Episode 8: Future of Education Transcript

Jan-Laurens: When you walk into the room, you don’t think this is a classroom. It’s very different.

Narrator: If it’s been a while since you graduated from school, you might be surprised to learn that school itself has graduated. You might not even recognize it anymore.

Jan-Laurens: We see a big screen in front of the room, and we see many touchscreens, 20 in total, all spread across the room. It’s all connected wireless, so the students can determine that they want to make a presentation from their touchscreen to all the other screens. You can give a presentation from your iPhone if you like, show a nice podcast or a nice video somewhere.

Narrator: In Holland, Jan-Laurens Lasonder is giving us a tour of what the University of Twente is calling the Classroom of the Future. It’s designed for studying information and communication technologies.

Jan-Laurens: This is really about enabling project-oriented learning, which is a big part of our university pedagogical model.

Narrator: Projects like creating a video game for young kids with cancer to help them better understand the disease. In this case, the screens serve double duty. First, doctors join the class via remote video to consult on the medical aspects of the content. After that, when it was time for the students to assess their projects’ gaming experience, they adjusted the big screen into a horizontal tabletop position so they could play it as a group.

Jan-Laurens: The screen is moving up now, it’s moving down. We can turn it. This is now in a vertical position, and quite easily you can bring it to the front, oops, horizontal position, not crashing cables and stuff like that.

Narrator: The screens are not the only things that move around. With portable whiteboard walls, the classroom is modular, so students can create their own learning spaces.

Jan-Laurens: Usually when a new subject is starting in the room, they all build their own niches. It’s kind of building their own houses, which is quite fun to see. The students that want to listen to the presentation don’t necessarily have to come to the front of the room. They can also watch it in their niche if they like to discuss it with each other. It’s extremely, extremely flexible.

Narrator: Extremely flexible, and judging by all of the beanbag chairs, pretty relaxing.

Jan-Laurens: Camouflage beanbags, which is always fun. Might get the impression where are they actually listening, but they like it a lot.

Narrator: Now, does this make you want to go back to school? Welcome to The Front Row. This is the future of education. The classroom of the future we just visited looks more like the innovation pod of a 21st century startup, and why not? The digital revolution has radically disrupted the way we work, communicate, consume, transact, interact, problem solve, and live. It makes sense that the way we learn, what we learn, and the tools of learning are changing. Today on The Front Row, we go to the forefront of a growing educational pivot from pedagogies developed during the Industrial Age to new teaching methods being developed in the digital age. This podcast is brought to you by 2U, a company working with top tier universities to create digital education programs like USC Rossier School of Education Online.

Randy Swearer: From about 1895 to 1930, the entire notion of a discipline, or a professional discipline, or credits, or Carnegie units, or linear curricula, all of that was invented during that era to serve an industrial society, not ours. That’s my fundamental point here. You have these siloed majors in disciplines that were coordinated to siloed professions, and it worked really well, but it’s way out of sync with where we’re going right now.

Narrator: Randy Swearer spent 25 years in academia, most recently as provost of Philadelphia University where he helped move learning beyond the lecture hall.

Randy Swearer: The idea is that we would redesign the university with that community to be all about teaching innovation, design-driven innovation, at scale across most the disciplines, this idea that you’re actually learning as you do things. If you’re going to build a building, or make a product, or create infrastructure, or even make a movie, it’s a way of understanding the world around you, analyzing it through simulation, and stress analysis and so on, and understanding this broad context, synthesizing that knowledge, and then producing something for the environment. It’s all learning by making, by producing knowledge, and improvising with learning.

Narrator: This active learning component also exposed an interesting convergence.

Randy Swearer: Part of the answer here is that it’s a movement from consuming knowledge to producing knowledge. I think that production part, when you’re thinking about making things, increasingly it’s not about one discipline or one thing. It’s about a complex challenge that you’re trying to solve across multiple disciplines, right? You’re moving from majors to missions in that world, no longer siloed academic tracks. It’s about solving grand challenges in transdisciplinary environments, lots of pure learning in a community with really close, powerful, meaningful relationships with faculty. That’s at the core of it.

Narrator: And not just faculty. After Philadelphia University, Randy became VP of education at Autodesk, a company that creates design software for businesses, but they also share it freely with universities. Randy was drawn to the idea of having an impact on education from outside the industry.

Randy Swearer: I don’t think you could do that in the same way 10, 15 years ago. There’s a porosity that’s opening up around universities now that’s more open to influences, and connections, and collaborations with places like Autodesk.

Narrator: Because as different softwares and technologies morph and multiply, these tools become learning machines. Beyond that, Randy thinks there’s even more room for collaboration when you consider the move to cloud computing.

