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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Changing How We Think About Education

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On Friday I spent three hours at Tufts University meeting with Chris Rogers and a few of his colleagues at the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.  We had an awesome, wide ranging conversation about what they are doing, how the accelerator model could apply, and how education, especially around engineering and computer science needs to radically change, as well as some concrete suggestions about how to change it. I also got a tour of the research lab which had an enormous number of legos everywhere as one of their key sponsors is Lego.

James Barlow, the Director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program for The Gordon Institute at the Tufts School of Engineering was also in the meeting. He was as awesome as Chris and was able to speak from experience around a lot of accelerator activities, especially in Europe.

Yesterday, he emailed me a brilliant RSA Animate talk by Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Education Paradigms. I just watched it and found myself nodding my head up and down for most of the 11 minutes it took to watch the video.

I encourage you to invest 11 minutes of your life and watch it right now if you are interested in getting an insight into why much of our current approach to education is broken (the “why”) along with some of how it can be fixed (“the what”).

I believe strongly that accelerator programs like TechStars have become a very effective “education program” for entrepreneurs. While we’ve figured out pieces of it, we are now taking it up a level by trying to figure out the longer term arc around multi-year programs, along with additional programs linked to entrepreneurship, but not necessarily for entrepreneurs, such as Boston Startup School. Academic accelerators, like the one that MIT ran this summer called the MIT Founders Skills Accelerator, are introducing and experimenting with this in an academic setting. Finally, my friends at Startup Weekend are working on something called SW Next that they’ll be rolling out soon – we talked about it extensively at our board meeting ten days ago.

When we look back in 40 years, I expect another dramatic impact of the Internet and the web will be a massive shift in the way education is packaged and delivered. And that’s a good thing.

LEGO, Sexism, and Stereotype Threat

Comments (38)

I love LEGOs. So, when I saw the page yesterday of the new LEGO Minifigures (sent to me by Lucy Sanders, the CEO of National Center for Women & Information Technology) I threw up a little in my mouth.

Like me, Lucy is a LEGO enthusiast, but she was not happy to see how women (or minorities) were represented in the LEGO Minifigures sets. Sure, there is a female snowboarder, a female tennis player, and a lifeguard, but the rest of the female Minifigures are a hula dancer, pop star, cheerleader, witch, and nurse. And that’s it. While I have nothing against nurses, entertainers, or athletes, these mini-figures are perpetuating ridiculous stereotypes about both women and men.

At NCWIT (where I am the Chair of the board) we’re grappling with the problem of how to attract, retain, and promote girls and women in technical education paths and careers. Many K-12 teachers who want to introduce their students (girls and boys) to computing and engineering use LEGO products like Mindstorms and Technics and LEGO energetically markets their products for this purpose. That’s a good thing.

However the ridiculous Minifigures perpetuate standardized, simplified, and damaging conceptions of acceptable pursuits for women. Such perceptions have contributed to keeping women away from many types of jobs, including computing. These are not harmless toys – they are sending messages to girls and boys about where they belong on a daily basis. If you doubt the serious impact of this exposure, I encourage you to learn more about stereotype threat, especially the work of Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson.

At NCWIT we’re working hard to make computing, technology, and business more inclusive. C’mon, LEGO. Your products are a great avenue for educating our young people, but your Minifigures are stuck in the past. Get rid of them.

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