From the window of our apartment, I saw my younger sister coming back from school carrying an enormous backpack on her back. She was walking just like our grandma, leaning forward (about 15 degrees) to properly distribute the weight. That struck me as something inherently wrong. My sister is only 10 years old and her heavy backpack is definitely not doing any good to her stance, overall health and well-being.

Now what do quite a few (if not most) of those kids use at home to watch cartoons, play games, learn foreign languages? Tablets. Why can’t my sister just carry her tablet loaded with all the textbooks she needs?

There’s been a lot of discussion for years about how hard it is to disrupt [1] education and why just putting tablets in front of everyone won’t cut it. The educational system, as it is, has been around for centuries [2] and is not wiling to adapt. The image of my sister carrying her schoolbag made me thinking. If I were to go back to school, here’s what I want:

  • No lectures whatsoever. At least in the traditional sense. Lectures should be replaced by ‘socratic’ class discussions led by the professor covering the topics the students studied for on their own in advance.
  • It’s important that students come prepared to the discussion. They come knowing exactly what they don’t understand, they are aware of the main concepts which they identified as the ones worth diving in.
  • The professor should be prepared as never before as it’s no longer a monologue, it’s a play with many actors. He has to be ready to be challenged by sharp minds [3] who are no longer waiting for the class to finish or constantly dozing off despite an interesting material.
  • Students prepare for the class using interactive videos on Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, Codecademy, edX or any other great MOOCs I’ve never heard of or are in the making as I’m typing.
  • Instead of newsgroups or email, the class discussion (and any kind of collaboration) outside of class happens on sites like Piazza. It’s much more scalable than office hours [4] or emailing to a professor.
  • All the work published by students, class notes across all the classes offered, any materials recommended by the professor are available in a single place.

What would you want if you were to go back to school?

[1] Have to apologize for using the D-word for the lack of a better term. I admit, in the recent years, due to the overuse, words like ‘cloud’, ‘innovation’, or ‘disruption’ stopped meaning anything.
[2] Not long after the Jurassic Period.
[3] And occasionally, snarky.
[4] Professors should continue holding office hours for students who are in need. Nothing (for some ‘non-categorical’ definition of ‘nothing’) is better than the physical face-to-face dialogue.