What can a hat teach you?

Teachers, much like hats, come in all shapes and sizes. I have had the good fortune of encountering many excellent teachers through out my years of schooling. Each step of my educational journey has been highlighted by a string of distinct characters, beginning in elementary school with a thin, excitable kindergarden teacher, continuing to the present with my loud, towering Business Law professor and a round, jolly, unforgettable Accounting professor. Teachers like these have helped teach me how to function in the world and how to be a more structured thinker.

Despite the gratitude I hold to my group of school teachers, many of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned have actually come from people without graduate degrees, people who do not call themselves teachers. Some of my biggest lessons have come from my mentors and my business partners who I have met on my journey to adulthood. These people are down to earth, knowledgable, and, most peculiarly, they tend to wear awesome hats–It’s true!

The fact that they wear hats may be a coincidence, but in doing so they all convey a common lesson. It’s done as a statement of their individuality. Being a great educator is about delivering a message and being memorable. Those things are accomplished by moving beyond the basics of reciting facts and by taking measures to create an experience that resonates deeply with the learner. It doesn’t have to be high-tech, and it doesn’t have to be hard either. It just has to be enough to make the observer ask questions, and to give them reason to remember it. Ultimately, it is about creating a human connection. And that idea is easily lost in this transition to digital learning. We mustn’t forget the importance of crafting the learner’s experience, because without the ability to establish a human connection there is no education. To commit to the future of eduction we should all explore our own awesome hats, finding new ways to make knowledge interesting, and to resonate in the minds of tomorrow.

As a final, closing inspiration I present you now with a short but sweet list of my hat wearing heros:

Two of my most admirable life mentors. From them I have learned deep lessons on psychology and finance, Pictured above they are setting the mood at a seminar, breaking the ice for all the first-timers.

My friend and business partner. A completely anonymous individual who has taught me much about patience, ambition, and commitment.

A trio of student business owners, presenting at a local entrepreneurship event. This group, which I am a part of, empowers students to take their personal and professional development into their own hands, and promotes the benefits of business ownership. I’m the gentleman featured on the left with the big smile and the inconspicuous blue top-hat, a tribute to all the awesome hat wearers in my life.

Case Study – Khan Academy

Khan Academy LogoSalman Khan identified a systemic problem of students being forced to move on to the next level in schools even when they possess huge gaps in knowledge. Pursuit of a solution lead ultimately to the creation of Khan Academy. Here at Digital Bridge we look to Khan Academy as an example of what can be accomplished by determined groups who set their sights for shaking up the education system, and who don’t shy away from facing big challenges.

What is Khan Academy
Khan Academy is a nonprofit educational service started in 2006 by Salman Khan. Their website serves a collection of more than 4,000 video lectures on a comprehensive range of subjects spanning from math, science and physics all the way to systematic methods for solving brain teasers. These videos are available fee of charge and are provided in 23 different languages.

As an alumni of MIT & Harvard, Khan is familiar with quality education. The videos on the site are each delivered with enthusiasm and follow a systematic structure. The service also offers progress tracking tools for students, and classroom data for teachers. To date Khan academy has delivered over 242 million video lessons to students all around the world.

Why it was built
The roots of Khan Academy can be traced to Khan’s early years as a tutor. Using available internet tools Salman provided individual tutoring for family members and clients. Through the testimony of those under his tutelage requests poured in quickly and and he eventually  found the need to distribute videos more efficiently, and his search eventually brought him to host videos on YouTube. Within a few years momentum was significant enough that in 2009 Sal quit his job as a hedge fund analyst and began working full time producing content for his site.

Future of Khan Academy
With its millions of global users Khan has become the poster child for a new type of classroom. Different from the Massive Open Online Courses we have covered in the past, Khan allows for individually paced curricula and the selection of courses, or individual lectures that suit the student’s needs.

Khan’s approach has spawned some inspirational stories from students everywhere who use the site’s tools to master new subjects, revisit old ones, and move their lives ahead through the benefits of education.

According to Khan their short term goal is to build a platform where the average student can go to become proficient in subjects where he or she has trouble. And as far as the long term, he is thinking even bigger. In a 2012 interview he had this to say:

“There is an abundance of opportunity for developing The Khan Academy,” Khan said. “In the long run, we envision being able to offer kids in rural Africa access to an education better than they could ever dream of, and enabling children with chronic diseases, student athletes, actors or prisoners to receive a free equivalent to in-person tutoring.”

Khan Academy has already benefited millions of students. The organization’s integrity and passion have caught the attention of Google and the Bill and Melinda Foundation, leading to the donation of million of dollars. Khan Academy has a strong model and vision for the world of digital learning. With their impressive track record and their ever-growing network of promoters they are well positioned to continue to be a leader in the educational space.

How to get a free .edu email account

EDIT: It seems that the email account creation isn’t working for many people. If it *is* still letting you through please leave a message in the comment area to help out everyone else.