Randy Swearer: We’re very focused on this idea of virtualized radical collaboration in the cloud. You’re making something, it’s distributed throughout the world, the making team. We want students and faculty to be saying, “What does that mean to me today?” not only working on campus, but working between campuses or campuses that are in different geos around the world.

Narrator: You’re listening to The Front Row, a podcast brought to you by 2U, imagining a world with no back row. We’ve been talking about the future of education.

Micah Lande: In our engineering program here on the Polytechnic campus, there are a couple makerspaces, fabrication spaces that are outfitted with the kinds of tools that you would expect in a makerspace, a 3D printer, a laser cutter, there’s wood shop on one side, there’s a machine shop on the other side with CNC tools, there’s a foundry space, welding, etc., and outside there’s a big machine that’s a water jet cutter. There’s also a space for crafting, there’s industrial sewing machines, and a CNC quilter, which is pretty cool to see.

Narrator: That learning by making Randy Swearer was talking about earlier, it’s in full force at Arizona State University.

Micah Lande: My name is Micah Lande. I’m an assistant professor in the Engineering and Manufacturing Engineering program in the Polytechnic School in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. That’s a mouthful.

Narrator: As universities start to digitize more reading materials, they need less library space. ASU has used the extra room for makerspaces to change the way its students learn.

Micah Lande: They have a lot of tables in the center of the space that are also meant to support collaboration in the mode of future of engineering education pedagogy where there is somebody there as a coach rather than an instructor. My responsibility in that moment is to help direct their learning. I think of myself less as an expert at the front of the room that’s going to lecture to them and more as a guide to help them consider tools, or processes, or interpret their interactions with people and users to move them along a learning continuum. It’s exciting to be part of a revolution in how we teach engineers of the future, and problem solvers, and our students who are innovators. We have a series of classes from freshman to senior year where we have teams of students engaged in engineering design challenges. We give them ambiguous, purposely underdefined problems to try to solve, and we expect them to go out and gain insights from observing people, talking to people, and then quickly be able to pivot into building increasingly higher fidelity prototypes in the makerspaces.

Narrator: There is a similarly impressive makerspace in the basement of Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science in Toronto, but to fully understand the impact of technology on this school, go upstairs to the Design Lab.

Tonya: Nice to meet you, hi.

Narrator: Tonya, a first year student, clips a pair of stripped down Google cardboard lenses to her smartphone. She’s using virtual reality, VR, to check out her designs for the interior of an actual jewelry store.

Tonya: I’m looking at my phone. If you look around, it feels as though you’re in the middle of a mall. Now we’re going inside the store. It transports you to a different view. On the interior, there’s a lot of display cases that we positioned in a way that it surrounds the general space. The VR really helps capture the sense of the space in this particular design because usually you can’t do an elevation or any sort of drawing on the interior.

Narrator: It feels like an in person experience of the space, but VR also provides a sense of subtler effects.

Tonya: For the lighting in this jewelry store, we were trying to let the display cases stand out to emphasize the products themselves, which were watches and jewelry in this case. We wanted the ceiling lights to be very dim but still create a sense of presence.

Narrator: Standing next to Tonya is her professor, Vincent Hui. When he studied architecture 20 years ago, none of this existed.

Vincent Hui: When I went to school, we were dealing with drafting boards, and you had to buy separate pens with different thicknesses, you had to buy certain types of paper, velum, trace, Mylar. You’d spend tons of money just picking out the right color Pantones. 10 years ago, if the student was able to draw the orthographic projections, plans, sections, and elevations, and maybe one rendering from the outside or generate a 3D view, and you’d call it a day.

Narrator: Tonya has gone well beyond that.

Vincent Hui: The student has designed the actual lighting. The student has actually developed an understanding of how the fabric membrane and the structure work together to actually create this. You can see that the student’s actually figured out even the material palate. This is first year. She’s had all of seven weeks using the software. This is the level of sophistication that virtual reality empowers with the student. This is done by a 17 year-old kid.

Narrator: A 17 year-old who can then head to that makerspace in the basement.

Vincent Hui: Back in the day, if I were to make anything in the shop, and that’d be maybe once a term, it would be the final model, 1 to 100, 1 to 50 scale model, a little dollhouse, my building would look like a dollhouse, and that was it. As you can see here, we’ve got everything from full on models of chairs and components of buildings. That’s what today’s student now has at their disposal.

Narrator: You’re listening to The Front Row by 2U. In this episode, we’re learning about education in the 21st century. We’ve been exploring physical changes to the classroom, different spaces, new tools, project-based and making learning, but what happens when your living room sofa becomes your classroom?

