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Words Do Matter!  Start Your Startup With A Story

By Shlomo Maital


   Three on-line courses are currently ‘live’ on Coursera, that I and my Technion colleagues created, on startup entrepreneurship. I’m greatly enjoying the discussion forums. My student Antoni Baszczeski has drawn my attention to a framework by Chris Plachy, offered on Coursera:

   The discussion hinges on the importance of words. Antoni quoted G B Shaw, a great writer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, for his “idealism and humanity, his stimulating satire…”   I noted to Antoni that Shaw was a great creator, but in the end created just words. Antoni responded that words come between feelings and action, and perhaps spur action. And I certainly agreed.

     I’m currently developing a startup entrepreneurship module based on ‘narrative entrepreneurship’. The idea is simple. Entrepreneur:   Build your story!   Shape your story (events, timeline, conflict, people, characters, things, challenges, ups and downs), built around your startup, and how you create it…tell your story in past tense, even though it unfolds in the future.   Use your story to inspire others, and yourself, to aspire to greatness, and as a roadmap. Use all the powerful techniques of great fiction to shape it…and then make it come true.

     This, by the way, has strong foundations in cognitive psychology, developed by the late Jerome Bruner (see my blog on his narrative approach). We understand reality through stories.   Perhaps, then, we can SHAPE reality by creating stories…and then living them. The better the story, the closer you get to effective successful action!

   Perhaps, as Antoni notes, words are indeed a powerful bridge between feelings (the passion that drives startups) and the deeds and actions that make them happen.

     Thanks, Antoni!






Entrepreneurship: How to Overcome Barriers

By Shlomo Maital


     Antoni Baszczeski, from Poland, has been taking one of my courses on Coursera, the on-line platform. (3 courses are currently running there, comprising a Startup Entrepreneurship specialization). In one of the Discussion Forums, Antoni notes:

“Some time ago, I participated in a “Design New Learning Environment” (DNLE) course project at the Venture Lab Edu platfom (@ Stanford University) :   Rethinking Vocational Education in the State of Massachusetts:An Entrepreneurship Imperative for the 21st Century.

   We tried to identify Barriers to Entrepreneurship, and It looks that a majority of them are driven by cultural / mindset / attitude components. And they are root causes of the problems with creativity and innovation.

  1. Internal :
  • lack of self-confidence •lack of critical thinking skills •fear of failure •passivity•lack of experience with fundraising and managing money •ack of credibility among adults that would fund the venture, due to the young age of entrepreneur
  1. External : •education  •schools are providing exam preparation courses today and kill kids/students creativity and desire to innovate •entrepreneurship is not taught nor promoted in schools •there is a lack of understanding of the important role entrepreneurship has for future generations at the level of decision makers – Ministry of Education and Superintendents of Education •cultural – society (including parents and teachers) is not tolerant of young people who think differently than those that have gone before them. • bureaucratic and administrative – including lack of transparency •financing is difficult to acquire due to the lack of faith in the youths’ ability to execute the ideas

   Antoni asks Forum participants about their own countries, and the barriers they perceive to young people starting and growing businesses.

   So blog readers: What about your country? What do you think are the main 3 obstacles that keep young people from becoming startup entrepreneurs? What are the obstacles that keep YOU personally from doing so? How can these obstacles be overcome?

   Thank you Antoni!

Coursera for Refugees

By Shlomo Maital


   Today, Monday June 20, is World Refugee Day.  According to the UN, 65 million refugees have been created this year — torn from their homes. 

      It has special meaning for me, because in a very real sense, my mother and father were refugees. My mother’s family fled from Bessarabia (now Moldova), following pogroms in 1904 and 1905 that killed many Jews, in Kishinev, and came to Saskatchewan.     My grandfather, after whom I am named, left in order to raise money to bring his family out to safety; he saved every penny, sent the money – and it was lost when World War I broke out. He died heartbroken, in Pittsburgh, during the global influenza epidemic, in 1918.   My father, a teenager, then struck out with his sister, Dora, who was only 12, to emulate his own father, and after a very very hard journey, and bitterly cold winter in Antwerp, made it as an immigrant to Canada, and brought his mother and siblings over. My father became a small-time builder, providing houses for lower middle income people at affordable prices.   Canada has always had an enlightened policy toward immigrants, more than its big southern neighbor, and immigrants in turn have built Canada with energy and ambition, like my mother and father did.

That is why I am so delighted with Coursera and its Coursera for Refugees, which launches today. Coursera has partnered with Technion, so that we can offer a four-course Startup Entrepreneurship specialization. We hope thousands of people all over the world will take our courses. Perhaps even a few refugees.

   Working with Coursera has been a delight. The Coursera team knows how to build MOOCs (massive open online courses) and helps those willing to provide them.  

   Here is Coursera’s program, which emerged from a two-day ‘hackathon’ ideation session:

   “On World Refugee Day (June 20), we will launch our new Coursera for Refugees program in partnership with the U.S. State Department on World Refugee Day. Coursera for Refugees will provide nonprofits serving refugees with group financial aid and organizational support – for more details, please refer to our Q2 Product Roadmap. This program represents a big step toward realizing our vision of a world in which anyone, anywhere can access a high-quality education, and we are very excited for this launch! Please note that Coursera for Refugees is under a press embargo until June 20. On or after June 20, we hope you will share this news and the Coursera for Refugees site with all of your professional and personal networks once it is live on June 20.”

