Monday, 15 July 2013

Meet the EdTech entrepreneurs - An interview with Nabeel Gillani

Duolingo provides free online language learning because it sells its students' translations... Coursolve is aiming to bring that same logic to focus the energy of MOOCs' students on solving the world's problems.
The Good MOOC interviews Coursolve’s co-founder +Nabeel Gillani.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I'm currently an MSc candidate in Oxford's department of education, researching how students communicate in massively open online courses.  I graduated from Brown with a degree in Applied Math - Computer Science where I met some amazing people that were passionate about education.

  • Can you describe Coursolve and what you're working on?

Coursolve's mission is to connect courses with organizations to empower students to solve real-world problems.  We believe students in all educational settings have something to offer to the world but too often are not given the opportunity to apply their skills to things that matter to them.  We hope to connect these students with opportunities to explore their passions and apply their knowledge by connecting directly with organizations of all shapes and sizes.
I think the "thesis" of Coursolve, in some sense, is that the learning setting is arguably the best place to empower people to go and change the world.  If we can collectively prove that students taking courses are capable of having an impact on the real-world - as our early results suggest - we hope this will inspire others to think of new ways to engage students in authentic, meaningful learning opportunities.

  • Can you explain Coursolve's business model?

Revenue generation is a big question mark in the online learning space at the moment.  While there may be a number of revenue opportunities down the line, our main focus right now is on providing a valuable service to learners, course instructors, and organizations in order to promote meaningful partnerships and opportunities for advancement.  We believe if we focus on doing what's right and needed, the revenues will follow.

  • Can you quickly describe your role within the Coursolve team?

I'm currently one of Coursolve's co-founders and have been working with the team to learn from our pilots and determine how to connect students and organizations through course projects.

  • How did you first think about the concept behind Coursolve and why is this important to you?

My family and friends have instilled within me an underlying passion for helping other people learn.  Moreover, I've been fortunate to have teachers and mentors throughout my life that have demonstrated what's possible when people are allowed to dream. We've started Coursolve with this ethic in mind - that people everywhere deserve the opportunity to pursue their interests and simultaneously demonstrate what they're capable of.  There's no shortage of organizations with outstanding challenges in the world --  why not get students, many of whom are passionate and eager to apply their learning, to help meet their needs?

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future with free and open resources, MOOCs, etc?

I'm more a student of these changes and so my guess is as good as anyone else's!  But I think the most powerful part of MOOCs is that they are "semi-synchronous" - they pull together people from around the world during a particular time interval, around a certain issue area, and enable them to interact with one another.  This is huge - there's so much that can be created by a global body of people with unique backgrounds and insights, all coming together around areas of shared interest.  I hope that as open educational resources proliferate we'll see more attention paid to what can be achieved if we focus on the power of interactions between people.

  • Have you taken MOOCs yourself?

I've participated in a few MOOCs, most notably Foundations of Business Strategy and Introduction to Data Science, both on Coursera.
My favorite part of both has probably been the discussion forums, namely, seeing how excited learners can be to answer each others' questions and share insights about course content. It really is inspiring.

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