: children have an uncanny ability and drive to learn to use the computer for learning – all by themselves. The pedagogic model was dubbed by Mitra as ‚Minimally Invasive Education’ (Mitra 2000). The immense disparities existing in India’s school system, and the magnitude of the challenge of educating the children of its over 600 000 villages was the backdrop of this research project (Mitra and Dangwal 2010).

The experimental setting popularly known as the ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ later became the inspirational story for the oscar winning movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

The pedagogic notion behind the models of such self-organized learning has become known as ‘emergent learning systems’ or ‘discovery based learning systems’ in contrast to the traditional ‘prescriptive learning systems’. It sees the transition of learning from tutor-led approach to co-construction and co-evolution of knowledge between tutors and learners, and especially between learners and learners.

SOLE – Self Organised Learning Environment

Based on the knowledge gained by this experiment, Mitra started experimenting with a new kind of learning space which he calls “SOLE – a Self-Organised Learning Environment”. A SOLE is a typical example of a ‘social space’ of learning. It usually comprises several computers with Internet access arranged in clusters to facilitate peer interaction. It is placed within a room that is publicly visible – allowing ‘unobtrusive supervision’ from outside. It can accommodate around 30 children, usually 4 at each computer. Children work in clusters creating a circular arrangement that further facilitates interaction in a larger group. Activities include surfing the Internet, following up on a classroom assignment, or simply going to where their interests lead them. Evidence shows that given free access children display high self-motivation to learn effectively and creatively, often succeeding in coming up with ‘extraordinary skills’ in finding answers to questions beyond their grade level. The ideal group size seems to be 4-6. Mixed age and gender groups were observed to work better (Mitra 2010; Mitra, Kulkarni 2010).

Here are some links:

Here is his latest TED lecture “The Child Driven Education”, where he speaks about ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ and his new experiments on SOLEs (2010).  Stunning!!

Same video on TED. Here you’ll find more links, transcript etc.

Here he speaks about ‘A Day in the School of the Future’

Here he speaks about the future of universities…he thinks there will be no more undergraduate courses offered at universities of the future…

Two papers:                                                                                                                                      Mitra, S. (2000). Minimally Invasive Education for mass computer literacy. Presented at the CRIDALA 2000 conference, Hong Kong. Accessed online on 01.07.11 at

Mitra, S. and Kulkarni, S. (2010). Access and Quality in Self Organized Learning Environments Formal Education: Quality Issues, British Journal of Educational Psychology. Wiley Online Library. Accessed online on 01.07.11 at <>

The Khan Academy – A whole new way of teaching and learning

Last month, Salman Khan presented the THE KHAN ACADEMY at TED Talks – probably the most exciting techno-pedagogic educational service created in the last decades. Every minute of this lecture is exciting for those interested in education. Bill Gates, who has been pouring in money into this project, personally came on stage to ask questions at the end. Mr Gates, in fact, did KA with his kids and thinks it’s „unbelieveable“.

I think the Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere – will become a major force in revolutionizing the classroom in terms of learning, teaching, students interaction, assessment and also space.

Back in 2004, Sal, as he is called, still a hedge fund analyst – was asked by his cousins to give them lessons in maths. First he used Yahoo’s Doodle notepad then started to put videos on youtube. They were so appealing, that his cousins preferred the virtual cousin to the physical one. The response from other viewers was so overwhelming, that Salman started devoting himself entirely to this ‚social cause’, which was „strange“ for him as a hedge fund analyst. 2009 he quit his job and started creating hundreds of online tutorials. All free. Today 1 million students watch KA every month.

The 2200 pre-college mathematics and physics videos on the website offer basic arithmetic to calculus. I would say, the real power of the service is not the technology, it is the awesome ability of Salman to inspire kids and adults around the world watching them. One said: „first time i got a smile while while doing a derivative“, or the parents of a child with autism wrote their child who had „failed to learn maths through any other means started to get the decimals…and the dreaded fractions….” or another viewer said he  „gets a natural high and a good mood fort he entire the day“.

KA is about ‘self paced learning; teachers becomingmoderators/facilitators’; creating strong interactions between students and innumerable ways of creating new learning and teaching models using these building blocks.

Thanks to the new team of software engineers, a number of features were added to the platform which helps students to conduct self assessments; or ways that help teachers to track the learning patterns and jump in if help is necessary. With KA, teachers would “intervene only when a student is stuck.” One surprising knowledge gained by these tracking methods was that the seeminly ‚slow learners’ show the ability to become ‚gifted learners’ within a matter of weeks – they may be slow at certain times/certain topics, but once they ‘get it’, they can race ahead.

Promising results of tests have triggered off a discussion in the USA about using the KA  as a basic building block for all schools in the country.

The Khan Academy has started moving into fields outside maths and physics, creating videos on history, the sciences, finances and venture capital. But mathematics is not history. Things may get complicated with value based issues – hopefully they are aware about the cultural and political sensitivities in education.

Salman Khan, father from Bangladesh (Barisal) and mother from India (Calcutta), was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He went to MIT and Harvard Business school.


