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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

Taking Collaborative Learning Online


Taking an online course can be a pretty lonely and thankless task. The learning approach is often ported right from university and emphasizes individualized learning and accountability. Many of the free online courses have students sign honor code agreements which state that all their work is completely their own or they are otherwise ineligible for end-of-course certifications. It's no wonder that so many students drop out before the finish. Motivation is hard to come by with no one cheering you on and the approach barely follows how people work in the real world anyway.

The workplace demands a more significant level of collaboration; very few projects are done in isolation. Programming circles, in particular, have successfully used a project-based pairing methodology for many years. The idea is that when you put two programmers at one computer (with two mice, monitors, and keyboards), you reap benefits in excess of the sum of their combined hours. Typically, one programmer is the "driver" and writes the code while the other "navigator" reviews the code and guides the path forward. The result in a production environment is a more coherent, efficient and bug-free code base.

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Fat-Free Education

The education system is pretty messed up. I don't think many people will argue with that. Tuition at my alma mater -- Penn -- rose this year to $39,088, not including the $12,368 for room and board (1). I'll admit that my eyes popped when I looked that up. Compare that with another stat, that only 60% of students were able to find full-time employment after graduating (2), which is *above average*. How the holy hell is this a legitimate situation? Of course, the value of a well-rounded liberal arts education goes well beyond the boundaries of such a narrow idea as getting paid enough to live and eat and...

A full on, 4-year liberal arts education is like a big fatty steak. It costs a lot, it tastes great, and it's of questionable nutritional value. And not everyone should be eating it. Why are we still telling people to pay over $200k for something with only a 60% probability of resulting in a job? Why do you so often hear "I only learned 10% of what I used on the job in school"? Some people will always eat steak but for the rest, we need a fat free education.

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