Operating Vision: Bringing social media to after-school education programs

Fishing Pole

So what is going on with Everybody Does Robots? Other than finishing up our first class (just two more sessions), I’m scheming about how to scale our efforts. I want to bring engineering confidence and competence to the kids of America, starting with the Kindergarteners. Ok – America is big, so how can I spread the program w/o massive infusions of funds? Well, like most other scalable enterprises lately, the web is the way to go. Specifically, bringing social media and related Web 2.0 technologies to bear on the problem. This is a revolutionary approach towards after school eduction.

Ok, this doesn’t sound very revolutionary, does it. Oddly, enough, I think it is. For those of you without pre-school and grade-school kids, you might find it shocking how, frankly, utterly unsophisticated, technicologically, most after school programs are. For example, my 2 year old daughter, Maddie, attends a program called Gigglebytes, that teaches her computer basics, but I still have to write a paper check to them each month. I can’t pay online. I can’t check my account balance online. I can’t interact with the instuctor without sending in paper notes to class. This is surpisingly typical. My first grader has literally participated in dozens of such programs and I have written a check for every single one. When you think about the back-office hassle of handling all of these checks, you can see that this system really won’t scale. Meetup.com offers some ad-hoc meeting planning capabilities, and cvent.com is popular in the business world, but I’m not sure yet if these can handle course registration.

For Everybody Loves Robots, I’m particularly interested in collaborative course development and peer-to-peer coaching. I want the course material and syllabus to improve as more teachers and parents participate. I want the the head coaches that lead each class to have chances to learn from other coaches before their first day. Ideally, each coach would be able to shadow the best coaches in their classes, but isn’t realistic when as we expand geographically. I envision a question and answer forum as a sort of repository of lessons learned. Imagine a dedicated version of Stackoverflow.com. I have some candidate software in mind. I also imagine that all of the course material would be online in some format that can be collaboratively edited, but with some Moderating capability, as well. MIT recently started a trend of major universities posting their course material on line – but I haven’t delved into their world too much. I’ve just started to explore our options in this area. We’ll need some discussion forum too, of course.

The logistical challenges of scaling an after school program probably aren’t too tough, but choosing wisely will be a big deal since it will be a change to switch. I’m planning on getting these systems in place very early in our start-up life so that the systems can be vetted before too much is riding upon them.