Liveblogging: OnDC ’09 Next Generation Education

Moderator: Saad Khan, Partner CMEA Ventures

Panelists: Jose Ferreira, CEO Knewton; Jeff Shelstad, CEO Flat World Knowledge (new type of publisher that uses open source concepts for textbooks); Brian Jones, Senior Counsel, Dow Lohnes LLC (former general counsel of US Dept of Education.)

Saad. Presumption is that education needs to be reformed. What are the problems?

Jose. Internet and computing has revolutionized other industries, it is inevitable that it will revolutionize education also. It will solve the distribution problem. Makes distribution of content almost free. The best professor at HBS could only reach so many people. Koby Bryant is paid so much because he can entertain so many.

Brian. There is a political dimension to the K12 system that you don’t always see in post-secondary. Enormous sums of money coming into education from the stimulus bill, to improve student outcomes and teacher effectiveness. There’s a real fertile ground there. That is exciting. Particularly the amount of money the Federal government is investing.

Jeff. Coming out of the print side, the internet has already had a distruptive impact on textbook industry. Students can find alternatives to textbooks. We think textbooks needs to be redefined, built differently. He (Knewton) is taking one tact; we’re taking another. Perhaps we’ll merge eventually.

Jose. At local CVS there are 30 types of toothpaste. Yet, we standardize education for everyone. What we do at Knewton is we personalize it. We serve it to students based on what they need–sentences, paragraphs, pictures, videos, games. Depending on how you learn. And how you retain. Hyper personalized learning will power this flood of content on the internet which I think is coming.

Jeff. Flat World — we are trying to transfer the power of what takes place in the classroom to the teacher, so make the book match your course, rather than vice versa. To the student, we’ll deliver the content in any format they want at a fair price.

Saad. SRI report looked at effectiveness of online education vs. in classroom personal teaching. Online was more effective. Are you seeing that?

Brian. The post-secondary sector has shown us because of diversity of providers, is emphasis on different types of students and different modes of learning. The rise of the for-profit school sector is that it is serving non-traditional students. The for-profit sector has led the way in online delivery of content. We have students that work during the day, so classroom mode doesn’t work for them. K12 is a late comer to that, but we are seeing an emphasis on outcomes and a new openness to these alternatives. We have a competely online charter school in DC. It was controversial. Some people said, aren’t they really home schooled, and aren’t we giving taxpayer money to home schoolers? But what is coming out is that this mode of education is working for these kids. For whatever reason. Engaged parents. Maybe parents have religious reasons for not wanting their kids to participate in traditional schools. But the outcomes are positive. The more we focus on the true deliverable and the outcome of the technology, you’ll see door swing open and resources will follow.

Jeff. I got an online degree from Duke. They were an early pioneer in part off-campus part on-campus. In an online environment, the important of the instructor is actually raised. I had some poor expeiences in the 16 courses I took at Duke, some great experiences. Depended on the instructor. I think students like the flexibility of online, but I”m not sure I believe the report. I still the faculty member is vital in this process.

Jose. A couple interesting things about the report. Most online eduation has been astonishingly bad. U of Phoenix is big in online. My former employer Kaplan is in this too. Online is the future of this company. (And of the Wash Post). Their model is assisted self study online education. Attend a chat room with a mediocre teacher once a week. In 10-15 years that won’t be the model. It will be, you want to learn German? In 8th grade. You’ll go online and get one of the best teachers in the country, a dynamic teacher from Exeter. There will be thousands of courses.

Saad. Megastudy out of Korea, is a public company. They got the best Korean teachers, syndicated their content, delivered it oline, shared revenue with teachers. Hundreds of millions in EBITDA. They turned some teachers into millionaires. Gave them the Kobe Bryant audience you mentioned.

Jose. In 2000 there were 45,000 online German students in the country, now there are something like 2 million. If a parent wants the child to learn Chinese and the school doesn’t offer it, it won’t matter. Any course will be available. That movement will transform education in this country. Any elective.

[I just followed Knewton and Flat Work Knowledge on Twitter.]