.edu email addresses give you access to discounts on all kinds of things including software, tickets, and online services. Normally you have to be a student to access those perks, but there are a few ways to get it for free:

California Colleges     homepage

California Colleges is a state website that provides information to students to help them discover more about California schools. They happen to also give free email addresses!


email portal

South Mountain Community College      

South Mountain Community College is a large school based in Phoenix, Arizona. Check them out and sign up for their free email account.


Once you have your edu email adress here are some of the awesome things you can do with an .edu email address:

•   Free 1 year membership to Amazon Prime for Students. www.amazon.com/gp/student/signup/info

•   Free Microsoft software through Dreamspark https://www.dreamspark.com/

•   Free Prezi upgrade

•   Free AutoCad

•   Discounts on Adobe software

•   Double space allocation for Dropbox referrals

•  And possibly discounts on your phone bill.
There are a ton of additional free perks. Do you know any particularly good ones we missed? If so, list them in the comments!

Coursera receives approval for course credit

Coursera, one the leading providers of free online courses has announced that this week they have recieved approval to provide actual college credit for students who are taking some of their online courses. This marks the first time that a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) has won approval for credit equivalency, which means that those classes can count towards a college degree. Approval came from the American Council on Education (ACE), and of now it applies to five courses:

  • Pre-calculus from the University of California, Irvine.
  • Introduction to Genetics and Evolution from Duke University.
  • Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach from Duke University.
  • Calculus: Single Variable from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Algebra from the University of California, Irvine (but only as a vocational credit).

To be eligible for the credit, Coursera students must sign up for the course’s Signature Track, which requires is an extra validation step that attaches their user information to their real identity. Additionally  Signature Track students take an online proctored exam prior to completion. The Signature Track costs $60 to $90 and the proctored exam costs $30 to $99, bringing the cost of these credited courses to just under $200.

So far the partnering universities have been very forthcoming about promoting this announcement, and each of the schools have made announcements online and in the local press, echoing sentiments similar to this from Duke Provost Peter Lange:

“We are excited by this opportunity to experiment with new ways of using our MOOC  courses to extend our educational reach and provide credit for students who would not otherwise have access to our faculty.”

And, giving insight into the larger plan of the accredited course offerings, Andrew Ng, Co-Founder of Coursea had this to say:

“Ever since we launched Coursera, we’ve known that university degrees are important. We wanted a more systematic way for students to earn academic credit… This is just a step in that direction.”

ACE approval means that Coursera classes could be eligible for credit at approximately 2,000 U.S. colleges and universities. There are still many hurdles remaining, and schools are by no means required to accept the credits, but the possibility now exists, whereas before it could not even be attempted. This approval is a very significant milestone and it signifies that schools are in fact looking to embrase new means of learning, and that MMOCs are becoming more widely accepted and recognized.
Read More about the announcement here:

Findings from the 2012 Education Summit

 International Summit of Teaching

For the last several years there is a large annual gathering of the leader representing the education system of countries around the world. This summit is known as the International Summit of Teaching and is a joint effort between three groups:

the U.S. Department of Education, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Education International (EI). This year participants at the Summit focused on the issue of improving teacher preparation and the development of school leaders to better address the world’s future education needs. Surrounding that topic was a wealth of statistical data and testimony from around the world. Included in this was significant insight into the current state of U.S. education.

Signs of Trouble

From that summit a report was released showing the U.S. to be ranked “average” among the 34 participating nations. By the scoring metrics on a scale of 1,000 U.S. scored 502 in science (17th out of 34), 500 in reading (14th out of 34) and 487 in math (25th out of 34). As the world’s super power and role model these numbers are a distressing indicator. Our rankings do not reflect our decades of effort towards education reform.

It’s Not the Money

A common propped solution is to increase the amount of spending on education. It should be noted that last year the U.S. spent over $800 billion on education, more than five times more than the second highest spender (Japan). Canada spent $65 billion, just 8% of U.S.’s education budget. The U.S. has also fewer college graduates relative to other leading nations. We fell from second place in 1995 to 13th place in 2008. Looking at the contrast between our mediocre scores and our incomparably high spending, it appears obvious that in this country we have a largely inefficient system, and this issue cannot be solved by money alone.

Teaching Incentive

Another issue to come up at the summit is that despite America’s high spending, relatively little of it goes to the teachers themselves. The majority of teachers in the U.S. go into debt in order start their careers, and on average only earn 60% of the average income of college graduates employed in other fields. Additionally, teachers who end up working in poorer communities typically make less than teachers in more affluent areas while also having to pay for many of their own supplies. Evidence was also given that America was more willing to lower standards than to raise salaries, and many teachers have little opportunities to collaborate with one another, making sense of the fact that a third of U.S beginner teachers leave within their first five years of work.

