Is the organizational model broken? Start a company.
Today’s edition of Stephen Downes’ Online Daily email contains a link to Sebastian Thrun’s “University 2.0” video (27:30), in which he explains that he left his tenured position at Stanford University in order to embark on a “mission to change the future of education“. Thrun is responsible for Stanford’s high profile “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course that attracted 160,000 students from over 190 countries (it’s part of the “Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE)” initiative). Not surprisingly, this large, open, free course also attracted considerable attention from the media, including the New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Thrun quickly realized that he was on to something. So what did he do? He started a company (UDACITY), launched a website, and began offering more courses. The first, “CS 101: Building a Search Engine” is introduced in the video (1:37) embedded below.
(Video uploaded to YouTube by knowitvideos on Jan 23, 2012)
Not only is UDACITY.com open for registrations from students, the company is looking for employees, too. If you act quickly, you can get in on the ground floor of a firm that offers a “competitive salary, benefits, and Series A stock options“. Series A stock options?
Sebastian Thrun has rightfully earned attention and accolades for his impressive accomplishments, educational insights, innovative mindset, and infectious passion. However, the main problem is not the outdated practice of university academics lecturing to small groups of privileged, fee-paying students in campus classrooms (although this is certainly worth critiquing). The foundational problem is that we have developed a way of organizing and rewarding the work that we do (including teaching and learning) that is inefficient, wasteful, and inevitably leads to goal displacement and unintended (usually negative) consequences. We won’t solve the economic crisis by building another private bank, and we won’t solve the education crisis by launching another dot com startup. Rather than pinning our hopes for tranformational change on heroes and their companies, however ethical and well-intentioned they might be, we should work together to develop models and approaches that are based on fundamentally different philosophies and goals. One way we can do this is by participating in open, distributed, inclusive networks of collaborators who understand the power of collective effort and who recognize the problems associated with the private ownership and control of ideas and organizations. Through this process, we might be able to transform, not just education, but our practices, our structured relationships, and ourselves.