Posts from Education


I woke up this morning in the middle of a vivid dream. I was standing in front of a large auditorium style classroom and teaching a bunch of college students. I was calling on people. Asking questions. Making jokes. Having fun. Teaching.

I've done that before. I taught classes at Penn to help put myself through grad school. And I've done guest lecturing so many times it is like second nature. But this dream was a bit different from what I've done in the past. It felt like it was my class and I was a faculty member.

My dad was a college professor (at West Point) in addition to a long military career. I've always thought that, like him, I would teach as a profession one day. It's the only thing that really interests me other than venture capital.

But I wonder if the classroom is the best place for me to do that. At some level this blog is my classroom. I look at what Sal Khan has done with his Khan Academy and I am inspired to think of new ways to teach.

MBA Mondays is an effort to understand what is possible in a blog format and what is not. Putting concepts down in a text format that anyone can read if they can get on the web is powerful. And the comments section allows for further discussion. The comments on the MBA Mondays post are often way better than the posts.

But every time I sit down in front of group of assembled entrepreneurs, I realize that the "in person thing" is different and better in some ways. I feed off the energy of real people sitting in the same room as me. I like the back and forth. Asking questions. Making jokes. Having fun. Teaching. Just like my dream this morning.

MBA Mondays can be a burden at times. I sit down in front of the computer each monday morning at 5am and churn out another post. It is work and it is not that much fun for me. Contrast that with stepping into a classroom of a hundred or so students armed with a topic for the day. That is a blast for me.

I've been thinking about the ideal model that combines all of the above. A freely available curriculum on the web that grows and evolves over time. A physical space where people can come and take classes that are recorded and broadcast live and also available for viewing after the fact. Some version of that seems ideal. Should it happen in connection with an existing education institution (an engineering school or a business school), or should it be its own educational institution? Not sure.

But the one thing I am sure of is that teaching is god's work and I love it and I'd like to do more of it.

#hacking education

Internet School

Let's say you are my age, about to turn 50, and you want to make a career change. You want to get into the Internet business. But you don't know anything about programming, user experince, ad sales, community management, legal issues. What do you do?

For too long there haven't been good answers for people looking to learn this new industry. But that is changing. One of the more ambitious projects is General Assembly, at Broadway and 20th St, in NYC. While most people that know of General Assembly think of it as a coworking space, the founders think of it as a campus environment for all things Internet. I was over there yesterday and got a sampling of some of the courses you can take there. There are courses on HTML & CSS, Android Development, Internet Ad Sales, User Driven Design, The Digital Learning Market, Startup Law, and more. The current class list is here. Class prices differ but for $100 you can generally take one of these classes.

I love this idea. I have friends who find themselves at this place in their career, who are starting Internet based businesses but they don't have the background and experience to make the right choices. Classes like this can help and they don't cost that much.

I've blogged before on the value of coworking spaces. I'm a big fan. Many of them offer classes and meetups and talks from industry leaders in addition to the ability to rent a desk for the day, week, or month. I know that New Work City, the grandaddy of NYC coworking spaces also has classes, including the awesome Girl Develop It program which sometimes takes place there. I believe that the Hive at 55 also hosts classes.

I'm wondering if anyone in the NYC tech community has aggregated all of these classes into a single searchable database. If so, leave a comment and I'll update this post with a link to it. If not, someone really should do that. There's a lot of great learning opportunities out there.

#hacking education#NYC#Web/Tech

Sal Khan's Academy

My friend Diana Rhoten wrote this about Waiting For Superman:

I don’t believe the solutions to today’s education crisis are going to come in the form of traditional policies alone. I believe we need to reframe the problem and the conversation, from one about re-forming schooling to one about re-thinking education and re-imagining learning.

This is a massive, radical design challenge.

The title of her post is We are not Waiting for Superman, We are Empowering Superheroes.

Certainly one of the Superheroes of Diana's "massive, radical design challenge" is Sal Khan. For those of you who are not familiar with the Khan Academy, please go visit it. It is the ugliest website this side of Craigslist, but don't get hung up with that. Behind an ugly front end lies something incredible.

Sal has pretty much single handedly created over 1800 videos on all sorts of subjects (but with a heavy bent on math and science). At this very moment there are >2500 people learning at the Khan Academy. The chartbeat for the Khan Academy is here.

