Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Thousand Talents

One of my courses this quarter is called Web-Based Technologies in Education, but I'm quickly discovering it has nothing to do with its title. The Professor, Paul Kim, is something of an entrepreneur, with a non-traditional bent to his "teaching" style. Over the time he has taught the course - which, from what I have gleaned, is around 6 years or so - he has made it increasingly free-form. Originally there was a strict syllabus, with assigned readings and four distinct mini-projects. Now, however, the readings - and the expensive reader that went with them - are gone, as are two of the projects. The syllabus is all but out-the-window, and the discussions are essentially unstructured and undirected attempts to talk, broadly, about issues in education technology.

Thanks to Professor Kim's wide experience and connections, this is far from useless, and while our conversations can be a bit unfocused, it is clear that opportunity abounds. While every class, on some level, is what you make of it, that is especially true here. Our program director tells us that many an LDT student has planted the seeds for their final project in the soil Professor Kim provides.

I mention all of this as background for a story about today's class, a story which will end in a question. Towards the end of the day, we were told that, in this class, we will divide ourselves into committees in charge of putting on an expo for our final projects, catering for projects and for the class, communications, and, finally, finances. The finances committee is to distribute, in essence, $1,000 to the other committees at their (our) discretion. After joining the finance committee - primarily because it involved the lowest need for transportation of the four committees - I was informed, along with my 3 companions, that we were getting the $1,000 now. Professor Kim pulled out an envelope with ten $100 bills in it, and proceeded to ask, "Who's taking it?" One of the other committee people immediately volunteered: "Paul!" She said.

Handing me the envelope, the Professor explained to the class that, while we have $1,000 to allocate however we want, whatever we don't spend is going to go towards one of his current projects, which supplies valuable education technology (and motivation) for children in Africa. "Do we have to have snacks?" some of the students asked. Professor Kim made it clear that our $1,000 is just a drop in the bucket compared to the funding he's going to be providing that project already, so we shouldn't feel pressure, but the challenge was clear.

Of course, we Finance Committee people are clever, and we know enough about Stanford to suspect that there's more at play here. I'm reminded of the Parable of Talents from the Gospel of Matthew. For those unfamiliar, the story goes basically like this:

A wealthy trader is planning on a long journey. Before he leaves, he goes to his three servants and speaks to them. "I am leaving on the morrow, I will give each of you a few of my talents (a form of currency) before I leave, so you may protect them." To his finest servant he gives five talents, to his next best he gives two, and to his youngest and least-capable servant he gives only one.

When the trader returns from afar, he reconvenes his servants. "Where is my money?" he asks. The first servant responds, "Master, I have taken your talents to market, and I have managed to turn five into ten!" The trader smiles, acknowledging the excellent work he expected of his finest servant. The second servant speaks as well, "Master, I too have doubled your wealth. While I only had two talents to work with, I have turned them to four!" The trader smiles again, as the final servant squirms uneasily. "And what of you," the trader asks, "What have you done with your talent?" The servant is uncomfortable, "I, um, buried it in the ground so no one would take it. Here it is, it's not too dirty." Needless to say, the trader is displeased, and choses to end the day with a smaller staff, but with considerably more capital.

So that is our situation. We have $1,000 and about 9 weeks. We are bound to spend some of it on providing for the material needs of the class, but we are also in a position to contribute to a good cause. Our best option is not to choose one over the other, but to do both, so we're going to figure out how we can emulate the finer of the trader's servants. One of the keys to brainstorming is finding good ideas, no matter where they come from. Do you have any?

1 comment:

  1. By my calculation you are close to the 9 week mark. Is an update post on the horizon?