Brian. Higher education in this country is very high-brow; they don’t like outsiders, particularly those seeking a profit, coming in to do things differently. There are 4,000 charter schools in the country. That is where you are finding openness to this kind of technology. We are the first charter school authorizer in the country–we hired the Boston Consulting Group. We built a technology infrastructure. We have 99 charter schools in the city. Hospitality high school. Residential school serving low income kids. Our infrastructure lets us compare schools so consumers can see what school would work best for them–plus mission specific criteria, so the hospitality high school gets measured on unique criteria as well. I’m surprised we were the first to build this kind of technology to assess outcomes.

Saad. Assessment is a good thing to look at. There used to be zero transparency in advertising. Feels like there should be a big opportunity to get transparency in student performance, across schools, etc. Are you seeing a lot of assessment technology?

Jeff. Yes, in higher ed, it’s a significant movement. To deliver assignments through a platform, and feed a professors gradebook, is a service the industry moving towards. It’s happening. Some great platforms out there. A big movement for all institutions, faculty and students.

Jose. You can’t built personalization without assessment, very granular, very discreet (self-contained), and no hiding results. I joked with my investors–if our adaptive learning platform works we’ll have data to show it. If it fails, we should go out of business. A typical Kaplan course will raise GMAT by 35 points. We have a 50 points guarantee. We give virtually no money back. We are measuring 100 points on average. We take text book content, like we took text prep. So the reporting shows how good the class was doing on each concept. The teacher might get an email showing that the students as a whole are struggling with certain concepts.

Brian. In the $4.5 billion that DOE is distributing to states in the race to the top, the state has to be able to assess a teacher in part based on their students’ achievement. The kind of technology Jose is talking about is essential in moving things along. Some states make it difficult to evaluate teachers. At the K-12 level there are infrastructure things that need to be addressed. School districts and states are going to have to change or get left behind. We have to realize, though, there is some resistance there.

Saad. What is the most helpful thing the government could do to help you be successful as you push boundaries of education technology?

Jeff. Eliminate tender? (laughed) If you take UMass online, a competitor to U of Phoenix, it has been successful. University of Illinois launched and failed. Why was UMass successful, but Illinois wasn’t? That’s a classic case study. There are incentives and infrastructure issues.

Jose. Govt should put more computers in schools. I never even thought about getting government money, so I raised venture capital. If nation’s best and brightest had been going into education and not finance during the last 10-15 years, we probably would have solved the problems already. There has to be incentive for top minds to go into this field.

Audience question: can a young person today apply themselves without a formal education and get the skills you need to succeed? (Like Bill Gates did?)

Brian. Most of the research is pretty clear that on average, the more education you have, the better off you will be in the marketplace. You cite Bill Gates as an example. You also have Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods–but you don’t necessarily want to use those examples and have kids think they can succeed without education, even though a few do.

Jeff. Big publishers are very scared of the electronic world. They will move very slow in terms of transparency. They want to control everything.

Jose. I talk to the big publishers all the time. Some are changing. Oxford (sic) is thinking of this.

Jeff. Five companies control 85% of the market.

Audience–I have no doubt adaptive learning will create better test scores, but what you learned at Harvard, you didn’t just learn from a professor or a textbook. You learned it from 80 other people in your core. How will that change by technology?

Jose. I believe schools in the future will have fewer teachers, 5,000 electives, but still a blended model. You’ll still have kids in schools, being socialized, learning from other kids. Lets say 5 years down the road we have OUP’s content. Maybe we’ll have 10 million kids that do geography that learned geography. The 10 million and 1th kid comes; our system will query, which kids previously had this problem, and also, what learning style did that kid have? We’ll find out what they did next, and which way they learned it. So then we can produce that same learning experience — anonymously — and use it to power the learn of one kid, on one night, on one concept.

Audience. I’m not questioning the value of the system. But the concept of a PhD is to have a thought that no one really had before. [She seemed to care more about the personal interaction of students than the panelists.]

Brian. We have a program that has 85% of their program online, but one day a week they come to brick & mortar. They can also engage in extra curricular activities.

Audience comment: I’m looking for people that can learn how to provide solutions in very complex situations. I find that very bright young people cannot communicate. They have a ton of information. But they can’t connect the knowledge to reality. The problem with the US educational system, you do not teach students how to learn. I see technology being helpful to create learning paths for individuals, and accomodate applying knowledge. I think you are missing providing them with process that can be tailored to individuals and groups.

Audience question. Every new technology comes with evangelists (I’m one) promising that it will change everything. Why now? Why is this different?

