Mike: Hey, George, come and sit down and tell Allison and Rav about that weird course you’re taking from UBC.
George: Hi, you two. Yeah, it’s a great course, very different from any other I’ve taken.
Rav.: What’s it about?
George: It’s how to go about starting up a technology company.
Allison: But I thought you were doing a masters in education.
George: Yeah, I am. This course is looking at how new technologies can be used in education and how to build a business around one of these technologies.
Mike: Really, George? So what about all your socialist principles, the importance of public education, and all that? Are you giving up and going to become a fat capitalist?
George: No, it’s not like that. What the course is really making me do is think about how we could be using technology better in school or college.
Mike: And how to make a profit out of it, by the sound of it.
Rav.: Shut up, Mike – I’m curious, George, since I’m doing a real business program. You’re going to learn how to set up a business in 13 weeks? Gimme a break.
George: It’s more about becoming an entrepreneur – someone who takes risks and tries something different.
Mike.: With someone else’s money.
George: Do you really want to know about this course, or are you just wanting to give me a hard time?
Allison: Yes, shut up, Mike. Have you chosen a technology yet, George?
George: Almost. We spend most of the course researching and analysing emerging technologies that could have an application in education. We have to find a technology, research it then come up with a plan of how it could be used in education, and how a business could be built around it. But I think the real aim is to get us to think about how technology could improve or change teaching or learning..
Rav.: So what’s the technology you’ve chosen?
George: You’re jumping too far ahead, Rav. We go through two boot camps, one on analysing the edtech marketplace, and one on entrepreneurship: what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Why are you laughing, Mike?
Mike: I just can’t see you in combat uniform, crawling through tubes under gun fire, with a book in your hand.
George: Not that kind of bootcamp. This course is totally online. Our instructor points us in the direction of a few technologies to get us started, but because there’s more stuff coming out all the time, we’re encouraged to make our own choices about what to research. And we all help each other. I must have looked at more than 50 products or services so far, and we all share our analyses. I’m down to possibly three at the moment, but I’m going to have to make my mind up soon, as I have to do a YouTube elevator pitch for my grade.
Rav.: A what?
George: If you look at most of these products, there’s a short YouTube video that pitches the business. I’ve got to make the case for whatever technology I choose in just under eight minutes. That’s going to be 25% of my grade.
Allison: Wow, that’s tough.
George: Well, we all help each other. We have to do a preliminary recording, then everyone pitches in to critique it. Then we have a few days to send in our final version.
Allison: What else do you get grades for?
George: I got 25% of my marks for an assignment that analysed a particular product called Dybuster which is used to help learners with dyslexia. I looked mainly at its educational strengths and weaknesses, and its likely commercial viability. For my second assignment, also worth 25%, we had to build an application of a particular product or service, in my case a module of teaching using a particular product. There were four of us altogether working as a team to do this. Our team designed a short instructional module that showed a chemical reaction, using an off-the-shelf online simulation tool that is free for people to use. I’ll get my last 25% from analysing my own contribution to discussions and activities.
Rav.: What, you give yourself the grade?
George: No, I have to collect my best contributions together in a sort of portfolio, then send them in to the instructor, who then gives the grade based on the quality of the contributions.
Allison: But what I don’t understand is: what’s the curriculum? What text books do you have to read? What do you have to know?
George: Well, there are the two boot camps, but really, we the students, set the curriculum. Our instructor asks us for our first week’s work to look at a range of emerging technologies that might be relevant for education, then we select eight which form the basis of our work groups. I’ve already learned a lot, just by searching and analysing different products over the Internet. We have to think about and justify our decisions. What kind of teaching philosophy do they imply? What criteria am I using when I support or reject a particular product? Is this a sustainable tool? (You don’t want to have to get rid of good teaching material because the company’s gone bust and doesn’t support the technology any more). What I’m really learning though is to think about technology differently. Previously I wasn’t really thinking about teaching differently. I was just trying to find a technology that made my life easier. But this course has woken me up to the real possibilities. I feel I’m in a much better position now to shake up my own school and move them into the digital age.
Allison (sighs): Well, I guess that’s the difference between an undergraduate and a graduate course. You couldn’t do this unless you already knew a lot about education, could you?
George: I’m not so sure about that, Allison. It doesn’t seem to have stopped a lot of entrepreneurs from developing tools for teaching!
Mike: George, I’m sorry. I can’t wait for you to become a rich capitalist – it’s your turn to buy the drinks.
The instructors are David Vogt and David Porter, assisted by Jeff Miller, the instructional designer for the course.