Corinne Hyde: Hi, my name’s Corinne Hyde, and I am an associate professor of clinical education at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. I live in a very small town just outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I teach all of my courses remotely, and I teach students from all over the world. It’s very typical for me to have students in South Korea, and Berlin, and states all over the United States and elsewhere all at once. We see each other over webcam, and we have live class sessions.

Narrator: Corinne used to be a K to 12 teacher in Los Angeles, but since becoming a professor, she’s only taught online.

Corinne Hyde: Most people have this idea of the online institution where it’s not very rigorous, and you also never meet your instructor, and you just email the papers in. There’s lots and lots and lots of written work online, but there’s no real conversation or interaction. That’s why it was so very revolutionary when we started doing this that we had a top tier education program at an elite private school saying, “We’re going to do online education.”

Narrator: But eight year ago when they launched, Corinne and her colleagues were just scratching the surface.

Corinne Hyde: There’s something we talk about in the field of education technology where we try to move people from using technology in just a replicative way to using it in a transformative way. At first, I don’t think we really understood that as a program, and so instruction focused much more around, “Here’s a set of readings. Do these readings,” the readings were very high level, and, “We’re just going to have a brief one-hour conversation,” and it was focused around a few discussion questions. Over time, what we’ve discovered is there is all of these amazing tools available.

Narrator: Corinne’s classes today sound very different.

Corinne Hyde: I’m using video. We use polling. Sometimes I’ll even do it for things like, “How many of you understood this particular reading?” Probably 75% of the time that I spend in every class session is in breakout rooms. I jump from room to room, and I observe, and I use the chat pod to give feedback. That way I’m not interrupting their conversation, but they know I’m there listening, and I can give feedback as needed to scaffold their learning. It is so much more interactive than people think. For example, I was doing a breakout session with students one time. One of the people in the group happened to have some experience with Photoshop. He started sharing his screen with the other people in the room, and they all collaboratively worked on this design of the classroom. Taking advantage of that in a way that would be clunky to do in an on the ground classroom is a really wonderful thing about this particular setting.

Narrator: In some ways, access to the teacher seems even better than in an actual classroom.

Corinne Hyde: We build these strong relationships with each other, which is the foundation of good learning because now we know each other’s families, we know each other’s homes. We can say, “Oh, how’s your dog? I saw him on camera the other day. He’s so adorable.” Oh, yeah, sorry, that’s my son in the background. Then when I see my students for the first time in person at commencement, we walk up to each other and give each other huge hugs, and it’s, “I’m so happy to see. How are your kids?” because we actually know each other. I’ve met their kids on camera. It is a really beautiful and interesting type of experience to have as long as I can keep the kids from being too noisy in the background when I’m trying to run a class session.

Narrator: Digital technology gives many students access to Corinne’s classes they wouldn’t have otherwise, but what about a world where technology does the actual learning for them?

Russell Foltz: Wolfram Alpha is something we launched about a decade ago. It’s meant to be a system for, over time hopefully, all of human knowledge and make it computable so that you can ask a system with all the facts in the world in it, you can ask it questions that have never been asked before, and it may in fact be able to compute those answers for you.

Narrator: In short, artificial intelligence.

Russell Foltz: Hi, my name is Russell Foltz-Smith, and I’m managing director of the Computational Thinking Initiative out of the Wolfram Foundation.

Narrator: Wolfram Alpha is a computer designed to one day know everything. Whatever it doesn’t know, once it knows what you want to know, it will create its own algorithm to figure that out.

Russell Foltz: A good example of that is you can, and I encourage anybody listening to try this in a regular search engine, try position of the International Space Station next week. I don’t know very many webpages that will have published where the Space Station is set to be next week. Wolfram Alpha can answer that question because it is a program, and it literally knows where the Space Station is at right now, and it has all the physics of space travel in it, so let me just calculate out where this thing is going to be. It will also detect where your current position is on the Earth and do the appropriate mapping.

Narrator: Critics of machine learning in the educational system say relying on something like Wolfram Alpha to compute all of the, say, physics of locating the Space Station means a student no longer needs to learn physics themselves.

Russell Foltz: It’s probably not worth a whole lot for somebody to memorize the times table up to 1,000 x 1,000 when our computers can certainly render all of that to us instantaneously all the time. The response that I typically get to me phrasing things like that is, “Yeah, but it’s still useful to know how those things work.” The reality is most of us have limited energy, resources in which to fundamentally understand how everything works. The question becomes, what is worth knowing in the sense of what’s going to help me get where I want to go in life? Let the computer handle a bunch of stuff so that you can tackle more complex things so that you can get on to investigating things in the world that we haven’t figured out.