Brian. Now, because there has been a culture shift in education that is undeniable. There is a focus on outcomes. That is different. It began in the 1990s. We built on it since 2001. I’m talking K-12 here. It was led by policy makers, but the technology has enabled it. Since the 60s billions have been spend on education, but test scores are lower. It’s bi-partisan now. Some hold on to the status quo. Look at how teachers unions have responded to Pres. Obama’s plans to assess teachers–they whined at first but are coming around.

Saad. I’ll add that technology lets you go direct to the student. There is the class, where the channel is the school. But social networks and the web let you go directly to the student.

Jeff. I think it’s a great question. The textbook wasn’t supposed to exist in 2001 when I was in the industry in 1996. The difference, jumping on Saad’s point, but I think it’s going to be slow still, but the consumer is more powerful today than it was when I was at Prentice Hall, but it will be slower than we all think.

The Amazon Kindle could dramatically improve US education

Today, Amazon announced the widely anticipated Kindle 2 with a ship date of February 24th. I immediately ordered one. 

I bought my first Kindle in Dec 2007 and absolutely love it. As a frequent business traveller, I just bring my Kindle instead of packing half a dozen books with me. Usually I’ll buy a book or two just as I’m boarding a plane, so I can read for hours. I save a ton of money buying books on the Kindle compared to hard or paper-backed versions. I still have about 2,000 books in my personal library, and I adore books–everything about how they feel, how I can mark them up, write notes in the back pages, etc.–I even love the smell of old books. But even though I love books I always first check to see if the book is available for Kindle, because the advantages of having books on my Kindle outweigh for me the advantages of having a physical book.

Last year I travelled in Europe, and during the trip my Kindle screen got fried. It turned completely black. The device was useless. I learned then how much I don’t like travelling without a Kindle. The first thing I did after returning home was call Amazon to see if I could get a replacement.

In less than a minute I was speaking with an Amazon customer service representative. I explained the problem with the screen and he said he’d send a replacement device immediately. In fact, he overnighted it. And now, here’s the kicker. As soon as I got it and registered it, all of the books I had previously purchased for my Kindle were downloaded through Amazon’s Whispernet. I lost all my notes and comments and bookmarks from all the books I had read on my Kindle, but I soon discovered that that was my own fault. There is a setting that allows Amazon to store all of your Kindle notes, comments, and bookmarks in the cloud, so that if you ever lose your Kindle or if it breaks, all of your personalized content can be re-downloaded.

Needless to say, all my personalizations are now stored in the cloud. So when I get my Kindle 2, and my library is downloaded, all of my personalizations will come with it. I’m sure in some future version, Amazon will make it possible for me to easily share (on my blog or favorite social network) passages from books, as well as my comments about them. I also anticipate that sooner or later Amazon will be able to create some social apps that utilize the aggregate bookmarks and highlights of all the Kindle readers, so they could, for example, publish the most popular quotes from any book–a virtual Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 

I really do look forward to future versions of Kindle that turn book reading into a very social experience; but I truly hope that Bezos never turns this device into a multi-purpose computing device that supports games and other applications. I think that would ruin the potential of this device.

I think that reading the right books is the best way to get a great education. To salvage the failing US education system we should do whatever it takes to get millions of kids reading great books once again. I think the best way to do that would be for states to purchase Kindles for every student (I’d say 7th-12th grade) in their education system, and to provide great age appropriate books for these students every year. Perhaps states should also carve out at least 30-60 minutes of reading time every day, in the classroom, for students to use their Kindles. Teachers could then lead stimulating discussions about what the students had read. (You’ll notice that in my political philosophy, I believe that state and local governments, and parents, are responsible for educating children. The US Federal Government has no constitutional authority or role in education–even thought it has been usurping such authority steadily over the past few decades. I just don’t like it at all.)

My home state is Utah. I think Utah pays about $65-70,000 for a K-12 education for each student. The cost of a Kindle with hundreds of the best books ever written in a variety of fields (with a decent percentage of them being in the public domain, and therefore free, or nearly free) would be miniscule compared to this. And yet I think it could make a difference for a lifetime for the students, who could then carry with them every great book and every textbook they had studied from, including their notes and highlights, into the workplace and beyond.

