High over America…

I’m in an airplane right now. It has wi-fi. What am I doing?

Needless to say, I’m on Reddit. Image after image of cats never seems to get old.

But what productive things could I be doing with my time if there were other options? If I were taking an online class with Rukuku, I could be using this time to learn something. This is the perfect example of a situation where online technology excels at delivering convenience. One can fully utilize time that would otherwise be considered idle.

Alas: instead of taking advantage of a couple of hours of free time, I’m taking a break from cat pictures by writing this post, looking down at the faint glimmer of some tiny Kentucky town, and asking the flight attendant for another beer. I guess that’s not too bad, anyway – but I could be doing all of this while learning something.

About that time vampire…


We don’t think about it much, but taking a class is a massive time commitment.

First off, students, teachers and administrators have to get to and from the location where the class is being held. In my case, this means wasting away in traffic on the Washington area’s largest parking lot (yes, 495: I mean you). As first-world problems go, sitting in traffic is the worst. It’s the very bane of my existence. Things I’d rather be doing: anything. Staring at a wall. Shaking hands with Justin Bieber. Getting waterboarded. Just as long as I don’t have to be on that godforsaken Beltway!

That aside, another factor increasing the time required to take a course is that large classes mean time is used inefficiently as teachers try to keep things orderly. This becomes especially poignant when the guy in the back row keeps asking the same insipid question over and over again, and you can’t climb up there and… kindly suggest that he talk to the professor after class. Or send an email.

Everyone’s very busy these days – a couple of extra hours of free time would be a blessing to many. With that in mind, it’s refreshing to think about the time that can be saved by just going online.

Filling the inspiration gap

How can online learning help to fill the inspiration gap left by our declining education system?

Motivating students to pursue topics that interest them. Shocking fact of the day: students learn much better when they’re interested and engaged. Online education allows individualized learning and experimentation in a way that traditional learning cannot. That means students have the ability to learn what they want to learn. Sure, sometimes you have to learn things that you don’t like – and that’s where the online model offers more advantages…

Providing access to passionate, inspiring teachers. Given that a good online learning system is theoretically able to cast a worldwide net in terms of attracting talent, students benefit from the ability to interact with the best professionals in their desired field. Passionate teachers inspire passion in students.

Creating a structure where grades and examinations are secondary to real learning.  At Rukuku, we believe that grades and exams shouldn’t be a purpose in and of themselves. When one takes his own initiative rather than being nudged (read: forced) to take a class for a grade, actual learning becomes the priority.

Another bonus of online learning: none of those inspiration-killing standardized tests!

Discovery and decline

Photo Credit: (NASA/Robert Markowitz)

The space shuttle Discovery’s final voyage over the Washington, DC area (and over my head) Tuesday morning was a spectacular sight. Unfortunately, it was also a spectacular reminder of the declining emphasis on science and mathematics in the American education system.

Yes, the space shuttle program had many faults. Its fatality rate was alarmingly high. It probably even deserved to be ended – but its end serves as a powerful symbol of our muddled priorities. Over the years, the space program inspired many people to become science, engineering and mathematics professionals. So whatever your views on federal spending happen to be, it is telling when there is about eighty times more money allocated for military spending (most of it to support our increasingly bizarre nation-building and intervention in the Middle East) than for NASA.

This attitude trickles down to the school system. American students’ science and math scores have remained very stagnant compared to those of other developed, and even developing, nations around the world. The problem starts with teachers: we have fewer and fewer qualified and passionate professionals teaching science and math because the inspiration and the incentives just aren’t there. The few who do exist are not sufficiently rewarded by the system.

Granted, the United States continues to have a good environment for encouraging tech innovation – private sector technology titans like the late Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are ample proof of this. Sadly, we’re not doing a good job inspiring the next generation of innovators.