Today, we’re proud to introduce Network, a new feature of the Smartly platform built to connect students and alumni around the world.
Today, we’re proud to introduce Network, a new feature of the Smartly platform built to connect Smartly students and alumni around the world. Network is exclusively available to current students and alumni of the Smartly MBA and Executive MBA programs, and we’ve made a special preview available to prospective students.
With Network, students can explore a global map of students and alumni, search by industry and interests, and contact peers safely and easily.
We created Network to enable students to forge real-world connections and discover inspiring peers in the Smartly community. Smartly students work in today’s most exciting industries and at top companies, giving them access to an impressive ecosystem of experienced professionals.
If you’re an aspiring Smartly student, you can sign up for a Smartly account at https://smart.ly and access a preview. We’re excited to hear your reactions to Network!
John Riehl, one of Smartly’s newest content creators, is a former Air Force officer and current sailing instructor who knows a thing or two about computers.
John Riehl, one of Smartly’s newest content creators, is a former Air Force officer and current sailing instructor who knows a thing or two about computers. He’s writing a new computer science curriculum for Smartly, scheduled for release in 2018.
In this post, we catch up with John to learn what he’s working on and why he decided to join Smartly. Find out why he believes developers should go back to basics and what distinguishes the Smartly computer science curriculum from others on the market.
1. What’s your name, and where are you based?
John Riehl, and I’m based in Port Charlotte, Florida. It’s about 90 miles south of Tampa, on the Gulf Coast.
2. How long have you been writing for Smartly?
I started in August of 2017. I’m coming up on four months, so I’m still a newbie!
3. What’s your professional and educational background?
I graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BS in Computer Engineering in 1989. I went to school on an ROTC scholarship, so I went on active duty in the Air Force after graduation. I stayed in 26 years, working in a variety of jobs closely related to computer technology—but nothing actually hands-on in terms of building or programming computers. During my time in the Air Force I picked up a Master’s in Computer Engineering along with Master’s Degrees in Air and Space Studies and National Resource Management.
4. How and why did you start writing for Smartly?
After I retired from the Air Force I wanted to get back to my technical roots in computer science. I came across Smartly, and it seemed like the perfect fit—share my knowledge and with the next generation of IT professionals while working from home on a flexible schedule. I appreciated Smartly’s innovative approach to education and was (and am) excited to play a small part in equipping the workforce of tomorrow with the skills they’ll need to succeed.
5. What are some of the subjects that you’ve written about in Smartly?
I’m working on a new curriculum for Smartly—Computer Science. What’s interesting about the course is that we’re striking what I think is a great balance between theoretical underpinnings and practical application. There are a lot of online courses for computer programming, but most of them focus just on the practical aspects—how to arrange instructions in a particular programming language to get a program to run. When it comes time for the learner to expand in a new direction or handle a novel situation they’re not as well-equipped as they would be without some fundamentals under their belt. On the other end of the spectrum is a typical four-year computer science program, which builds an extensive theoretical foundation at the expense of time (and money) getting the student to market, as it were.
6. Why do you think it’s important for students to understand computer science?
It’s not an overstatement to say that IT has fundamentally changed the world we live in. Given its impact, it’s important for those involved with building IT capabilities to get things right. A programmer without the right fundamentals is like a chef who doesn’t know what his or her ingredients taste like. Both can follow a recipe and put something together, but the result might not be very good. In the case of computer programs, it could be very bad indeed. Here’s a story about how not knowing the fundamentals created an unintended result. Imagine if that counter had been for something related to scheduled maintenance on a nuclear reactor.
7. What’s the hardest concept you’ve had to communicate (so far), and what was it like to try and distill it for the Smartly platform?
In general, the toughest part for me has been figuring out what the right level of detail is for a concept. For example, when you talk about digital videos you can range from “a video is a series of still images” to “here are the technical details of each of the over 100 different video compression formats in use today.” Finding what the learner needs to know, narrowing the scope down to the most important elements, and presenting it in a way that doesn’t make it a rote memorization exercise is always a challenge.
8. What do you admire about Smartly learners?
It seems to me that Smartly learners are self-starters who are willing to break with convention to improve their knowledge and marketability. They could “play it safe” by getting the standard college degree. Instead, they see an opportunity to be part of a new approach. Those kinds of people will take that same spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship with them into the marketplace, making things better for all of us.
9. What do you do to keep your learners in mind?
I must confess that I’m still working on this. Too often I’ll assume that a concept is obvious—after all, it’s obvious to me! I rely extensively on the Smartly review process to identify when I’ve leapt too far. I do my best to keep the lessons interesting. Having taken many online courses myself, I’m well aware that it’s very easy to get distracted with email, Facebook, etc. if the material is dry.
10. Anything else you’d like to mention?
I can’t speak for other content developers, but one great side benefit for writing educational content is the learning I do along the way. The process of articulating concepts that I have in my mind forces me to think through them in greater detail than I did when initially learning them. There have been a few times when things I thought I knew turned out to be based on bad assumptions and mental short-cuts that I shouldn’t have been taking. Bottom line—the work is fun and fulfilling from a personal perspective, and rewarding from the perspective of doing something that will have greater benefits down the road.
Seymour Papert passed away this weekend. His ideas have helped us form the pedagogical approach behind Pedago and our first product, Smartly.
