Inside Adrian Sannier’s Talk: “Education Scale: The Rise of the Rock Star Teacher”

On Tuesday night, Stanford University’s School of Education hosted a public forum where Adrian Sannier gave the talk “Education Scale: The Rise of the Rock Star Teacher” as part of the school’s new initiative, Education’s Digital Future. I was fortunate enough to attend the event and listen to Sannier’s fantastic lecture and Q&A that followed.

Sannier is Vice President for Product at Pearson, served as the CIO at Arizona State University, has been a professor of computing studies for the past 12 years, and has worked in educational game development for EAI Interactive. During his lecture, Sannier used the term “rock star teacher” to share his insights on where he thinks education is headed.

Sannier used one of his favorite artists to relate the idea of rock star teachers to the audience. Sannier talked about the website JamesTaylor.com, which has video guitar lessons that Sweet Baby James himself recorded so that millions of fans all over the world can watch the videos over and over to learn his songs at their own pace. Now, with the rising popularity of MOOCs and online courses, many teachers are taking their jobs online, as Taylor has done with his website. They can, in effect, become “rock stars” by using the appropriate technology and media to reach a huge number of students — sometimes hundreds of thousands in massively open online courses.

With the rise of MOOCs, undergraduate education as we know it is changing fundamentally. A typical university course uses the “sole proprietorship model,” as Sannier referred to it in his talk. The professor teaching the course chooses the lecture material, the syllabus, the assignments, and the textbooks, and the 25-100 students signed up to take the course have to follow those materials.

MOOCs are changing all of this. Instead of a single instructor designing the course, now subject matter experts, instructional designers, videographers, and technologists are all working together to deliver and improve upon the course for not dozens of students but rather hundreds of thousands. Again, the professors leading these courses become the rock stars: in the way Bruce Springsteen has the E Street Band and an entire crew of lighting, design, and tech guys running the show, the professors of these courses have a whole crew to back them up instead relying on only themselves to create an effective course.

Sannier emphasized that the beauty of MOOCs is that teachers can now get feedback from their students on a much higher scale, so therefore we should expect those courses to improve at exponential rates. He stated the importance of redesigning the current lecture model — as is, he asserted, the current generation won’t put up with it. In making these courses widely available, teachers can improve as well: in watching the best professors at MIT and UC Berkeley at work, educators can learn from their examples and incorporate technology to improve their own courses as a result.

Sannier went on to clarify that he certainly doesn’t think that MOOCs are the solution to all the problems with higher education in our country, as currently there just aren’t the same incentives for students to actually finish the courses as there are in traditional universities. He thinks they’re a start, however, and believes that making high-quality education available not just to Harvard or Stanford students, but to millions around the world, has helped disrupt the traditional lecture and “sole-proprietorship” model immensely. Sannier left the audience with an important thought: in this digital age, we need to raise our expectations for improvement in education With all the potential for innovation within higher education that we’ve seen in the past few years, our expectations for the future should be higher than ever.

But don’t take my word for it — watch Sannier’s talk for yourself! Stanford’s Education’s Digital Future recorded the lecture and Q&A so you can watch below:

Did you attend Tuesday’s lecture? Share your impressions in the comments below!

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.