Friday, July 20, 2012

A revolution in higher education

In Lessons My Father Taught Me About How to Live on a Dangerous Planet, David Rothkopf recounts his father's narrow escape from Nazi occupied Austria to later become a professor of telecommunications and education at Columbia University.

“His response to the ravages to which he had been exposed was to focus on education, and specifically on understanding how people learned.”

This echoes a recent interview with Computer Science pioneer, and hero of mine, Alan Key.

...the thing that traumatized me occurred a couple years later, when I found an old copy of Life magazine that had the Margaret Bourke-White photos from Buchenwald. This was in the 1940s — no TV, living on a farm. That's when I realized that adults were dangerous. Like, really dangerous. I forgot about those pictures for a few years, but I had nightmares. But I had forgotten where the images came from. Seven or eight years later, I started getting memories back in snatches, and I went back and found the magazine. That probably was the turning point that changed my entire attitude toward life. It was responsible for getting me interested in education. My interest in education is unglamorous. I don't have an enormous desire to help children, but I have an enormous desire to create better adults.

It looks like something really important is happening in higher education. Open online courses are disrupting the lock high-cost exclusive universities have on elite education. Sebastian Thrun talks about "democratizing higher eduction". In her New York Times essay, Daphne Koller quotes Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

The senior Rothkopf dedicated his studies to the power of technology to remake education, delivering knowledge to people everywhere, believing that the greatness of nations is measured by “how we invest in our classrooms and our laboratories and in the minds and futures of our children.”

A political economy

A recent piece in the Economist ( A new anthology of essays reconsiders Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” , May 20, 2107) ends with these words: &q...