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More on the rise of the super professor


The “SuperProfessors” designation was officially launched in 2011 by the academic social network site, FacultyRow.com.

People they judge to be worthy of the SuperProfessor title come from a peer-reviewed group of academics that consistently demonstrate excellence, passion, and clarity, throughout their academic careers.

“Technology is beginning to stratify academia” according to FacultyRow expert Steven Lewis. “We are convinced that leading educators, or SuperProfessors, will become increasingly valuable going forward. Student classrooms and expert knowledge will continue to become global on a massive scale.”

Currently there are 4,000 professors who have applied for the official 2013 SuperProfessor Award.

In much the same way the Nobel Prize rose to prominence in the early 1900s, FacultyRow hopes to set the stage for uncovering the best of the best in college faculties.

Unleashing the Celebrity Professor

Working as a professional speaker, I see many parallels between the teaching profession and the speaking profession. But one big difference is that professional speakers are not bound by the walls of a single institution.

Last fall when Stanford professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered their class, an “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence,” to anyone who had a web connection, something amazing happened. More than 160,000 students, two-thirds of whom lived outside the U.S., enrolled for the class.

As a way to deal with the huge numbers, lectures and assignments, the same ones administered in the regular on-campus class, were posted and auto-graded online each week. Midterms and finals had strict deadlines.

Much of the course’s popularity can be attributed to the celebrity status of the professors. Sebastian Thrun headed up the Stanford team that won the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005 and currently serves as the head of Google X, a lab created to incubate Google’s most ambitious and secretive projects. Peter Norvig is the Director of Research at Google.

While the Stanford brand played a significant role in the popularity of the course, it was the celebrity status of the two professors that made the course go viral.

This course served as a Woodstock-moment for academia.

Thinking Long-Term

In addition to academic prowess, future SuperProfessors will be ranked according to attributes like influence, fame, clout, and name recognition.

Future criteria for winning the FacultyRow SuperProfessor designation will likely include benchmarks for the size of social networks, industry influencer rankings, and gauges for measuring effectiveness of personal branding campaigns.

But college courses can be much more than an expert talking in the front of a room. If the same college courses were handed them off to television producers, game designers, or mobile app developers, we’d see radically different approaches to making the material fun, interesting and engaging. Look for this approach in the next generation of online programming.

People most effective at producing courseware in the future will have complete production studios staffed with video crews, interactive experts, gamification mavens, courseware experience specialists, usability teams, outcome testers, and much more. Leading the operation will be a celebrity SuperProfessor who name extends far beyond traditional classrooms to the hearts and minds of nearly everyone on the planet.

Final Thoughts

Even though the Stanford class taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig had over 160,000 students enroll for their class, a mind-numbingly high percentage of those students, over 137,000, dropped out before completing it.

This is clear sign of our current experimentation phase where colossal mistakes are needed to test the limits of what’s possible. But at the same time that we see colossal mistakes, we will also see colossal disruption, and many traditional colleges will begin closing their doors.

Thrun predicts that in 50 years there will only be 10 universities left standing to deliver courses. Look for over half to be gone by as early as 2030

Currently we are seeing a tremendous duplication of effort. Entry-level courses such as psychology 101, economics 101, and accounting 101 are being taught simultaneously by thousands of professors around the globe. Once a high profile SuperProfessor and brand name University produces one of these courses, what’s the value of a mid-tier school and little-known teacher also creating the same course?

As Ball Corporation executive, Drew Crouch puts it, “Education is definitely moving from a history of scarcity to a future of abundance. Just like Gutenberg freed the written word, the Internet has freed information.”


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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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