This is a worldwide classroom. The >2500 people learning at Khan Academy right now live here:

Kahn snapshot

I am not suggesting that Sal Khan's Academy is "the solution" to education problem. But it is an awesome hack and one that I am certain will turn into a hugely valuable web service in time. It is entirely possible that Khan's Academy will be a kind of Wikipedia for education. In a way it already is.

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#hacking education#Web/Tech

Solidarity Not Charity

Our portfolio company Zynga has been running campaigns in their games to raise money for Haiti and a number of other causes. Mark Pincus, Zynga's founder and CEO, calls this "solidarity not charity." Zynga describes this approach to giving back in this way:

not charity is a culture that is not seeking a handout but instead is seeking a partnership, and a culture that had demonstrated by its past that it is worthy of our respect, of our collaboration and our sustained commitment.

To date has raised more than $3.6 million for
Haiti in more than 13 separate campaigns, along with hundreds of thousands of
dollars for Gulf relief, and other causes. Almost all of these funds have been raised since the launch of Sweet Seeds For Haiti in October of last year. The effort is an ongoing part of Zynga's business operations.

The biggest beneficiary of this effort is a school that Zynga is funding called L’École de Choix (The School of Choice) in Mirebalais, Haiti.

Zynga, in partnership with FATEM (Mirebalais’s community organization), along with local representatives, global NGOs and others, have broken ground on a K-12 school and community center, intended from its inception to meet the most pressing and critical needs of those living in extreme poverty in Haiti, with a focus on quality education, income generation and financial literacy. Programs include traditional K-12 academics (in partnership with DePaul University and Francis W. Parker School), and will also include ESL, work skills for adults, and a youth center with a focus on psycho-social development, and even its construction will create jobs for the local community and use local sources and materials.

Here is a quick 5min video that showcases this effort:

Here are a list of the games and campaigns that Zynga has run. If you play Zynga's games, you may have helped fund these efforts.

Zynga programs 

I've written about this effort before. I am a huge fan of sustainable ways to give back and I love that we can all do that by playing games with each other.


Startl Design Boost and Startl Accelerator

Startl is a very interesting new project based here in NYC. It's a startup accelerator (like Y Combinator, TechStars, Seedcamp, etc) but focused entirely on entrepreneurs working in education. It's a non-profit backed by the Hewlett, MacArthur, and Gates foundations which is quite a collection if you ask me. 

Another thing that makes Startl interesting is the partnerships it has with IDEO, DreamIT Ventures, and Berkeley & Noyes (leading investment bankers in education).

Startl has two programs that anyone working on "hacking education" should be interested in:

Design Boost is a five day bootcamp here in NYC from March 15th to 19th. This first Design Boost will focus on the design of mobile apps for learning and will feature designers from IDEO who will help the selected teams with their design and development process. Up to 15 teams will be selected for Design Boost. Details on how to apply are here. The application deadline for Design Boost is February 22nd.

Accelerator is part of the DreamIT Ventures summer program in Philadelphia from May to August. Startl will select five "learning companies" to participate in the regular DreamIT Ventures program. Details on how to apply are here. The application deadline for Accelerator is March 15th.

Startl was started by two friends of mine and our firm, Diana Rhoten and Laurie Racine, and their colleague Phoenix Wang. We've known Diana and Laurie for a long time, they are committed to the concept that the innovation/startup world can have a big social impact, particularly on education. I am excited by their work on Startl and hope that some of you will apply and take advantage of these two programs.

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#VC & Technology

Donors Choose Bloggers Challenge: Going For The Threepeat

For the past two years, this blog community has won the tech category of the Donors Choose Bloggers Challenge, now renamed the Social Media Challenge.

In 2007, we raised $18,538 via 92 donations, and impacted 2,549 public school students.

In 2008, we raised $17,029 via 80 donations and impacted 4,545 public school students.

I would like us to win the tech category again and I’d also like to see if we can break $20k this year.

I am going to try something new in order to make both things happen. In November, I am going to host a Meetup at a public school in lower manhattan that will include some other popular tech bloggers and also some of the public school teachers we are going to help this year. The only way you get into the Meetup is to give something to a public school teacher’s project on this community’s giving page.

This year our community’s giving page is going to be focused on NYC public school teacher projects in the most needy neighborhoods.

Of course you can give to our giving page even if you have no interest or if you can’t make the Meetup. And I’d encourage all of you to start giving right now. I kicked it off with a $100 donation and will continue to make donations as we move through the month. But I won’t win this all by myself. So I will need your help. You can click on this widget or on the banner on the right side of this blog to get started.

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#hacking education#Web/Tech