This is to be contrasted by countries such as Finland, Norway, and Singapore where the situation is radically different. In those countries teaching ranks among the highest paying careers, in some cases matching that of doctors.  Teachers also work in collaborative teams.

The Way Out

The overall atmosphere at the International Summit of Teaching was very positive as nations from around the world committed to make reforms needed to empower future generations. Owning up to the situation may be tough, but the good news is that it isn’t too late for a turnaround. If it can be agreed that we are facing a problem in our education system then I see at least two solutions. One is to observe and emulate the educational systems in other developed countries, places where spending is exponentially lower and results are dramatically better. The other solution is to champion the new emerging forms of learning, such as the MMOCs mentioned in our earlier articles.

Online courses in higher education

online-educationTraditionally having a college degree is viewed at as the definitive gateway to high paying jobs and intellectual development. It is meant to provide an equal opportunity to all students yet there are some well known barriers that prevent this from being true for all people, two of the biggest barriers are acceptance to the school and ability to pay the costs of enrollment. Over the last 5 years a new approach has emerged that promises to address those issues. All around the country students are participating in massive open online courses (MOOCs learn more). These MOOCs are free courses designed to accommodate very high volumes of students, with some courses containing tens of thousands of people. The promise of MOOCs is that it equalizes the playing field of education, enabling anyone with an interest in a selected topic to study and learn alongside others who share those interests.

Who provides these courses

Online-only education is viewed as a new model and providers are rushing to it without having clearcut business models or even a consesus as to why they’re doing it. Despite being free, MOOCs are known for having exceptionally high quality content from big name instructors. Most interestingly, many of the free courses are being provided directly by some of the most prestigious universities in the country. In fact, 22 of the 25 schools listed in US News’ top 25 colleges offer free courses online including the following:






Carnegie Mellon

Among the top and middle tiers, Universities not previously interested in open coureses are As quoted from a New York Times article:

“There’s panic,” said Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. “Whether it’s senseless panic is unclear.”

Some online offerings are funded through venture capital, some directly from the pockets of the institutions, and others through philanthropy.

Third Party Platforms
Independent sites have emerged that arrogate course listings available from many different universities, providing learners a single location from where they can participate in lectures regardless of school. The most popular of these is Coursera, Udacity, and edX.


Originally a Stanford project, Coursea now has 33 university partners, including many Ivy Leauge’s , Duke, California Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Berklee College of Music.

Courses: 197 in 18 subjects, including computer science, math, business, humanities, social science, medicine, engineering, education.

Assessment: Software grades quizzes, homework, problem sets; five other students grade written responses. Many instructors allow quizzes to be taken multiple times, with highest grade counting (a different quiz each time).

Academic integrity: Click a box agreeing to an honor code.

Social interaction: Online forums and study groups, meet-ups organized by students in about 1,400 cities.

Pacing: Most courses have start and end dates, though it’s possible to join a course after it has begun, as long as it is before the registration cutoff date.

What you get: Some instructors offer signed certificates of completion, but not from the university. Beginning next semester, Antioch University students can get credit at the Los Angeles campus for approved courses.


For-profit with Stanford roots but no university affiliation.

Courses: 18, in computer science, mathematics, physics, business.

Assessment: Software grades tests, problem sets, programming assignments.

Academic integrity: Proctored final exams at Pearson testing centers, for $89.

Social interaction: Online forums and study groups, meet-ups organized by students in over 450 cities.

Pacing: Courses taken at own speed.

What you get: Certificates according to academic performance: completion, distinction, high distinction, highest distinction. Colorado State’s Global Campus accepts transfer credit for a course in building a search engine. In a free job-matching program, résumés are sent to partner companies, including Google, Bank of America, Twitter, Facebook and TrialPay, based on their job openings and student’s analytics (grade, participation level).


Profile: Nonprofit run out of M.I.T. and Harvard; with the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas system.

Courses: 8, in chemistry, computer science, electronics, public health; plans for 20 to 30 in the spring.

Assessment: Software grades tests and homework.

Academic integrity: Some final exams are proctored, at Pearson testing centers for varying costs. To prevent copying, users get different, randomly generated numbers in their problem sets.

Social interaction: Rudimentary; only one course, given by the Harvard School of Public Health in quantitative methods, has regional get-togethers.

Pacing: Courses have start and end dates. Registration closes two weeks after start date. Students may miss a week but lose points if they don’t make a deadline for turning in an assignment.

What you get: Two certificates available, one designating an honor code, one a proctored exam. Both bear the edX and campus name — for example, MITx, HarvardX, BerkeleyX, UTAustinX.

Where does it go from here?

While MOOCs have captured the imagination of many, it is still a rapidly evolving concept. Some see it as a potential replacement for the traditional educational system, incompatible with the current model, while some see it as a supplement. The full range of possibilities remain to be seen, but as the level of public intrest continues to grow the one thing that seems clear is that this isn’t going to go away any time soon.