Since students are digital, are classrooms too analog?

I just spoke to a parent of a student, frustrated that the standard in a so-called ‘high achievement’ school seems to be dropping. The unspoken question seems to be “why are schools still stuck in the Reading, Writing, “Rithmetic rut?” Or, as some wonder, why are schools not educating the whole child?

A reports earlier this month in TIME magazine, Why it’s time to Replace ‘No Child Left Behind’ is enough to make one agitated!

Many studies say that rut in question, is an obsessive exam mentality that needs an overhaul. School systems have become fixated with preparing children to pass exams, but don’t have the resources to prepare them for the other exam out there –the exam known as Life! Which is exactly what that parent was anxious about.

US policymakers have been alerted to this.recent Harvard study of student achievement on global perspective (EducationNext.Org) found that unless we fix math and reading skills, the outlook in the global economy looks grim.

Not that this is exclusively an US problem.

Europeans, too are worried. A recent study on how education and training is meeting the needs of the digital world and the European economy (‘The Future of Learning: Preparing For Change’) say that schools need to make a fundamental shift if Europe is to remain competitive.  Students will need to be competent in “problem solving, reflection, creativity, critical thinking, learning to learn, risk-taking, collaboration, entrepreneurship.”

Should we take our curriculum back to the drawing board?  Should we redesign the classroom?

Yes, but... If there are is one thing I am frustrated about, it is the rush to plunk computers in front of students, and think this will solve all our problems. The argument goes like this. Our kids are digital natives, so getting them to take down notes on ruled paper, and listen to a teacher is not the best way to engage them.

I work in digital and analog environments, and have been a big advocate of bridging the gap between these two realms. That does not mean replacing one with the other. A tablet will not automatically make a child collaborative and yearn for deeper knowledge, just as (to paraphrase an old saying) owning a library card will not automatically make a person well read. Preparing students for a 21st century workforce requires us to make them much more than just digital. The European JRC European Commission study calls for education to be more “personalized, collaborative, and informalized.” One could write an entire paper on these three areas.

Sure let’s redesign the classroom, but let’s not discount the importance of a value added teacher who brings extra-curricular knowledge into his/her material. In fact, the term ‘High Value Added Teacher’ is now being used by one Harvard study –see video below.

Also, on a more optimistic note, there’s a great experiment about  ‘Active Learning Classrooms’ worth watching. I like how it is not just the students, but the teacher who is adapting to the new learning classroom as well. Inspiring video!

Entrepreneurship isn’t a formula: 3 lessons from The Social Network

As I was visiting the Cambridge area in Boston, ten days ago, where’s The Social Network was set, a Harvard grad friend who hadn’t still seen it mentioned that the movie was sold out that evening: Harvard students had apparently bought up all the tickets!

It made me reflect on what such a traditional setting, steeped in centuries-old tradition and architecture, had played in bringing about the huge shift in social networking as we know it today.

The simplistic answer is in David Kirkpatrick’s book and in the movie version: Mark Zuckerberg, he suggests was sticking his finger at the authorities who had been stalling on a version of a college network comprising faces of students and their contact information.

Less than a month after Mark Zuckerberg launched the early version of his Facebook (then he called it The Facebook), Harvard authorities were still scrambling. They had had their no-frills ‘facebook’ online since 1996, but it was nothing more than a contact list. Kevin S. Davis, then Dir. of Residential Computing  noted that they were working on their new faceboook.

“We’ve been in touch with the Undergraduate Council, and this is a very high priority for the College. We have every intention of completing the facebook by the end of the spring semester.”

But the world was not going to wait a few months for the perfect online social application.

Zuckerberg quickly learned –or perhaps was smart enough to decode human behavior — that people were ready to make a big leap into social sharing. Digital generations had prepared the ground for an experience of social trust, notwithstanding so many privacy issues.

In The Social Network (Mark’s story set within a boring board investigation that’s probably highly dramatized) the people in charge at Harvard, including those in IT, are ticked off. This guy doesn’t conform! He’s hacking tradition!

Isn’t this very familiar? Every organization welcomes a new hire by some sort of on-boarding employee experience, just to ensure  some conformity. There are traditions to uphold. Mission statements to memorize. Then you are asked to go forth and be creative –within the boundaries, of course! Entrepreneurs don’t work that way, it appears.

I was immediately struck by how Zuckerberg’s story is a parable for entrepreneurship. On our radio show, we talk to a lot of these kinds of people; the common thread seems to be the fact that they have dared step out of the boundary that others drew for them.

Having said that, these are the three lessons I derived from the movie about Facebook.