       There is much hand-wringing over the heart-wrenching refugee problem, but little effective action. Kudos to Coursera for taking action. Now let’s see if we can help refugees get the education they need, just as Canada helped me, son of immigrants, get an excellent education and eventually, become a professor and author.  

Memo to All Professors: Our Monopoly Has Ended Forever

By Shlomo Maital   


 Memo to myself, and all professors everywhere?    Hey – you know that cozy monopoly that we enjoyed?  Our courses, especially compulsory ones, were, like, the only game in town?  We all paid lip service to teaching quality, but our promotions were based on published papers, most of them barely or never read by anyone?  And I’m talking about myself here….

       Those days are over.  Here is how I know.

        Thanks to an amazing support team at my university, Technion (the Center for Improvement of Learning & Teaching), I offered a course on Creativity through the website Coursera  (Cracking the Creativity Code: Part One – Discovering Ideas).  Some 10,000 students from all over the world participated.  It was a lot harder than I originally thought.  I taped the videos three times, because the first two tries simply were not acceptable.   Students are now submitting their final project – a 2-minute video showing how they would use creativity to tackle seven challenges that we defined.

         Unlike the wise adage “look before you leap”, we leaped first and then looked.  In preparing a talk for an academic conference on Educational Technologies, we summarized what we learned from our MOOC (massive open online course).  We discovered that there are at least 50 other open on-line courses on creativity.  Some are simply outstanding, given by the top people in this field, including Tina Seelig, at Stanford’s new Design School.  A Penn State course on “Creativity innovation and change” attracted 130,000 students.

      It has now dawned on me, like a light bulb turned on, that the cozy little monopoly that I once had (and all other professors),  is now over.  Our students can now reach out and tap the teaching skills of the very best professors in the world.  No longer do they need to suffer the inadequacies of the local substandard version.  And if I, as a professor, do not improve very quickly, I will be as extinct as the brontosaurus.

      Cracking the Creativity Code:  Part Two – Delivering Ideas, is now in the works.  And trust me – it is going to be a whole lot better.  It has to be.  Because my once-captive audience has been freed, just as Lincoln freed the slaves in 1864.   My monopoly has ended. 

       And the world is a whole lot better for it!

How Teachers Ruin Inquiring Minds – And Why They Must Stop

By Shlomo Maital

elevator-cover one half

Illustration by Avi Katz

    Thanks to my outstanding colleagues at Technion’s Center for Improvement of Teaching and Learning,  our MOOC (massive open online course), Cracking the Creativity Code: Part One – Discovering Ideas,  launched on the Coursera website on May 18, and has over 6,000 students enrolled, worldwide, from Qatar, India, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, among others.   The course is based in part on the book by the same name by  Ruttenberg & Maital.

   Part of the course involves “chat” forums,  organized as ‘forums’ on topics the students themselves initiate. 

   Lizzie writes:  “My 7th grade teacher’s response to many a question was ‘don’t show your ignorance by asking that’.   Which didn’t reduce my ignorance but did get me to stop asking questions and start hating school instead of loving it.”   Malgorzata responds: “Oh yes. I have suffered high school phobia because of it. Constant bullying by teachers was unbearable.”

    How many teachers encourage questions?  How many shut them off, destroying the spirit of inquiry and love of learning?  Are teacher training schools helping teachers encourage students’ questions, rather than shutting them off? 

   Javier writes about how his teacher, in Barcelona, requires the students to copy verbatim a short story.  He tried an experiment – writing with his eyes closed, to see if he could write straight lines without looking.  The teacher ridiculed him before the class.  End of experiment.  Could the teacher have responded:  Class! Javier is trying to write with his eyes closed.  Let’s all try it.  Let’s see what happens.  Javier, thank you for this interesting idea.!

     There are millions of superb, dedicated teachers all over the world, educating the next generation, overworked, underpaid, underappreciated.  But there are still too many to believe they should be teaching the laws of algebra, rather than (in addition) why mathematics is interesting and fun to explore.    

    The Nobel Laureate in Physics Isidore Rabi tells this story:  When he came home from school, his mother never asked him, what did you learn today in school? Instead she asked, Isador, did you ask good questions in class today?   He attributes his success as a scientist to his mother and to her question.   How many Nobel Prizes are we destroying, by shutting off kids’ questions?


Why Not Take One Day…To Change the World?

By Shlomo Maital


 The young ladies in the picture are from a school in India.  I’ve written about it before.   Dr. Balish Jindal, an Indian family physician, took Prof. Scott Plous’ Social Psychology course on Coursera (MOOC – massive open online course, free),  and as part of it, was asked to spend one day doing something ‘compassionate’ – a Day of Compassion. Dr. Jindal used the day to speak to girls in an Indian school about sexual abuse.  The result changed their lives – and Dr. Jindal’s.  She won the prize, from among the entire registered class of 260,000 (the largest course in all of Coursera), for the most impactful “Day”.  

