What do you learn in college?

As you know the topic of the future of the university, the role of MOOCs, and online learning, is highly topical these days. I happen to be interested in it too so I refer you to this David Brooks Article, called, The Practical University. It’s an interesting angle.

However I want to pull a single quote out of that:

“Think about Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Put aside the debate about the challenges facing women in society. Focus on the tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t.” (from New York Times – The Practical University)

I don’t know if that’s David Brooks or Sheryl Sandberg speaking, but it does make we want to read her book. Anyway, watch how I turn this post into something about Olin College of Engineering 🙂

Why is it so important (in my opinion) that college students get lots of experience working in teams from the start? Because indeed it teaches them exactly those skills in italics above. And they are indeed very important skills. And don’t assume that these skills and experiences are commonplace across colleges. In my experience this is one of the major differences of how Olin approaches its mission.

Control the Sun, really

Control The Sun!

As you know, I am teaching a course at Olin College this spring – alas we are coming to the end. Anyway an important component has been a Lean Startup project, where students take invent a product and take it through a complete Lean Startup validation. Among many things that students do is to ‘go outside the building’ to validate their businesses.

Do me a great favor and help a team of students validate their idea, “Sunrise Blinds”, and answer this super easy questionnaire!

Friedman, mentioning Olin College: again about inventing your own job

Tom Friedman, quoting Tony Wagner, describes what he thinks should be taught today (that isn’t really being taught:)

““Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ” (from NYT – Need A Job? Invent It!

You know, what’s amazing, this is exactly what the philosophy at Olin College of Engineering is! I’ve been teaching there for the last several months, a course in entrepreneurship, and as I’ve gotten to know the students and the other faculty, I’ve begun to understand their unique approach there.

Another quote:

“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.” (from NYT – Need A Job? Invent It!

If this interests you, you should read the whole article. And don’t miss the end:

“In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.” (from NYT – Need A Job? Invent It!

Teaching at Olin College next year

College photo 10842 130x0I’m excited to tell you that I just accepted a position as Visiting Lecturer at Olin College for Spring 2013! Actually the full name is Olin College of Engineering.

Olin is a small engineering college, actually in the top ten of engineering colleges according to US News’ Rankings. Olin is a very young college: it just celebrated its 10th year! 

I’ll be teaching Entrepreneurship in a course called “The Tech Startup” (at least I think that will be the name of the course.) 

As you might know, I was teaching at Brandeis University over the last three years. The course I taught at Brandeis  was more computer science oriented, aimed at getting the students the experience and helping them gain the skills to build software products in a way that looks like the real world.

At Olin the focus will be on the broader topic of how engineers should think about startups, how to come up with products that have a chance at selling, making sure they match what customers want and are willing to pay for. I

am still nailing down the details of the curriculum but it’s very exciting to have this opportunity and I am totally psyched about it!