1. Cultivate a huge appetite for empathizing with  what people need. We set up a lot of feedback mechanisms that deliver great insights into what people want to tell us But what about something they don’t articulate? In one moment in the movie, when Mark’s friend asks him if he knows if a girl is ‘available’ or not, he retorts something to the effect of ‘people don’t go about with a sign saying they are single.’ he then rushes back to his laptop and codes Facebook to include that feature, and pretty much says it is now ready for launch!

2. Be comfortable with making mistakes. There is no perfect solution. Mark tells his friend that  nothing is ever complete. In real life he was reported to have said (of Facemash, his web site that let students rate others on their ‘hotness’), “I understood that some parts were still a little sketchy.” It’s easy to scoff at this. He probably knew that there would be many iterations before his idea really took off, but (unlike the Harvard authorities) he was not waiting for all the chips to fall into place. His mistake got him into big trouble, but paved the way for a better idea!

3. Intellectual capital beats money. There is a video of an interview about the shoe-string startup, where Zuckerberg reveals that he had run the site for just $85 a month, renting computers for the first three months. In the movie, and in interviews with the student paper he shows disinterest in the money he would make through advertising. His co-founder, Eduardo Saverin has said this: “Intellectual capital, and not just monetary capital, will spawn the next great product or idea.”

The book makes another point, almost in passing. The Facebook was launched at a crucial moment in the life of students at Harvard: they were registering for classes that week, and Zuckerberg knew that many signed up for classes based on knowing who else was in that class. The Facebook provided that insight, just as today’s version of social networks provide those key insights that make them so valuable.

The authorities had the data. The entrepreneur had the insight. That’s what made his creation priceless.

What did we learn from the Writers’ Strike?

No matter what you write, or where you publish, your content is going to migrate online.

The long and winding road of the Writers Guild of America has now come to a yield sign. They signed a contract with the studios on the basis of residuals that will be paid to them, some of which only begin after 2010. But they did have a qualified win.

Interestingly, this week, another group is negotiating how their “work” might be remunerated. Faculty members at Harvard University are voting on on a proposal that will allow the university to push their scholarship through online distribution methods online for the princely sum of … free! They could opt-out, of course.

And also this week, BurrellesLuce has called for a a copyright compliance standard for PR firms that may otherwise unwittingly violate intellectual property rights when they distributes publishers’ content. It calls for charging “a small royalty” for delivering the online and print stories it selects for clients.

If we have learned something from the Writers’ strike, it’s the value of (and price we should put on) content. We have sipped the “information wants to be free” cocktail too long and have never questioned what the real price of “free” is.

OK, so YouTube wants to be free, and the New York Times online wants to be free, but writers need to be paid and nurtured, and have a motivation to go after or craft the content that needs brainstorming, travel, teamwork and publishers who appreciate their endeavor. It depends on the definition of “small royalty,” but and it ought to be settled across a table not a picket line.
If not, everything from research to sitcoms will be diluted –to refill our freebie cocktails, maybe.

Stanford blog, features competitors

There’s something about being ‘open’ and ‘unofficial’ that grabs me. The unofficial Stanford University blog by a student (Ed Finn) and and editor (Dan Cole,) called Open Culture is a treasure trove of information.

This week, there’s a free audiobook download of James Joyce‘s Ulysses. Before that, a link to Thomas (World is Flat) Friedman‘s video podcast.

Best of all, it does not feature just Stanford material. You could also find the top-10 free university courses (a link via iTunes) that includes competitive schools such as UC Berkeley, Oxford, Harvard and UC Davis. That’s what being Open is all about –being big enough to embrace your “frienemies.”

Quotes for the week ending 28 Dec, 2007

“She was wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt, the one with the sassy tongue sticking out.”

Syndicated columnist, David Ignatius, recalling the young Benazir Bhutto, as a cub reporter at Harvard.

“When we do foolish things, they come back around to bite you.”

Arizona Republic reader commenting on the ‘mistake” a Mayo Clinic doctor made in using a cell phone to photograph the tattooed “member” of a patient.

“We bring an energy-sapping debate to a close.”

Warner Music CEO, Edgar Bronfman in a message to employees about making available music in MP3 format on

“They didn’t want to be part of the conversation; they wanted to be the topic of the conversation.”

Todd Defren on the bastardization of social media where a company like to mark off the check box, but unwilling to engage with people.

“Women must not only be presenting the news, they must be making the decisions that determine what gets broadcast in the first place.”

Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, commenting on a study that found under-representation of women in newsrooms.


Merriam-Webster’s 2007 word of the year, voted by readers. The word, comprising two zeros between the letters w and t, is an interjection, an expression of joy similar in use to the word “yay,” says MW.

“I have been thrilled, and a little surprised, by the genuine disbelief that a cabinet level agency could have started a legitimate blog complete with criticism and contrary opining.”

Heath Kern, editor of Dipnote, the State Department blog that began in 2007.