Seymour Papert passed away this weekend, and I felt compelled to revisit his classic book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, in tribute. Papert’s legacy far exceeds this one book, of course; he’s an inventor of the Logo programming language, and he was hugely influential in the fields of artificial intelligence, educational technology, and child development over the course of his half-century career. Closer to home, his ideas have helped us form the pedagogical approach behind Pedago and our first product, Smartly.
“We are at a point in the history of education when radical change is possible, and the possibility for that change is directly tied to the impact of the computer.” – Seymour Papert, Mindstorms
Three years ago, my co-founder Ori Ratner and I read Mindstorms outside of his apartment complex in Arlington, VA as we formulated our opinions about what was missing in educational technology. In the early days of the company, we encouraged all new employees to read the book before starting, so that we could all have a shared vision for what was possible.
While the book is nominally about children using computers to learn, it establishes a vision for how anyone—adult or child—can learn. Mindstorms was published in 1980, the same year as Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Despite the possibility that, like an old science fiction novel, it might have aged past its usefulness, Papert’s prose is inspiring. Certain sections feel revolutionary. The future he had envisioned had still not come to pass, but reading it that summer, it felt just inches away.
Rereading Mindstorms, I’m struck by how poetic the book is.
Parts of Mindstorms read like Cosmos, aimed at distilling complex ideas for consumption by a lay audience. Sagan used philosophical quotes to remind readers that the universe is not just what lies outside of the earth’s atmosphere: they themselves are the universe. “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
Mindstorms is at times similarly poetic, merging Papert’s musings on his own learning experiences with a glimpse into what successful learning might look like in the future: “You can’t think seriously about thinking without thinking about thinking about something.” He relates a formative example from his young childhood, of imagining what it’s like to be a gear, and describes the impact of that very personal experience on his future learning and mental development. His goal in writing the book and creating Logo was to give more humans an experience of what that’s like.
For me, the reminder of the personal side of learning is one of the most powerful aspects of the book. It’s not just about assimilating information, but about the learner constructing their understanding.
In honor of Seymour Papert, I want to share some of my favorite passages from the book:
“Anything is easy, if you can assimilate it to your collection of models. If you can’t, anything can be painfully difficult.” (xix)
“People often fear that using computer models for people will lead to mechanical or linear thinking; they worry about people losing respect for their intuitions, sense of values, powers of judgment. They worry about instrumental reason becoming a model for good thinking. I take these fears seriously but do not see them as fears about computers themselves but rather as fears about how culture will assimilate the computer presence.” (155)
“I see the classroom as an artificial and inefficient learning environment that society has been forced to invent because its informal environments fail in certain essential learning domains, such as writing or grammar or school math. I believe that the computer presence will enable us to so modify the learning environment outside the classrooms that much if not all the knowledge schools presently try to teach with such pain and expense and such limited success will be learned, as the child learns to talk, painlessly, successfully, and without organized instruction. This obviously implies that schools as we know them today will have no place in the future. But it is an open question whether they will adapt by transforming themselves into something new or wither away and be replaced.” (8-9)
“…when one enters a new domain of knowledge, one initially encounters a crowd of new ideas. Good learners are able to pick out those who are powerful and congenial. Others who are less skillful need help from teachers and friends. But we must not forget that while good teachers play the role of mutual friends who can provide introductions, the actual job of getting to know an idea or a person cannot be done by a third party. Everyone must acquire skill at getting to know and a personal style for doing it.” (137)
“I do not wish to reduce mathematics to literature or literature to mathematics. But I do want to argue that their respective ways of thinking are not as separate as is usually supposed.” (39)
We’re excited to announce that Smartly’s groundbreaking free MBA program will open its doors to our first student cohort this week!
We’re excited to announce that Smartly’s groundbreaking free MBA program will open its doors to our first student cohort this week!
From the moment MBA applications opened earlier this year, we were overwhelmed by the positive response. Of the thousands of students who applied, we were only able to accept 7% to our first class. We plan to accept students to additional cohorts later this year.
Our students hail from top undergraduate and graduate schools, drawing from diverse backgrounds spanning engineering and finance to humanities and the performing arts. Many have careers in business-oriented fields like consulting and banking, while others are entrepreneurs, lawyers, and even veterinarians. We have roboticists from Tesla and Amazon (the company), the founder of a tea company that gives revenue back to indigenous farmers in the Amazon (the jungle), and even a student who has beaten cancer twice!
The Smartly MBA is composed of 42 core courses equivalent to the subjects taught in a traditional MBA degree. Courses are organized into 9 concentrations, including Business Foundations, Accounting, Finance, Data & Decisions, Markets & Economies, Marketing & Pricing, Strategy & Innovation, Leadership & Management, and Supply Chain & Operations Management, with optional electives for further study.
Students who finish the program will receive an MBA licensed through the Washington, DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education. When they graduate, students will be matched with employers around the US, opening up job opportunities that make use of their newly-minted skills.
We’re passionate about expanding access to impactful education here at Smartly, and we believe that a free, high-quality MBA is an important step in this journey. Thanks to all of our learners who have supported and inspired us in this endeavor. We can’t wait to show you what’s next!
“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born till the moment you die is a process of learning.”