edX Global Summit Keynote

In the keynote, Anant Agarwal (AA) of MIT interviews Megan Smith (MS), the CTO of the US.

AA: What does the CTO of the US do?

MS: The CTO is embedded into the Science & Technology Office, and her first goal is to increase “TQ” Getting more technical people involved in political discussions, get ‘techies on the table’. Secondly, she focuses on an open data society. If we have people in the country building GooGle and Amazon, why can’t government services be as awesome? Finally, she wants more people to get into programming, as there are about 2.5 million open jobs in technology, but not enough people to fill them, even with immigration. So she is looking at alternative ways to get people in, like edX or coding bootcamps.

AA: Where are MOOCs going?

MS: This reminds me of the transition of the music industry. It used to be just one album, but now it is moving towards how people want to listen, maybe just one song. This is what is happening too in education.

AA: What is your favorite educational innovation?

MS: Flipping the classroom, so it is all about communication and participation of students. This is why I Love FIRST (Yeah, Felienne :)) because they are about teaching students, but not by classroom teaching but my having people do stuff. She talks about a technique that a teacher used “three but me”, telling students to first ask three other students in class before they ask you. It is a bit like you teach a kid to speak his native language. There is no lesson plan, no exams, yet everyone learns it to an amazing level. How? By correcting, motivating, challenging. Shouldn’t education be like that?

AA: So how to do that?

MS: There was an idea pitched called Billion Dollar School. Instead of learning about biology and economy separately, a group of kids picks a topic that costs us a billion million (like: dirty water, education, equality, poverty, hunger) and then solve it. Then you need to learn about all the things that matter, but they are centered around a real topic, you motivate the students. It is about kindness, which is as important as knowledge. I would like you to learn this, instead of you have to learn this.

AA: You name education as one of the topics. Let’s talk about that a bit more. Our schools were designed for factory workers. What you would learn in school would be useful for your entire career. What are we gonna do about that? How are we going to rethink education?

MS: Indeed, most universities were founded in the 1800s, and in the early days of MIT, there was an open lecture and Alexander Graham Bell came and work at the university, because they were open. So in a sense, we have always been open to these types of innovations. Don’t focus on lectures only, the community matters too.

AA: You have said that universities need to be more porous. What does that mean?

MS: There are already many academic exchanges, among faculty and undergrads and grad students, but we should be open more broadly too. If faculty members would connect with more K-12 teachers and help them to get research experience, they will bring the excitement to the class. Another thing we need to work on is equality. An example: Gene Davis was looking tv with her daughter and realized it was very biased. She researchers it: out of 4 characters, 1 is a girl, for STEM characters it is 1 out of 5 and for computer scientists, it is one in 50! What is important to note here is that is not without effect: When the social network movie appeared, this had a huge impact, after that more boys enrolled in CS majors.