    According to the BBC:   One day last year a doctor walked into a school near her clinic in a rural area near New Delhi in India and taught 2,000 girls how to protect themselves against sexual abuse.   Dr Balesh Jindal’s talks evolved into being constantly on call at her surgery for girls and their mothers and to teaching boys from impoverished backgrounds how to respect women.  She is paving a new way for women to protect themselves in India, where there has been anger at a number of high-profile rape cases and concern about the availability of sex education.

    I’ve had the privilege of exchanging emails with Dr. Jindal.  She is indeed remarkable, but of course she doesn’t think so. She regarded her “Day” as routine – and it probably was.

    As for Prof. Plous:  He says, “It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do….You don’t have to be a physician or in education. Anyone can look at what they can do and if they are dedicated enough they can make a difference in just 24 hours,” he adds.   Prof Plous says he asks students to think about the person they were during the 24-hour period and if they preferred that person, to “break down the barriers” between the compassionate and every day version of themselves.

So —  Why don’t all of us, each of us,  take one day, a Day of Compassion, to change the world?  Imagine — what if only one per cent of the world, 70 million people, did this?  The world would never be the same.

You can read more about this at:

  The Coursera Revolution: Make EVERY Day Compassion Day

By Shlomo Maital


Daphne Koller

“College,” humorist Mark Twain is alleged to have remarked, “is a place where a professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either.”  As a 47-year veteran of college teaching, I find this quip painfully accurate, even if humorist Twain, himself, did not really say it.

    Almost every university teaches innovation, especially those with business schools. Yet, very few actually practice it. In Harvard Yard there is a statue of John Harvard, the clergyman whose deathbed bequest in 1638 established the university named after him. If the statue were to come to life and visit my own classroom, he would feel right at home nearly four centuries later. 

      He might wonder about the PowerPoint, the white boards and students’ noses buried in their cell phones. But he would instantly recognize the droning lecturers reading from their notes while the students diligently write down their instructors’ words in their own notebooks or tablets.     That is why I listened avidly to a recent talk given at Technion on “The Online Revolution: Education for All” by Stanford University Professor Daphne Koller, an Israeli computer scientist who earned her B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from Hebrew U. when she was only 18.  

     Two years ago, together with her colleague Andrew Ng, head of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence lab, Koller, 46, founded Coursera, today the world’s largest provider of “MOOC’s” (massive open online courses).  After her talk, I had the opportunity to chat with her.  I learned that Coursera currently has 8.3 million users enrolled in 673 courses from 110 partner institutions. Each course is organized and approved by a university or college – a majority of which are outside the US.

      Coursera’s students are about evenly split between the US other developed countries and emerging countries. Some 600,000 students are from India, 530,000 from China and 48,000 from Israel. According to Koller, so far 10,000 years of video have been watched, 44 million quizzes administered, four million peer-graded sessions and 1.25 million courses have been completed. A significant part of Coursera accessing is done through smartphones or tablets and the rest on laptops and desktops. Of the students enrolled, 70 percent are adults over 30.   

    The largest Coursera course, on social psychology, is taught by Wesleyan University’s Scott Plous. Last fall it had 250,000 students enrolled! (The next round of the course begins July 14). How can you interact with a student body equal to the population of Haifa? If each of the quarter million students submitted an assignment on one sheet of paper, the stack would be eight stories high! Rather daunting for a poorly paid teaching assistant.

   “Several homework assignments will encourage you to experiment with your life, observe the results, and analyze what took place,” Plous tells students. Students interact through the Social Psychology online network.      The final assignment of Plous’s course is called “The Day of Compassion”.     Students are asked to live for 24 hours as compassionately as possible and to analyze the experience using social psychology. Roughly 700 students received a perfect score (peer graded) on the assignment, each captured in a video film or a written narrative.  The whole class then voted on which of these 700 students deserved a Day of Compassion Award sponsored by the Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE). 

     The grand winner was Dr. Balesh Jindal, a physician and artist from a rural area near New Delhi, India. She won the grand prize by finding a way to address the problem of sexual violence towards girls in her community. During the Day of Compassion, she visited a local school with more than 2,000 female students, ages four to 17, from poor backgrounds.

     Jindal taught each of five separate age groups about inappropriate touching and how to report incidents of abuse. These talks uncovered multiple cases of abuse by neighbors, brothers, cousins, and even fathers.  After the Day of Compassion, Jindal invited the mothers of abused girls to her nearby clinic for free counseling. She decided to set aside one day each week to help these girls and to work on reducing child sexual abuse.

      In reading this inspiring account, I was struck by how a single creative teacher like Plous can touch the lives of a quarter of a million students all over the world who, in turn, change the world for countless others using online technology.   

     Thanks, Daphne.  Thanks, Coursera.  Thanks, Scott Plous.  Thanks, Dr. Balesh Jindal.    What if every single one of us, not just those taking Coursera courses, made today, and every day, a Day of Compassion?   What if Compassion 101 became a required course, for membership in Humanity?      

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital