MBA Mondays: Sustainability Class Wrapup

I've enjoyed teaching the Skillshare class on Sustainability. I've learned a few things about the hybrid class model and I have shared them with the Skillshare folks. It's tantalizing to think about the power of teaching a class to 2,731 people at one time. But when I compare that to the power of teaching 75 people in person, the hybrid model shows it's weaknesses.

I need the real-time feedback from the students in the class. I need to see if folks are getting what I am saying or if eyes are glazing over. I need to know if I need to take another tack on the material before moving on. And I don't get that with a massively open online approach.

So my next class is going to combine the in person dynamic with the power of a massively online approach. The best thing to come from the hybrid class model is the idea of using google hangouts/youtube to broadcast the class to everyone. I am going to do that from now on.

I also like the idea of teaching a four part class with a blog post each week. I can build on that model too.

I am less happy with the discussions on Skillshare and that they did not tie into the discussions that happened on AVC. I need to figure out how to make all of that work better. It's obvious that a teacher (me) can't give real time feedback to 2,731 students. And I think leveraging the students to give feedback to each other (the disqus model), is right. So it's worth working on this model to perfect it.

I want to thank Michael from Skillshare for prompting me to write about Sustainability this month. As I said in my first blog post on the topic, I think Sustainability is a great model for business owners and leaders to take in thinking about the highest objectives of the company. If I have contributed anything to the way business leaders think about Sustainability, then I have accomplished my goals with this class.

I am going to postpone my final office hours which were scheduled for this evening at 6pm eastern time. Hurricane Sandy looks to be coming through NYC at that time and I don't know what that may cause me and my family to be doing at that time. We live right on the Hudson, at the border of Zone A. So I've got a few things on my mind today that fit right into this Sustainability theme. I will report back on a new date and time for my final office hours.

Stay safe everyone on the east coast today. Let's hope the hype is overblown. And let's prepare as if it isn't.

#MBA Mondays

Comments (Archived):

  1. John Best

    Best wishes for you, the family and anyone else in the hurricane’s path.

  2. kidmercury

    i don’t know how people don’t take these natural disaster threats seriously. for me, a week without electricity is downright frightening. why not just go on vacation for a few days? that is what i used to do when i lived in miami and they had their big scares.the big issue with online education is you need a single platform or deep API integration. skillshare + google hangouts + disqus + typepad with no API integration is simply too disjointed.

    1. William Mougayar

      yup .the disjointedness was a bit difficult to manage. too many moving parts.

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Where do you live now?

      1. kidmercury


        1. William Mougayar

          oh i thought it was Chicaago

        2. CJ

          We gotta grab coffee one day Kid.

          1. kidmercury

            definitely! i’m in gold coast where are you?

          2. CJ

            Just outside the city in Oak Park, but work DT.

    3. Cam MacRae

      This is one case for which it’s infinitely preferable to make an error of the first kind.It’s not a week off the grid that scares me, it’s filthy, toxic, and disease ridden flood water.

      1. LE

        “It’s not a week off the grid that scares me, it’s filthy, toxic, and disease ridden flood water.”Exactly . People tend to focus on a single thing and don’t look at the cascading consequences. And there are also a limited amount of resources and some very aggressive people in NYC. If there is a shortage they won’t be singing Cumbayá and making sure everyone is taken care of fairly. It will be a grab for resources (remembering the gas shortage as only one example).

      2. Ruth BT

        Yup, having done the Queensland floods last year I can attest that the smell and receding flood water is beyond imaginable. Also if you have kids please don’t underestimate the psychological impact. Interesting to see how it has manifested over time in some children whom I had no idea were affected at all.

    4. LE

      “why not just go on vacation for a few days? that is what i used to do when i lived in miami and they had their big scares.”Absolutely one of the best thoughts that anyone has made on this blog in a long time. I can’t agree more.I have no clue why anybody with resources (or without a clear reason needing to stay) would hang around in a place like NYC in a disaster like this. I think you have to do what you need to do to survive. And the fact is, this reliance people have on thinking that that authorities have it all worked out for these events is simply not true. All they do is plan for the future based on the past. They don’t anticipate anything that hasn’t happened yet and plan accordingly. The thought process is “if it’s happened it may happen again, if it hasn’t happened it won’t happen so let’s not worry about it”. (Kinda like startups actually..)

      1. kidmercury

        it boggles my mind…..people spend thousands of dollars on insurance and warranties that they often never utilize at all; it is “just in case” purchases that often end up having no value outside of peace of mind. here is a chance to do the same thing but you at least get a trip out of town if nothing happens. and if something does happen you avoid all sorts of chaos and possibly saved your life.

        1. LE

          “people spend thousands of dollars on insurance and warranties that they often never utilize at all”But it actually makes total sense.The act of simply buying something takes no effort.Having to do something, take action, takes effort.Even purchasing a backup generator (for those that can afford) takes effort (you have to meet with the contractor, decide which circuits you want to feed etc.) so many people who can afford it, don’t. (Part of the reason also has to do with the tipping point of social proof amongst ones peers. If all your friends buy generators you will be more likely to buy one also obviously).By observing human behavior you can figure out many things that are written about in academic books about human behavior (and what all those economists study).People being lemmings are also afraid to be trailblazers and do anything that they don’t see others doing or isn’t established behavior. For fear that they will be ridiculed by their friends. After all, most times the danger isn’t there so you end up being wrong and looking weak or overly cautious. And maybe someone makes fun of you for doing that. People fear that.

  3. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

    Yes. Let’s hope the hype is overblown.May God be with you, your family fred … and all east-coasters be home earliest.

  4. Mesh Lakhani

    Be safe Fred & Family, and to all New Yorkers.

  5. awaldstein

    Stay dry and safe Fred.Down in TriBeCa, I”m one of few that is still in my building and deciding whether to move to a hotel this afternoon for a few days.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      +1If there are rooms available, you might want to take one somewhere uptown from there. Stay safe in any case.

      1. awaldstein

        Holding rooms.Just a pain, moving Sam. Elevators are turned off.Not certain what I’m doing yet.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          Hates cars, I bet. You could leave him with enough food & water, I guess. But if you stay and Zone A floods, you’ll be stuck in your building for a while.

          1. awaldstein

            Leaving Sam is never happening for certain.If we loose power downtown for awhile obviously I’ll need to head somewhere.

          2. Anne Libby

            Please don’t wait! Take Sam and go now. Once the power is out, moving around will be tougher — after 9/11, they cordoned off the area (no cabs in or out.)

          3. Guest

            (I think my comment just got eaten?) If they cordon off the area, as they did after 9/11, there will be no cars/cabs in or out. Better to go now, while you still have the option to do so.

          4. ShanaC

            maybe, but you are not logged in.

          5. Anne Libby

            That was me, something odd happened — I was logged in when I posted it. I saw it double posted, and deleted it. It came back as a comment from “guest.”

          6. Dave Pinsen

            OK, well stay safe regardless. Let me know how it turns out.

        2. fredwilson

          the hudson just breached its banks next to my apartment. so we are starting to consider moving to higher ground. the only caveat is that 8:30am was high tide so the waters may recede for the rest of the day…

          1. awaldstein

            Thanks.I think that we will be fine and planning on staying for now.I see more inconvenience than danger at the is point.Think I’ll organize a small wine tasting for some friends who are staying. Savoie is the likely focus–Persan, Mondeuse and Altesse.

          2. LE

            “I see more inconvenience”My basic rule of thumb when making decisions in situations such as this is very simple.1) Don’t be lazy2) Focus on the downside. If you are simply talking about making the effort and spending money for a hotel room, it seems like an easy call to make (from an outsider looking in, rationally).

          3. David Semeria

            Problem: hurricane coming. Solution: organize a wine tasting.By George, I sense British blood running this man’s veins!Hurricanes, however, are no excuse for sloppiness: do make sure the whites are correctly chilled and the reds have time to breathe.Good work Mr. Waldstein.

          4. awaldstein

            I need some British humor with an Italian edge David!Thanks.

          5. LE

            I think like in investing you have to focus on the potential downside (of staying) as opposed to the upside (avoiding a pain in the ass by staying and everything being ok, feeling like you wasted time and effort).So I think it makes sense to leave. Think of it as insurance.

          6. Rohan

            Stay safe!

          7. ShanaC


    2. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

      don’t wait till noon Arnold move now … it is not bad to be cautious … just saw this photograph in Reuters … and thought of adding this comment reply to you.

    3. ShanaC

      don’t wait until the last minute arnold (if not for us, for Sam)

    4. Elia Freedman

      Arnold, as someone who has lived through a hurricane, I highly recommend packing up and getting out. I was in South Florida in 1992 when Andrew hit.

  6. Dan

    Fred, do you see metrics on the class participants? I’m curious about levels of engagement across 2700+ students.

    1. fredwilson

      i think only about 100 really engaged

  7. William Mougayar

    Maybe the fact that you wrote the blog post on the topic before the class was a bit of an anti-climax because the class was a re-hash of it, more or less, except for the canvas feedback session.What if you reversed it, and did a class first on an unknown topic, then blogged about it the next day and that would unleash the conversation in the comments that way. Then do a follow-up session the week after if the comments generate additional material to talk about.Anyways…we’re watching what happens in NY, because Canada will get it right after. Mother nature has been so un-predictable. We send you a West coast earthquake, and you send us back an Eastern storm. Let’s hope it is overblown and it goes dying in the seas.

  8. awaldstein

    Difference between a group of 75 or a group of hundreds/thousands online or off is that one can be a conversation the other is always a presentation.The best tech hasn’t cracked this group dynamic conundrum as yet.

    1. William Mougayar

      Yup, it was like trying to fit something into tech vs. fitting tech into a need.

    2. Abdallah Al-Hakim

      the magic of face to face meetings has not been cracked yet!

    3. ShanaC

      There are definitely ways around this (namely TAs and breakoff groups) But those seem to be poorly organized (student driven of working professionals)

    4. fredwilson

      when i do my final office hours i will include 9 students in the google hangout. then it will be a conversation broadcast to a lot of folks. i am hoping that is a start at cracking this issue

      1. Korf

        Interesting that there were about 9-12 of us who were really active in discussions. I think I can speak to those of us who were active that a google hangout would be very welcomed and a great addition to the overall offering. Perhaps for the final (now delayed) class you could test the hangout format?

        1. Korf

          BTW best wishes from the midwest to all of you on the eastern seaboard, fingers crossed that the storm loses its punch as the day progresses.

      2. awaldstein

        It’s a start and a worthwhile effort.The more interesting it is the more it will hold the further you are away from the action.Music is always better closer to the stage is a core truism of life I think.

    5. JamesHRH

      What is it about that dynamic that is of value?In university, the best large group dynamics were when a student challenged the prof on an issue.The world is flattening so much (people less likely to defer to authority) with the Echo gen coming to the for, that I am not sure there is much value to translate.

  9. Tom Labus

    Today is a day to be safe and with family, if you’re in the the NYC area.Hang on to your hat today!!!

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Absolutely.Re Sandy: whoever put this together was pretty clever.

      1. Tom Labus

        Good one

  10. JimHirshfield

    I think the student that learned the most from this class is the teacher.

    1. ShanaC

      true of a good class

    2. fredwilson


    3. JamesHRH

      Learn by doing.

  11. Ryan Frew

    *Typo in the title: I think “Sustainably” is meant to be “Sustainability”Not that’s it’s real important, just trying to be the helpful grammar Nazi.Stay safe today everyone.

    1. fredwilson

      thanks. i will fix asap.

    2. fredwilson

      i can’t find the typo. which paragraph is it in?

      1. Ryan Frew

        It’s in the title

        1. fredwilson

          ah. didn’t look there!

    3. jason wright

      grammar goblin 🙂

  12. John Revay

    “We live right on the Hudson, at the border of Zone A”Please stay safe!

  13. ShanaC

    i evacuated in the end – stay safe fred, Joanne, and family. If you need to move, move (seriously)There is a pause right now because the tides are down and the wind is down for a bit, but I saw pictures of battery park – flooded at high tide.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      That’s some shot!

      1. ShanaC

        Not mine, but yeah, I know. Nervewrecking to say the least.

    2. Anne Libby

      Glad you left, Shana.

  14. mikenolan99

    Stay safe… son Jack is up in Harlem, and refuses to stock up. He says he has some juice and cereal.I agree with the teaching notes. I’m teaching a 100 student “intro to business” course this Spring, and am nervous. The biggest class I’ve ever taught was ~30, and all MBA students. 100 Freshman and Sophomores is going to be challenging!

  15. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Crossing my fingers for all you NYers. It’s crappy up here in Providence, too, but I don’t think flooding is a risk. Just power outage.

  16. Anne Libby

    (And to the non-hurricane point of your post, I had a similar experience/feeling teaching an online class via private blog. Very little online conversation, and not everyone engaged in the office hours, which I offered via conf. call…I haven’t repeated it.)

  17. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Out of all the registrants, it seems like about 100 are really actively engaged. Some of us have made an effort to engage with each other and help each other – I’ve met a couple of interesting people there.I think that 30 mins for office hours is a little brief. It feels rushed, and it feels like it ends abruptly. If someone has 30 mins set aside, they can probably make it 60 mins (if people’s busy schedules were the concern).I very much appreciated that you made an effort to give individual attention to people and answer all the questions. If you had more time (60 mins) you could have gotten to almost everyone’s canvas (or at least to everyone who made the effort to complete the assignment). Since I was one of the ones to get that attention, I was particularly psyched ;)It looks like Skillshare responded to one of the difficulties by adding the “Projects” tab. So that’s good.I agree that the bouncing back and forth between AVC, Skillshare and Google Hangouts caused the most issues. I think to get an optimal level of interactivity, everything needs to be in one location. It would be great for all the class participants to be able to IM chat with each other in during open office hours.I’m glad you’re going to do it again. I think it’s really cool that you do this for free, and I got a lot out of this class despite some of the minor tech issues.

    1. fredwilson

      this is fantastic feedback. thanks!!!

    2. Korf

      Completely second Kirstens comments. Great job your biz model Kirsten, it was great to meet you and share ideas and feedback.

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Same to you, Andrew! I see Pedalr made a magazine – thank you 🙂 I’m rooting for you guys!I need to devise a way to keep in touch with all the awesome founders I’ve met at different things like this. Maybe something on G+? What do you think would be best?It would just be so great to sustain a little ‘support group’ where we could bounce things off each other and help each other sanity check.

        1. Korf

          Kristen I think google + group would be great, count me in. I would also suggest that some of the more active members of the class offer to help mentor future classes, perhaps it could even be a Skillshare feature (or maybe it already is…?)

    3. John Revay

      yup – very much agree w/ your comment -“I agree that the bouncing back and forth between AVC, Skillshare and Google Hangouts caused the most issues.”AT times I was confused that I was missing pieces.

    4. JamesHRH

      Guilty as charged.We had a life event fall into the timeframe for the course.I would have withdrawn in a real class, but, like so many internet activities, my ‘registered but inactive’ account likely had no effect on anything.I don’t Hangout and hate ‘bouncing from x to y to z’. I am not sure the hybrid model would have worked for me, even if I had been able to engage in the class.

  18. Korf

    Its a been great class and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to take part in the experience. I agree with the sentiments on the format, it was a little too unstructured for some and I think it lost a little of the early energy the class had as result. That said, I do feel that those who took the time to work on their business models and participate in discussions amongst ourselves learned a lot about using the business model canvas as a first step (and an invaluable tool) in creating a sustainable business, and that alone has made the class and the time you’ve put into it so far hugely valuable. A big thanks for your generosity with your time, and the Skillshare team for providing a platform and forum for classes like this.

  19. Elia Freedman

    Fred, if you are concerned then move now. I lived through Andrew in ’92. Very easy to underestimate how devastating a hurricane can be.

  20. CJ

    I hope you and the family stay safe Fred!

  21. JamesHRH

    To AVCers on the East Coast, good luck & I hope you had the foresight to stock up on the essentials –

  22. karen_e

    I built a sustainable business canvas offline during the last four weeks without interacting much with the class. The concept is repositioning a legacy firm that needs successors to buy out the current owners but has so far been unable to interest a new generation. I have started proposing my vision to the ownership in hopes of continuing to execute & iterate. Wish me luck.

  23. Trevor Koverko

    I think I have been barking up the same tree as Fred. Personal engagement is critical in the classroom.Personally, I used to blame government for the slow moving nature of education. When government gets involved, costs go up, quality plummets and innovation grinds to a halt, right? This may be true, but I always felt there was more to the story.Every decade or so, a new technology comes around that promises to usher in a new education paradigm.1960 – Television will broadcast classes to millions1970 – New postage and shipping capacity will deliver curricula to student’s doorstep1980 – VHS will reinvent on demand learning1990 – Internet and software advancement will replace UniversitiesYou could make the case that any of these technologies had the potential to revolutionize education. But none of them did. Even our beloved Internet has failed to reinvent education. After 20 years of widespread internet adoption, K12/College still looks the same to me.Why is this? Why is education resilient to technology?I think I have the answer: human interaction. Every proposed solution to date has ignored the most important driver of learning: real-time, real-life collaboration. There is something about live human interaction that helps us learn. I’m not sure exactly what – personal engagement, synchronous communication, facial expressiveness, accountability – but the stickiness of brick-and-mortar education is undeniable.I think the first step is to admit offline education has beneficial characteristics. This was difficult for a guy who came from the ‘dynamite the current education model and start over’ school of thought. Brick-and-mortar-learning is limited and inefficient, but it gets a few things right; namely live interaction and small group collaboration. These methods are the cornerstones of good pedagogy and explain the lasting impact of traditional education.I think that’s the problem with edtech today. No one has been able to capture the essence of live human interaction and deliver it online.Here is my attempt to do it.…What do you guys think?

    1. Wavelengths

      Interesting, but can the students throw spitballs from the back row?

  24. Wavelengths

    Thinking about the “family” — all you folks in the storm’s path. Hope everyone is staying safe and dry.

  25. Peter Tippett

    The problem of large group interaction is something we have been working on solving for a while. The most natural way in a teaching environment as students we have learnt to respond to is the old model that your teacher used at school, “she would ask the class a question, you would do a show of hands and look around to see the feedback” and this took less than 30 seconds. We have taken that idea, mixed it with mobile, Facebook, and/or web and done if for mass audience situations, ie at TV level demands. It seems to be an easy thing to do, as we all think it is just a web polling activity, but we have moved it to a level of being very natural and able to handle real volumes as it is about being truly real-time (sub 1 second turn around) for the feedback. We are bringing this to the US currently with some TV shows in trials currently. For the Cricket in Australia last season we average 100,000 per day being involved (12% of the viewers) and each question asked got 50,000 to 80,000 people involved each time. This end result is this allows you as a teacher to actually ask and see how people respond as part of the conversation, making it very natural, which is the key for you as the teacher as you can then feed off this to create new content that matters.

  26. fredwilson


  27. ShanaC

    Thank you for stopping by and giving us a sneak peak.

  28. awaldstein

    Hi Stephen…I by no means an expert.What I do believe though, and strongly, is that platforms that build off of a hybrid model will get closer to the true dynamics of interpersonal connections.I don’t believe 100%, one to zillion, carries enough human gestalt to appeal.I think somewhere in the intersection of a small group with the ‘leader/teach’ , mass observers and possibly as you imply pods of students is where the next level of answers lie.Good luck with this!

  29. Korf

    Hey Stephen, you’ve done a great job providing a platform that is easy to use and flexible enough to port to varying approaches to online classrooms. I mentioned in a thread above, a mentor feature might be neat, allow those who have completed classes volunteer to mentor future classes and help folks like Fred (or yourselves) manage feedback, questions, etc.

  30. Korf

    Thanks Stephen – I think the platform worked well, especially for a 1st time class. I do think some mentors from previous classes might be a great way to help future students get the most out of their experience as one possible way to make your already solid offering even better. The D-School at Stanford makes mentoring an integral part of their design thinking crash course, which is pretty effective.

  31. ShanaC

    damn 2x