TED lecture of Salman Khan March 2011 (20 min)

On Wikipedia;                                                                                                                                        On TED Lectures (March 2011);

An example of Salman’s videos on “Statistics”

Dan Pink’s new message – What motivates us at work place?

Here is an interview and a RSA episode which illustrate Dan Pink’s core message published in his new book „Drive – The surprising truth about what motivates us“ (his last one was „ A Whole New Mind“). If there is any truth in what Mr. Pink, the former speech writer of Al Gore says, then we’ll seriously need to rethink our notions about motivation at workplace. And applying these to our educational institutions will be an interesting exercise. Let me know your thoughts.

Pink’s message in a nutshell: Our traditional understanding of motivation is – if you reward what you want then you’ll get more of it,  if you punish what you don’t want, there will be less of it. This ‚carrot and the stick’ model is greatly succesful to motivate people doing routine tasks, but miserable for motivating people to do creative, conceptual tasks.

The first Video (PBS News) shows a rather remarkable experiment – Two groups of people were chosen to find creative solutions to a certain assignment. One group was offered money proportional to their time taken to come up with the solution, and the other group got no money for solving the problem. The first group took double the time than those who received no money!

… and here is a RSA visualization”

The moral of the story: Large rewards lead to poor performance. Creative work needs more human and less material incentives. Rewarding the top performers is good for mechanical tasks and bad for even rudimentary cognitive skills. This defies the laws of ‚behavioural physics’. But beware, this doesn’t mean less money will make us more creative!                                                                                                    Now, what are these non-material incentives?

The new law of motivation physics discovered by Dan in the age of knowledge economy is: First, get the money issue from the table – people need to be paid enough, so that they don’t have to think about money. Second, acknowledge the three driving forces for creativity at workplace  1) Autonomy, 2) Mastery and 3) Purpose

1) Autonomy: Atlassian, an Australian IT company has introduced a day of ‚free work’ at regular intervals, where employees can do whatever they want to do and whoever they want to do it with. However, they have to report what they have done at the end of the 24 hours. This experiment unleashed  great enthusiasm and creative energy, and much to the employers delight, a whole array of new products. Autonomy is about ‚self directed engagement’. This is something creative people are obviously pretty hungy about.

2) Mastery: We have an intrinsic need to get better at stuff.  It can be in playing musical instruments, painting pictures, making jewellery, cooking great food etc. In fact, a whole new (multi-billion dollar) industry known as ‚open source’ has sprung up around this human trait.  „A strange economic behaviour of  people to go home after work and do things for free for someone else and not for the employer“(D.Pink). Is the driving force behind this that what makes us tick ? In any case, this cannot be motivated by material incentives.

3) Purpose: More and more people seem to need a transcendent purpose at work (I guess for life in general). And apparently, more and more companies are animating themselves by being more ‚purpose oriented’ than ‚profit oriented’. Human beings are ‚purpose maximizers not profit maximizers’ (D. Pink)

And here is a summary of Pink’s three points on what ‚drives’ employees:

a) we want to be self directed;                                                                                                      b) we care about mastery very, very deeply;                                                                              c)  and if we start treating people like people with a need to fulfill a purpose and not like horses and get past the ideology of carrot and stick … then we can make our organizations better off and maybe even make the world a better place.

…we won’t discuss the dangers of new subtle forms of exploitation here…but I think Dan Pink has some points here that are very significant for educational planners. The three points are in themselves nothing new, but if they have some validity at workplaces, as Pinks has shown by embedding them in the new context of workplace requirements of the future, then they are of significant relevance to our educational institutions as well. Then, we’ll have to ask ourselves: how do we respond to the needs of students in ‚autonomous, self-directed’ learning ? How do we give them the opportunity to exercise ‚mastery’? How do we create an atmosphere of ‘purpose’?

This is a call for teachers and parents to be open about understanding the incentives that DRIVE our STUDENTS, and be be ready for surprises, rather than impose our industrial age assumptions still deeply ingrained in our institutional genes.

Here is a video with Dan Pink at a Texas Senate Hearing on Education!

Here is another speech i found on TED:

… and this is his website

Sir Ken Robinson – Good workers or creative thinkers? (Visuals + Videos)

Here are two lectures of Ken Robinson on TED and and a wonderful visualization of his message on RSA. Transcripts of his TED lectures you’ll find on the TED website in a box on the right. (For more on Robinson’s core ideas see my post on Dec 25, 2010 on his notion of the ‘Element’.)                                                                         Robinson is probably the most fabled educationalist today. Millions of clicks on his TED lectures suggest this. His key message on this first lecture: We don’t get the best out of our people because “… we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers.”…and what’s worse “we are educating people out of their creativity” (Quotes:TED Website). This is probably the key problem of our educational systems and the key challenge in the age of knowledge economy. Ken starts his first lecture by talking about the future. We don’t really have a clue about how the world is going to be in 5 years, yet we have to educate children for it…

This was his first appearance on TED in 2006 in Monterry, California.

…and this was his second appearance on TED in 2010:

… and this is a RSA visualization of his theories: “Changing Education Paradigms” (very entertaining!)

…and if you are interested in more, here are more links to his website, blog etc.