UTCS Distinguished Lecture - Roger Schank, CEO, Socratic Arts Inc. "Enough with the MOOCs: How to make online education that actually teaches students to do something"

Contact Name: 
Katie Dahm
AVAYA Auditorium
Mar 26, 2014 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Bruce Porter and Harrison Keller

Talk Audience: UTCS Faculty, Grads, Undergrads, Other Interested Parties

Host:  Bruce Porter

Talk Abstract: For the most part, online education has always been an attempt to simulate the classroom. Online learning has been built on the assumption that classrooms are the natural way to teach and learn so it the computer’s job to imitate them as well as possible. But, of course, classrooms are a relatively recent invention in human history and have very little to do with how people actually learn. People learn by doing -- always have, always will. The role of the computer in the future of education is to enable students to learn by doing online. Classrooms are an idea based on money. No one would give their child a lecture or teach the basics of living in a classroom. Parents know how to mentor their kids while they try things out. Children learn by interacting. We all learn by having conversations.  We learn by practice. Everyone knows this -- except schools and universities. Well, actually universities know it too. No PhD program is based primarily on lectures and tests. But, we reserve for undergraduates and master’s degree programs a form of education that we justify because we can put many people through it in a cost effective manner. But, all this is about end. It is just a question of who will the lead the way and who will be left out. Do you really think that in 50 years East Okeefenokee State will still be giving bachelors degrees? There don’t need to be very many high quality online universities. Just a few. In this talk I will show what the new kind of online learning looks like and discuss how to build it.

Speaker Bio: Roger Schank started working in linguistics only to realize that he really cared about getting computers to be easier to talk to, so he switched over to working in artificial intelligence Then he realize that you couldn’t talk to a computer that didn’t understand you and didn’t learn from any conversation or experiences it might have had. So he began to work on understanding how people learn and how computers could learn in the way that people do. While he was trying to get computers to learn, the school system was trying to get his children to learn. Schank noticed that both the methods and the content used in each case were completely different. Schank was concerned with how a computer would acquire practical knowledge and get better at making plans and accomplishing goals. On the other hand, schools seemed to hold the collective belief that the essence of learning was the acquisition of new information about facts, rather than improving and expanding one’s own internal processes and abilities. All this was going on while Schank was Professor of Computer Science and Psychology at Yale University. (He had previously been a professor at Stanford.)

In 1989, Andersen Consulting decided to give Schank funding to further experiment with his ideas for what came to be called online education if he was willing to shift his focus to training their employees. Schank believed that there was still much to be learned before he approached the schools, so he was happy to begin with adult learning. He moved to Northwestern University where he was given a chaired professorship and established the Institute for the Learning Sciences (ILS).

Schank eventually grew tired of academia, which he believes has largely embraced the wrong educational model. In 2001 He developed a new model for Carnegie Mellon’s Silicon Valley campus where students do not attend class and only learn by doing with mentoring as needed by faculty. This model is still in use in the Software Engineering and Software Management programs in Silicon Valley and in the eBusiness program in Pittsburgh.

In 2002 Schank started Socratic Arts, a company that builds learn by doing training for businesses, and in 2011 he started XTOL (Experiential Teaching Online), a company that builds online degree programs and continuing education courses for universities.