My Teacher Is An App


01The Classroom Of The Future20140224

In a leafy suburb of Silicon Valley, 9 year olds lie on their tummies on the floor, log on to their silver Chromebooks, and begin doing maths lessons. Their teacher logs on as coach and gives one-to-one instruction...exactly where it's needed.

The Khan Academy is an online teaching service whose mission is to provide a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere. In Bill Gates' view, it's "a radical rethinking of what it means to go to school". With 10 million users every month logging onto their online videos, Salman Khan - the Academy's founder - is arguably the most important teacher in the world.

"We're losing some of our most creative minds" Salman Khan tells Sarah. "The current model of education is 200 years old...we have to change that". He argues that - for the first time - technology is now available to provide totally "personalized learning". "This is really a once in a lifetime opportunity....we just can't mess it up".

In this programme, Sarah sets out to discover what the classroom of the future will look like.

She visits a Rocketship school in a deprived part of San Jose. Around a quarter of the school day in this primary is spent online. As a result, they've laid off teachers, reinvested the money so that those they've kept are paid up to 50% more than teachers in nearby schools - and their results have soared. "Our students are now competing with some of the most affluent in the state" says the headmaster, Preston Smith. But their model is highly controversial.

Sarah also talks to Nolan Bushnell, the "father of modern video gaming" and founder of Atari. His latest venture is a company called BrainRush. Bushnell believes children can learn almost anything through video games. As Sarah gets to grips with the names of South American countries in one of Bushnell's new video games, he tells her "We want to make education addictive. In this brave new world, school has to compete for the engagement of the mind. And a teacher with a piece of chalk can't compete".

We meet Rupert Murdoch's head of education, Joel Klein. His company has developed a tablet that they're rolling out to schools across America. "Our ambition, whether it's our tablet or other people's tablet, would be that every kid would have one of these things. The more we can get entrepreneurs and private capital to move into this space...the better the education system is going to be". It's big business. "Are you planning to sell these tablets in the UK" Sarah asks Klein. "Right now our focus is on the U.S. If and when it becomes appropriate for us to think about expanding we'll look around the world".

Much of the running on this new world of online education is being done by people who stand to make a great deal of money.

Is this the future of education - the answer to the present funding crisis? Have traditional teaching methods outlived their usefulness? And how do children learn best?

There are many sceptics. And from some unusual sources. Sarah meets the teachers and parents of the Waldorf School - where three-quarters of the pupils have parents working for companies like Google, Apple and Yahoo - but whose classrooms don't have a single computer.

Producer: Adele Armstrong.

02The University Of The Future20140303

"The life and planets week funnels into life on super earths" - the talk at this Harvard meeting is a far cry from our traditional view of university. Digital gurus, high tech web designers and some of the university's best professors debate how to bring alive Harvard's next MOOC.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) started in the U.S. just over two years ago and have caused a storm of controversy there. In the UK, the Open University has launched its own version but it's still in the early days here.

Some argue these free university online courses, presented by some of the best professors in the world, could - in cash strapped times - be the saviour of higher education. Others argue they could destroy centuries of tradition and even threaten some of the world's greatest universities.

For the second programme in this series looking at the phenomenal changes in education being brought about by technology, Sarah Montague travels to Boston (home to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to talk to those at the forefront of this MOOC "revolution".

Harvard and MIT have joined forces to form edX - one of the biggest MOOC providers in the States. Professor Anant Agarwal, President of MIT, tells Sarah about when they put their first MOOC online. He says they thought they'd probably get a couple of thousand students enrolling. "Within the first few hours we had 10,000 students. By the time the course started, we'd got 155,000 students from 163 countries....more than the total number of alumni of MIT in its 150 year history".

Professor Michael Sandel, whose online course has been watched by millions around the world, shows Sarah round the Sanders lecture theatre in Harvard where he delivers his famous "Justice" course. He says MOOCs have provided an opportunity "really to engage students from across national and cultural boundaries - students from Brazil, from India, from China and Japan - grappling with Aristotle and Kant and John Stuart Mill, that's what excites me".

MOOCs have been heralded as opening university up to many people who would not otherwise get a university education. Sarah talks to Claude Mukendi - who grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a family of fourteen. He'd always dreamed of going to university but thought it would never happen. One day he was sitting at his computer and came across a MOOC being offered by Harvard. "We all know Harvard is only for the lucky few" Claude tells Sarah. "I thought it was an internet scam...I was blown away".

But many questions are now being asked about MOOCs. The vast majority of those taking courses have already got a degree. And there are concerns about the effects these courses will have on the universities themselves.

Professor Mitch Duneier, the well-known Sociologist from Princeton university, is another MOOC "superstar". He loved teaching his MOOC. "I had more response to my sociology ideas in the first three weeks of the course than I'd had in a lifetime of teaching". But he's now stopped teaching his MOOC. He became aware that his course was being used by other universities in an attempt - he believes - to save money. "I don't want to be associated with a movement that's looking like it's going to be putting colleagues and future professors out of business".

Sarah asks what the university of the future will look like and what university is actually "for". And as she sits in on a class given by the Pulitzer prize-winner Professor Stephen Greenblatt, she ponders whether magical moments in learning might be lost if university went "online".

Producer: Adele Armstrong

03 LASTAn Education Revolution?20140310

Sarah Montague presents the final programme in the series looking at the phenomenal changes to education being brought about by technology.

In the previous two programmes, Sarah has been reporting from the U.S. This week we bring the discussion firmly back to the UK with a debate recorded in front of an audience at King's College, London.

Sarah is joined by the film-maker turned educationalist Lord Puttnam; the chief education adviser at Pearson, Sir Michael Barber; the neuroscientist, Dr Paul Howard-Jones; the writer, Jay Griffiths; and "the nation's ten best teachers".

They debate what the classroom of the future should look like and ask whether Britain's schools and universities should follow in America's footsteps.

Producer: Adele Armstrong.