I caught up with Ben Kornell and Alex Sarlin during my recent trip to San Diego for the ASU+GSV conference, the biggest and most influential of Edtech conferences in the US. Ben and Alex recorded this podcast as part of their Edtech insiders series. I feel privileged to be included and have posted an edited version of our conversation below.
Transcript, if you prefer to read instead.
Ben Kornell 00:00
Hi everyone, it's Ben Kornell from ASU GSV here with Ed Tech insiders five good minutes, postcards from ASU GSV. Here with Vishal, who is the founder and CEO of 2Sigma. I've known Vishal for quite some time when this was really just an idea. And now you're out with schools and learners, teaching them computer science, but love for you to tell a little bit for the audience. What do you do?
Vishal Goenka 00:25
Ben, thank you so much for having me, it's been a pleasure to know you, and really get inspiration in terms of what problems what are some of the big problems we need to solve? So what I do at 2Sigma school is to bring personalized education in technology to students who are in high schools and above. At a time when computer science education is really important for every student. Ben, computer science in the 21st century, is what Physics is in the 20th. And yet, here we are. Less than 9% of our students are graduating high school learning computer science, having any understanding of how computers really work. Imagine the future the careers and the future opportunities that will b open to these students.
Ben Kornell 01:14
Is it a lack of teachers? Or is it a lack of interest? Or what do you think, is driving the lack of access to computer science education,
Vishal Goenka 01:22
There are two main factors that I have found that is driving the lack of computer science education in the country. The first one is incentives. And generally for our schools. The core subjects do not include computer science. A schools performance, and the scorecard that it is measured on is based on literacy in core subjects, and computer science, just it's not one of them. And as a result, the priorities from the schools are very different. The second one is, as you mentioned, is the lack of teachers, any teacher who can teach advanced computer science to high schoolers have other options than teaching just from a socio economic perspective. And that creates challenges in hiring and retaining teachers.
Ben Kornell 02:08
My understanding at 2Sigma is you do live instruction, how do you source your computer science staff and, you know, and have you have you thought about this live versus asynchronous, which so many people are struggling with?
Vishal Goenka 02:22
Absolutely. Ben, technology enables people from all over the place to be able to connect with each other without necessarily being in the in the same location. So another way of saying this is education has become global, rather than local. It always used to be that you were confined to the supply of teachers, you could find within a five or 10 mile radius. But with distance learning and remote education, that is no longer the case. That by itself unlocks supply in ways that was just not possible in a traditional school. The other factor is that there are a lot of other people who are just not willing to do a full time teacher job, but have passion for teaching and have the background. And so bringing them in sort of like a marketplace model where if you wanted to teach if you're passionate about teaching computer science, and you just had one hour a day, we could tap in and bring you into the platform and connect you with students who could benefit from that, as opposed to, you know, recruiting you for a full time teachers position, which would be extremely hard.
Alex Sarlin 03:27
So one trends that we've seen recently is, as you say, practitioners, who in the past, if they wanted to give back to the community may have written articles or written a book or shown up at a community college are starting to teach online and be able to reach the entire world. I'd love to hear a little bit about when you talk to these teachers, what is their core motivation for wanting to teach alongside their full time jobs,
Vishal Goenka 03:50
it is really their desire to give back. The connection with students, the ability to make a difference in the lives of real people. It is really meaningful for many of these professionals to find the time to connect with students, and make a real difference in their lives, is really the key driver.
Ben Kornell 04:10
So here at ASU, GSV. There's a lot about what's going on in education, but also the future. What gets you most excited as you walk around. And as you think about also the work you're doing.
Vishal Goenka 04:21
I think we are at a Promethean moment in education. It's like the perfect storm that's been created by just access to technology, which was accelerated because of COVID. And it has also opened the minds and hearts of people in understanding what is really possible with technology. And I think that's what's most exciting. We're no longer bound by the traditional view of education. And, you know, technology has just enabled a lot of traditional thinkers and traditional educators in just seeing what is possible because they have to make that happen for themselves during the pandemic. And that has just opened up willingness.
Ben Kornell 05:05
I love that answer. And I really agree, I think the the expansion of the possibilities of what education could be have accelerated more in the last couple of years. And I think we've seen in decades, and it is really exciting time. So the follow up question is what keeps you up at night? What is sort of the biggest challenge that you see, when you look at the future of 2Sigma,
Vishal Goenka 05:24
the biggest challenge for us is really realizing our northstar goal. And that is to provide a two sigma, better quality education. And let me connect it back to our name, that two sigma name comes from this paper that was written in '84 by Benjamin Bloom, that said, people who get one-on-one tutoring perform two standard deviations better than students who learn in a conventional classroom. And that difference really means that these students are in the 98th percentile. So that's our North Star goal. That's our vision and aspiration. And so what keeps me up at night is that this isn't a technology problem, we can't build the coolest tech to make it possible. It's a people problem. And technology is an enabler. And while we're making great strides in how we have trained our teachers, what curriculum we're using, flipped classrooms, active learning, mastery based we're using a lot of these time-tested learning-science based approaches. Yet there is a gap there is a gap with the diversity of students, diversity of teachers, how do we get to that two sigma difference is still still a challenge. It's not solved problem yet.
Ben Kornell 06:30
Incredible. Thanks so much, Vishal. And just great to hear about where the two sigma comes from. I know so many of our listeners will resonate with that. Great to have you here Vishal. Check out 2Sigma school. If you've got a high schooler and you want to have computer science at their high school, reach out to him. And thanks so much for joining us on the podcast today.
Vishal Goenka 06:52
Thank you for having me, Ben.