Narrator: Knowing your times table is called mathematical thinking, but as computers do more of this mathematical thinking for us, Russell and his colleagues want you to focus more on what they call computational thinking.

Russell Foltz: The overall initiative, the idea of the initiative is that we really think we’re in the early stages of getting people out there to view computational thinking as a fundamental literacy issue.

Narrator: For Russell, this is the future of education.

Russell Foltz: In a way, when we talk about computational thinking, we want you to be mindful of how a computer might communicate and how you might get communication back from the computer.

Narrator: Russell thinks it’s more important to know how to direct a computer’s so called thinking, how to ask it the right questions in order to get the information you need to tackle projects. For example, humans will never be able to crunch data at the speed of a computer, but knowing what data to ask the computer to crunch is vital. That skill will accelerate learning for everyone.

Russell Foltz: Likely, most people, even through getting their bachelor’s degree, are showing that they have proficiency, and competence, and knowledge that’s already been generated. If you’re lucky, you’ll get into a graduate program where by the end of it you’ll get to produce your own research. I think what we’re going to see is that value change shifts down probably to the point where the more aggressive students in high school will be doing original research.

Narrator: From artificial intelligence to virtual reality, interactive online classes, makerspaces, digital labs, technology is disrupting the educational experience. If you aren’t particularly tech savvy, you might be wondering where you fit into this new paradigm. What becomes of the social sciences? Don’t worry, there are some people who feel technological advances reinforce the need for a liberal arts background.

Scott Hartley: I’m Scott Hartley. I’m the author of The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World, which came out in April 2017. In my spare time, I’m a venture capitalist and startup advisor to a number of different interesting technology startups.

Narrator: At Stanford where Scott studied political science, fuzzies is the nickname for liberal arts students. Despite his fuzzy status, after graduating, Scott made notable contributions at tech companies like Google and Facebook, but then at a venture capital firm, the focus changed.

Scott Hartley: Yeah, it’s been interesting just from the perch in Silicon Valley, just seeing the narrative that was so uniformly this drumbeat of STEM, drumbeat of science, technology, engineering, and math, just teach your kids to code and they’ve got a carte blanche to relevance in the future. We had passed on a number of companies founded by people that weren’t the deep technologists that became billion dollar companies, and we passed on those companies and did not invest.

Narrator: Because they weren’t founded by techies, but-

Scott Hartley: There’s so many different examples of these amazing founders that got together the right team, really attacked a problem, saw a big market opportunity. Even though they didn’t have the ability themselves to code it, they were able to build that team around them to do it.

Narrator: For example-

Speaker 10: Stitch Fix is my own personal stylist. I discover so many-

Narrator: Stitch Fix has been called the Netflix of fashion. The Washington Post recently predicted it could be Wall Street’s next big IPO. In 2016, it posted $730 million in revenues, but Scott’s firm passed on investing in Stitch Fix partly because although founder, Katrina Lake, had great skills, experience, and a strong team around her, she wasn’t a techie. But her fuzziness hasn’t held the company back. Now Scott sees Stitch Fix as a deal that got away, an inspiration for writing his book, and encouraging students and investors to pursue a hybrid of liberal arts and tech.

Scott Hartley: it’s about becoming technical enough to be dangerous and understand the tools, but then also really have this grounding in this broader context. I think the best thing about bringing together the fuzzy and the techie, bringing together people from these different backgrounds, different geographies, different problem sets into Silicon Valley, into tech is maybe we’ll get a widening of the aperture around problems that we go after and not just creating another photo sharing app or another communication way to say, “Yo,” or to say, “Hey,” or to say, “What’s up?” or WhatsApp, or whatever, but thinking about what are the biggest fundamental problems in the world today, whether they be in Syria, whether they be in Sub-Saharan African, whether they be dealing with North Korea. How do we approach some of those problems? How do we approach those things with the toolkits that we have?

Narrator: For students in the future, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, makerspaces, and digital classrooms will definitely be familiar tools. As educational institutions continue to open up and question established ways of teaching, students can look forward to even more innovative learning aids and methods.

That brings us to the end of this season of The Front Row, a podcast from 2U about the future and how education and technology will solve the problems we’re going to face. 2U is a company that partners with great colleges and universities to build the world’s best digital education. Over the course of this season, we’ve explored the challenges and opportunities ahead in eight areas, manufacturing, aging, epidemics, data, digital privacy, cities, journalism, and now education. We hope this season leaves you feeling energized and optimistic about the immense possibilities in our future. To find out more about 2U or to get in touch, visit us. We’re at 2u.com/podcast. That’s the number two and the letter U, or tweet us, @2Uinc. Listen on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for joining us.

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