DIY Education – Creative ways to a college degree

If there is a way for people to get what they want for free or cheaply they will find it. Even before the internet put a wealth of movies and music up for download, there was always that shady guy selling bootlegs from the trunk of his car. Just like technology made bootlegging music and movies easier, the internet has made a do-it-yourself education substantially easier.

Two months ago Union Square Ventures hosted an event highlighting the way technology and the internet impacts education. The event entitled Hacking Education brought together academics, entrepreneurs, educators, and administrators. The consensus; though outside the classroom learning has always been possible it has never been easier. How does the internet do this? David Wiley explains.

from Union Square Ventures:

David Wiley broke education into these components, 1) content provisioning, 2) research – conducted, archived, and disseminated, 3) help provided to a student with a question on the content, 4) a social life, and 5) issuing credentials.

Historically all of these components were bundled together in the experience of on-site education in a K-12 or University context. Already today, it is possible for a student to get many of these services outside the walls of a traditional educational institution.

One of the most interesting stories from the conference comes from a discussion of the need for an accredited education, or really the shrinking importance of.

from Union Square Ventures:

Rob Kalin kicked the discussion on the separation of learning and credentialing into high gear with this story.

I graduated high school with a D minus average. …My guidance counselor said “drop out of high school, you’ll have an easier time getting into college if you just get a GED.” I [decided] to graduate with this D minus and see what it does for me. I didn’t get into any accredited school . I got into a diploma program in an art school in Boston, and it was near MIT. … I used the art school to make a fake ID to go to MIT. Someone said [college is] expensive. I said no, it’s free, you just won’t get credit for it.

Today, no one is going to ask Rob for his college transcript. His credentials are the companies he has created. Not every student can be so cavalier about the lack of a diploma, but the web is having an interesting impact on the value of credentials. In an earlier era, it was very difficult to evaluate a student’s work directly, so a grade from an accredited institution served as a proxy. Now, if an employer wants to hire a video editor, Geppeto’s work is on the web readily accessible. Students in the future will be as likely to be evaluated on their portfolio of work, as they are on their grades. That’s lucky for Geppeto because, as his story makes clear, there is no way his school was capable of evaluating his work.

Now not every student has the drive, or frankly the balls, to pull off a stunt like this. How much more meaningful was Kalin’s education because of how he got it? While I don’t applaud breaking the law (is what he did against the law?) I applaud this ingenuity. Kalin worked for his education. He thought outside the box to get it. This is the kind of three dimensional thinking and problem solving we should be encouraging in students. Kalin will also retain what he learned better than someone who simply paid to sit there. Kalin wasn’t in class because he felt entitled to be there. Kalin wanted knowledge and so he reached out and grabbed it.

Kalin’s approach radically challenges how we teach students and the value of college. A diploma is irrelevant to Kalin. The end result College has devolved. College is no longer about gaining knowledge. It is about that piece of paper that “proves” to an employer that you know something. The internet is turning that idea on its head. As the article states employers no longer need diplomas as the sole evaluation of a students work. Now an employer can potentially view the entire body of work online. The employer can evaluate the work themselves.

Kalin’s story also points to a need I have addressed on several occasions. I have talked about how we teach and test students at length here, here, here, and here. Kalin only reinforces my positions. The way we currently teach and test does not promote true problem solving. This is the problem. This is the answer. This is how you get there. No wonder kid’s get bored. That method of learning shows no true understanding of a topic. It fosters no self discovery, no life long thirst for learning.

No matter how much information we throw at students we will never maintain any sort of competitive innovation if we don’t get away from this factory style learning. Children need to know that 2+2=4, but we can’t shy away from getting children to discover why.