I remember when Duke University required all incoming freshman to own an iPod, so that they could listen to great books and lecture notes, etc. The problem with devices that are multi-purpose, is that the students may use them for everything but education. I bet the majority of Duke students used them for their music more than for anything else.

If the Kindle ever becomes a multi-purpose portable computing device, with downloadable games and other applications, it would in my mind destroy its potential to become the educational device of the future, which encourages and invites millions of students to read the great books–because it would be so easy for students to be distracted by everything else it offered.

I want to thank Jeff Bezos for making the Kindle a brilliant, single-purpose device to enable and encourage more reading, and I hope that he will be able to continue to produce future versions that still center on reading, even if enabling more social sharing around the reading experience. But please don’t be tempted to make this a device for music, games, or fun. We already have plenty of those.

Business Students Launching Companies

I am in Rexburg, Idaho today at BYU-Idaho (formerly Ricks College). Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting Kim B. Clark, the president of the University, who until last year was the Dean of the Harvard Business School. The slogan at the university is “Rethinking Education.”

I also met with Fenton Broadhead, Dean of the Business School, and met many students here. Something very special is happening at this university. President Clark works with two other former Harvard Business School professors, Clark Gilbert and Steven Wheelwright, as he seeks to reinvent education at this school.

As I spoke with students and faculty members, the excitement here is tangible. Traditional textbook study with its emphasis on recall is is being replaced with a new approaching that focuses more on understanding and experience. For example, business students take a full semester integrated core of finance, marketing, supply chain, and operations classes, which gives teams of 20 students a chance during the semester to launch an actual business.

Many of these business turn a profit before they are shut down or sold/turned over to the bookstore.

There is a vision here about what kind of students a 21st century university should turn out. They should not be spectators, they should be proactive participants in solving problems.

BYU-Idaho has no intercollegiate sports program; but they do have a football stadium, uniforms, and cheerleaders. The difference is that any student that wants to participate in football can do so for fun or competitively in the large activities/intramural program here. And that goes for all kinds of other sports and extra curricular activities as well.

The students I met are all involved in so many things, getting hands on experience, and real world experience. The business schools internship program is incredible, placing students at big 4 accounting firms and other major corporations.

So keep your eye on BYU-Idaho. For years we (in the Utah community) have heard talk about BYU striving to become the “Harvard of the West.”

For the first time, I’m thinking, maybe that will happen in Rexburg, not in Provo.

BYU eBusiness Lecture Series–2006

I accidentally saved this blog post in my “drafts” and I guess I never posted this entry about the BYU eBusiness Lecture Series for Fall 2006.

It’s a bit late in the BYU semester now, but since Josh James of Omniture (the world’s best web analytics company) is speaking today, and Brian Beutler in two weeks, and Matt Mossman in three, I thought I should still post this in case some PLA members or others from the general public, may want to attend.

6 September Stephen Liddle, director, Rollins Center for eBusiness, What is eBusiness?

13 September Doug Dean, associate professor, information systmes, Does IT Matter?

20 September Alan Chipman, senior manager of SPA, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Identifying and Managing the Risks of eBusiness

27 September Ralph Yarro, CEO, ThinkAtomic, Managing Internet Pornography and the Fight to Save a Generation

4 October Paul Allen, CEO, ProvoLabs, The Power of Social Networking in an eBusiness World

11 October Doug Witt, instructor of business management, The Impact of the Internet on Marketing

18 October Jack Sunderlage, CEO, ContentWatch, USTAR, Utah

BYU-Idaho Entrepreneur Conference

I am excited to attend the BYU-Idaho Entrepreneur Conference this week, to help judge the entrepreneur of the year competition, and to talk to students there about entrepreneurship.

While I’m there, I may scout around for some office space in case we want to expand Provo Labs Academy, our academy for entrepreneurs, to Rexburg, Idaho. I’m going to do the same thing on my trip to BYU-Hawaii next week. (Although, I’m not sure how much available office space exists in Laie, Hawaii!)

Apparently the enrollment at BYU-Idaho jumped this year, somewhat unexpectedly, to 13,500 students. (See Wikipedia article on BYU-Idaho.)

Under the leadership of the Kim Clark, former dean of the Harvard Business School, I hear that some real innovation in education is happening at BYU-Idaho. I hope to learn about it on my visit.