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Meet GELC's New Executive Director

Posted by rstephe on March 7, 2006 at 12:36 PM PST

This (Tuesday) morning, the Global Education and Learning Community (GELC) and Sun Microsystems announced that Dr. Barbara Kurshan had accepted the position of Executive Director of the GELC. What follows is a brief interview I did with Bobbi Kurshan.

RS: Bobbi, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Bobbi Kurshan snapshot src="http://weblogs.java.net/blog/rstephe/archive/kurshan2.jpg" width="215" height="267" border="5" align="left"/>

BK: Okay. I have a Masters in Computer science and a Doctorate in computer instruction and computer technology. I did my dissertation on how kids learn using computers. For eleven years I was a professor at Virginia Tech and Hollins College, where I taught computer science and was head of academic computing in the era of time-share machines. Then I left and started a consulting firm focused on technology companies that wanted to put their products in schools. I did the first children's product for Microsoft, and I did early-education products for Apple and McGraw-Hill. I also published a series of textbooks on computer literacy for schools.

RS: That sounds great. This was mostly focused on grades K through 12?

BK: No, I got a little bit of both. About five years ago I became the co-CEO of a venture group and we invested in educational technology companies that included higher ed, lifelong learning and K-12.

RS: ...That was bigchalk.com?

BK: One of them was, and there were smaller companies, too. Before I took this job I'd been working on a project in the European Union to acquire for-profit universities and put them online.

RS: Maybe this is an unfair question because you're just starting, but do you have a vision for GELC and could you tell us about it?

BK: Well, obviously I adopted the vision of Scott (McNealey, Sun CEO) because this is his baby and I get to nurture it. I see this as a large opportunity to change the way people create curriculum, the way they distribute it and the way they evaluate its impact on achievement. And what I mean by that is that we have the opportunity to create the world's best curriculum and give access to the most people world-wide.

RS: There are two different constituencies in GELC: the software developers and the educators, without a lot of overlap between the two groups. Do you have a message for the two groups?

BK: For the user group - that's teachers, parents and students - one of the things I see GELC doing is providing templates and how-to instruction on how to build curriculum. Also how to evaluate curriculum and how to implement curriculum on an open source model. I see the developer having to learn a lot about pedagogy. I think many developers don't come with the background of what absolutely needs to be in the classroom. So they develop a particularly interesting way to teach X, but they're not aware of standards or how they might go about evaluating its impact. So each of these groups needs to help the other with what it knows best.

RS: Good. Well, I think that takes care of my questions. Do you have anything else you wanted to tell people?

BK: Well, we were talking about a new name for the organization. I'm not sure "GELC" tells much about what it does. Any ideas?

RS: Not really, but I agree GELC doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

BK: I was joking with friends and we decided we were going to call it Open Force, and the tag line was: "May the Sforce be with you." Just kidding. (laughs)

I think there's a lot to do here. I think initially there are three priorities. One is to establish an effective, useful working web site, one that is easy to navigate and encourages both educators and developers to participate. The second is to establish a solid financial base composed of wealthy philanthropists, governments and corporations interested in what open source might provide, and foundations. And thirdly, to find the right partners to begin to both use the content as well as place content on it.

RS: Thank you, Bobbi.

BK: I look forward to meeting you all.