Badges, the Computer, and College Everywhere

Badges, the Computer, and College Everywhere

Last week, we left off with Patrick Suppes and his realization that students learning online were receiving modestly better results than those in the traditional classroom.  This week, we continue with his journey and conclude our discussion.

In 1972 Suppes taught a class on the Introduction to Logic. He created a wholly automated computerized version of the class. He introduced the class on the first day and from that point forward he did not attend any lectures. The students did all their learning in the educational laboratory. Then he computerized his Axiomatic Set Theory course.
This created the important concept in learning science of “transfer” which is the process which people apply patterns and concepts learning in one context to another. Strengthening transfer is the goal of all good education programs.

The next step in this process brings us to Sebastien Thrun. His specialty is Artificial Intelligence. Carnegie Mellon hired Thrun as a professor in 1995 where he also worked on how computer science, statistics and machines interact. In 2003 Stanford hired him back as head of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. IN 2005 the pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency held a contest to see who could build a car that used AI to drive itself across treacherous desert terrain. Thrun was part of the team that build the winning Volkswagen SUV. Google hired him to work in its research laboratory while he continued to teach as a tenured professor at Sanford. In 2011 he was viewed as a rock star in Silicon Valley. He gave a TED talk describing how he and his colleagues had built the self-driving car. Afterward Thrun watched an energetic former hedge fund analyst named Salman Khan. Kahn was the creator of the Kahn Academy, famous for instructional videos for elementary and high school students. Thrun thought the same could be done for college.

Thrun worked with Peter Norvig who was Google research director and they created a graduate course called CS221: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence: principles and Techniques. The course consisted of lectures and reading assignments and problems to solve followed by exams to certify what was learned. They put the videos and problems sets and emailed them to members of the global AI community to let them know that anyone could take the course for free. Within two weeks there were 58,000 people signed up for the class. This was when the administration caught wind of what was going on. Then the lawyers got involved. However, a New York Times reported heard about what was happening and wrote a story about the course. Enrollment quickly reached six figures and continued to rise. This was the beginning of the education revolution.

Thrun didn’t start any of this. There were others already doing many of the same things. Notably two professors at the university of Manitoba named George Siemens and Stephen Downes. What Thrun had done was call it a “course.” There were no caveats assigned to it. It was a course. He soon found out that his Stanford students started to take the class like everyone else and they got better grades than when they attended live lectures. BUT Stanford was disrupting the one thing about Stanford that mattered above all else; its name. Thrun gave the students a test to certify what they had learned and that is when Stanford stepped in. Thrun was giving away something for free for which Stanford charged $50,000 a year. The compromise was that Thrun could not issue college credits he could only issue a “Statement of Accomplishment.”

When the university said no to credits Thrun finished out his course and walked away. Then he started Udacity. Another start up aiming at University education online is Coursera. And there will be many more.

The problem is the recognition and the certification. That is why we are working with IACET: the International Association of Continuing Education and Training to obtain certification. This will allow our students to earn CEUs which translate into college credits.

Then Socrates will issue badges along with a “Certificate of Completion.” The badges will represent specific areas of learning: selling, operations, finance and leadership.

The Time is NOW.