TED videos are delightful if you want to watch a memorable
performance. Webinars are handy if you're just game to listen and register the
occasional comment. But serious MOOCs, or
massive open online courses, aim to make you--and a group of collaborators--sweat.
And sweat together.
101, which starts today (Wednesday, August 29 at 11:00 a.m. ET), is exactly this
breed of MOOC. And as one of its originators, Brigham Young professor David
Wiley, sees it, such online community building experience may be just what's
needed to spur long-term innovation in education.
"I've been involved for 15
years in grant projects--and each has been successful," Wiley says.
"But when the money runs out, all the good efforts stop." One way to
create sustained impact, Wiley concluded, is to build companies that can turn
promising ideas into ongoing products or services, rather than one-time
As of Tuesday, some 925 people
indicated they want to take part in the 18-week long Edstartup 101; more than 120
had completed the course registration, which includes submitting a short video
of yourself talking about why you're interested in edtech entrepreneurship.
Audrey Watters' submission.) Says Andrew Staroscik in his introductory video: "I'm motivated by the lights I see go on
over my students' heads" when they see some of the interactive
illustrations for explaining science that he's created on his site, SciencePrimer.com. He's intrigued with the ideas
of taking it further. "SciencePrimer's not much more than hobby at this
point," he muses, "but with some additional resources and the right
collaborators, it has all the makings of an edtech startup."
That's just the spirit that the
quartet of education specialists who started Edstartup 101 hope to see. Three
of them hail from Brigham Young University: Todd Manwaring, Aaron Miller and
David Wiley. The fourth, Richard Culatta, is currently the deputy director of
the office of educational technology at the U.S. Department of Education. (Bios are here.) "There'
an anti-entrepreneurial feeling in most of the schools of education,"
Wiley observes. "I think that mindset is why there's such a slow pace of
innovation in education." He hopes Edstartup 101 will encourage faculty
and researchers in education schools to apply their ideas by building products--and
class is built around a graduate seminar that focuses on 10 topics that can
help aspiring entrepreneurs move from articulating ideas for education
ventures through constructing business models. Some 16 speakers have pledged to participate,
including Knewton founder Jose Ferreira, Gates Foundation deputy director Josh
Jarrett, and Union Square Ventures investor Fred Wilson. (Full disclosure: I'm online, too,
giving an overview of the startup space next week on Sept. 5. Like everyone
involved, this is a pro bono performance!)
are supposed to be short on prepared remarks and long on Q&A, conducted in
"Stack Overflow" style, where participants vote up the questions they
most want answered.
More important than the speakers, Wiley expects, will be the interactions among
the participants. "Relationship building is an important part of the education
process," says Wiley.
Wiley knows a thing or two about
running online classes. He was one of the first professors to run an online
collaborative class: his graduate level "Introduction to Open Education," held in late 2007, was taken by 50 students all over the
world. Creating a genuine community spirit, he says, was core to even that
The more recent super-sized MOOCs
offered by Udacity and Coursera leave him cold: "Those achieve scale by
engineering people out of the loop," say, in part by having computers score
homework or tests.
By contrast, "we're trying to
engineer how to pull people further in," Wiley asserts. Homework (and there will be plenty) will include writing posts on a blog and making videos. Students are encouraged to comment and
critique each others' contributions. As the program grows, so, too, do the
number of potential commentators on one another's work.
A dozen graduate students at Brigham Young
will earn credit for taking the class. Everyone else takes the class for free
but no credit. "You can say that those graduate students are footing the
bill," Wiley muses. "But I wouldn't have been able to get all the
speakers for a class of a dozen"--and he expects his students will also
benefit from the feedback of all the online participants.
class won't help people find funding--Wiley figures that's grist for EdStartup
201. But success--for the program--does include witnessing the birth of a
couple of new education ventures. "We like the 'nail it then scale it'
approach," Wiley says. "Let's spend time to find real problems and
nail down solutions."
Check out EdStartup 101
here or follow it on Twitter (#edstartup).