Wizardschool: Self Building University

I was reading this article over at MIT Technology Review, the Cleverest Business Model in Online Education and I had an old aspect of the notion I’m spinning out come to the fore, so I thought I’d write about it here.


It is, in essence, a self-building university.  It could start as a sort of online university that teaches programming and natural languages.  It does so through tutorials that progressively build a self-generative system, including more advanced tutorials.  This would be a sort of Content Management System.  The content, however, would not be websites or even knowledge bases.  The content that this system helps to manage is educational will.

Opensource Incorporations, Inc.

I’d go even further, and just as I think a government could get to the point where it pays its citizens based on investments (of all sorts) of tax money, so too do I think a university could get to the point of financially rewarding students (by outsourcing the thought work of students).  In fact, students could also be “employees”.  After a time, perhaps, not all tutorial takers would be working on the university codebase, but rather, getting paid by a business to fulfill some programming task based on a requirements document.

This is all easy to get wrong and difficult to get right.

The key to a system such as this would be a self-sustaining start.  IOW, things can’t be too complicated to begin with, no matter the ultimate vision.  So, rather than speak about the ramifications of a distributed behavior network on this scale (a via regia to AI), I will discuss what the early surface area of the project will look like (superfluous apophasis):

Some tutorials about programming that are all angled towards the idea of creating a tutorial application that encompasses both tutorial generation as well as tutorial consumption.  IOW, a tool that tries to optimize both application of knowledge and acquisition of knowledge.  A tightly wound coil of application and acquisition.

So, basically, you would load an HTML document with a bunch of words and maybe diagrams/pictures.  It would tell you to open a javascript console (ctrl-shift-j in chrome, F12 in ie and firefox).  Immediately you would start interacting with a programming API exposed by the tutorial to parse the tutorial text.  You would use the API to abstract things like databases into “storage”.  Later on, databases could be discussed and worked with directly.  To pass a tutorial is for your work to pass a series of test-suites.

The tutorials would proceed in small discrete steps.  A kernel API would be developed that the individual student could extend.

Ultimately, to be in the university is to create an interface into the collection of interfaces that comprise the university.  Classes involve discussions between students as much as anything.

We get to the important point that an online university could absolutely explode in popularity if it did the next step in social.  Facebook grew around university students.  The next step is to grow into a university.  Target audience is certainly the most dynamic age group available.  Facebook could probably do it, but they are already ossified.  It won’t happen there ‘less Zuck himself rewrests the reins.

It would utterly depend on a browser based javascript application.  An interface into education.  A great UI on mobile and desktop.  Plenty of things to study, plenty of problems to solve.

Another important aspect of the school would be its governance.  It would be self-governed.  An important “major” within the university is “governance”.  In the “classes” of this “major” are debates and sessions in which the rules of the university are drafted.  To have an influence over the university is to take part in these classes in which the very structure of the classes themselves are determined.  These determinations are evolutionary, as past classes serve as tests and data to be organized and labeled and accommodated and transcended.

Another early tutorial would be the creation of a schedule/calendar/project application.  This is important for the student to manage their time and classes and whatnot.

During the development of these activities, ideally, the base tutorials are gaining audience and traction.  Similiarly, the tools generated through the tutorials are directed toward always augmenting the public offering.

The idea is to first develop language tutorials, which are always going to be popular.  Between learning programming languages and learning human languages, there will already be the foundations of a steady stream of students.  Not all students will take a deeply active role in the university, but I believe many will take a quite active role in their corner through the life-management-tools offered by the other arms of the university.

It’s like Sanman said in a comment to the article “Cleverest…” article referenced earlier:

We need to coin a new phrase: “Social Learning”. This could go beyond the Wisdom of Crowds in marking test scores, but even get into communal self-help learning. As online education becomes ubiquitous and universally accessible, education will become a lifelong companion.The more of your time is spent on learning, the more it will come to define even your social circles. One day, you’ll rush home from work to meet your study pals to engage in some cooperative learning with them, in order to keep improving your skills. Social Learning could help to supplement a lack of traditional student-instructor interaction, and in some cases maybe even supplant it.


Let me spell it out more clearly.  There may be, for instance, and “intermediate programming” tutorial.  Intermediate programming would involve exercises.  Those exercises would have been generated in a “object oriented analysis and design” or “problem modeling” tutorial that itself was focused on the output of a “UI refinements” tutorial that was itself the product of a “UI architecture” tutorial, itself part of the “software architecture” tutorial.

The tutorial application itself would be the continuing example context.  Probably some tweaking needs to be done to the idea, but if we could capture some of that energy that people put into online gaming and some of that energy people put into learning and some of that energy people put into social and some of that energy people put into politics and some of that energy people put into making money–why that all spells out a successful startup.

An opensource startup.  I suggest starting with the idea of a self-organizing collection of people each in it for their own reasons but brought into concert by an underlying unity of tools generated by that self-organizing collection of people each in it for their own reasons.

For instance, there will be a “major” named something like “business”.  One of the important roles of business will be to monetize the activity.  This will involve understanding what the available resources are (students doing work as side-effects of the behaviors surrounding learning skills and information) and playing an important role in motivating the vision and purpose that drives changes to the university’s organization.  It will also probably involve an early-on recognition that there are activities that are “monetizable” and activities that aren’t.  In other words, some content is private.

I suggest a good first approximation of the ultimate purpose of the university be to collectively create the most perfect human institution.  An institution as a dynamic thing as much as a static identity.  Consider that to persist is to change and adapt to conditions as they change and adapt to conditions… persistents.

How does one start doing that?  Well, one has to choose a direction to start heading.  It should be a well-informed direction.  I’ll get into the details later, but the direction I have chosen is “Programming”.  This is based on the definition of an institution:

An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given community

and my intuitions about the nature of programming:

We are about to study the idea of a computational process.  Computational processes are abstract beings that inhabit computers.  As they evolve, processes manipulate other abstract things called data.  The evolution of a process is directed by a pattern of rules called a program.  People create programs to direct processes.  In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.

A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer’s idea of a spirit.  It cannot be seen or touched.  It is not composed of matter at all.  However, it is very real.  It can perform intellectual work.  It can answer questions.  It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory.  The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer’s spells.  They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esoteric programming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform. (pg 1) [from Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs]

and workflows:

workflow consists of a sequence of concatenated (connected) steps.

and evolutionary algorithms:

In artificial intelligence, an evolutionary algorithm (EA) is a subset of evolutionary computation, a generic population-based metaheuristic optimization algorithm. An EA uses mechanisms inspired by biological evolution, such as reproductionmutationrecombination, and selectionCandidate solutions to the optimization problem play the role of individuals in a population, and the fitness functiondetermines the environment within which the solutions “live” (see also cost function). Evolution of the population then takes place after the repeated application of the above operators. Artificial evolution (AE) describes a process involving individual evolutionary algorithms; EAs are individual components that participate in an AE.

and anatomy and physiology:

Anatomy (from the Ancient Greek ἀνατέμνειν, anatemneinana, “separate, apart from”, and temnein, “to cut up, cut open”) is a branch of biology and medicine that considers the structure of living things.

Physiology is the scientific study of function in living systems.

and superorganisms:

superorganism is an organism consisting of many organisms. This is usually meant to be a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labour is highly specialised and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods of time.

and education:

Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which knowledgeskills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, research, or simply through autodidacticism.

and corporations:

An incorporated entity is a separate legal entity that has been incorporated through a legislative or registration process established through legislation. Incorporated entities have legal rights andliabilities that are distinct from its shareholders,[1] and may conduct business for either profit-seeking business or not for profit purposes.

and being:

The “come-into-contact-with-itself”-ability of matter/energy.

and wizardry:

The casting of intention (will, self, representations) into systems of matter/energy.

and mind:

Complexifying distinction amplification.

and metaphor:

We have made a distinction between conceptual metaphors and metaphorical linguistic expressions.  In conceptual metaphors, one domain of experience is used to understand another domain of experience.  The metaphorical linguistic expressions make manifest particular conceptual metaphors.  The conceptual domain that we try to understand is called the target domain and the conceptual domain that we use for this purpose is the source domain.  [Zoltan Kovesces, Metaphor: A Practical Introduction, pg 12]

and the uroboros:

The Ouroboros or Uroborus[1] is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragoneating its own tail.

The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end (compare with phoenix). It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.

and tangled hierarchies (strange loops):

strange loop, technically called tangled hierarchy consciousness, arises when, by moving only upwards or downwards through a hierarchical system, one finds oneself back where one started.

tangled hierarchy is a hierarchical consciousness system in which a strange loop appears.

Brings me to my final statistically improbable phrase for the day: open source strange loops.

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