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Volume 128: winter 2012

ALL OF THE

LIGHT-EMITTING DIODES LEAD WAY TO BRIGHT FUTURE PAGE 8


2 A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR

World-class innovation occurs right here at Illinois Nora Ibrahim Technograph Editor

T

he science and engineering feats accomplished by the people of this campus are many and far-reaching. The inventions and discoveries made at the hands of U of I folk are found everywhere, as a prosthetic for an individual thousands and thousands of miles away to a small super-

conducting light source lighting up your nearby computer’s or smartphone’s display. These advances in technology are not only fascinating — they impact the lives of millions. They are revolutionary. What one man may have found to be only possible in the haven of his creativity has in fact been made possible, and in turn, it will likely change the framework of our society. This issue, we celebrate not only the science that made possible such advances in thinking and technology, but the human spirit. When you page through these stories,

you’ll find how a few students could revolutionize the structure of education or design the most affordable prosthetic for disadvantaged communities — right after graduation. You’ll learn about how one post-doctoral candidate is breaking ground on what is known about the human brain, making it possible to assess how much training a person may need. And you’ll meet Nick Holonyak Jr., the Thomas Edison of our generation. It is my hope that this issue inspires you to use your talent, passion and courage to make the world your own.

TECHNOSTAFF Editor-in-chief

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Nora Ibrahim

Chris Gozali Darshan Patel Thomas Thoren Tim Van Der Aa Brian Yu

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LIGHT

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REACHING OUT

HIGH-TECH LEARNING

LIGHTING UP

GAMING GENIUS?

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The most affordable prostheses on the market is making it out to the international community.

A revolution in the educational system takes hold in Silicon Valley, and it starts with the comraderie of U of I alumni.

Fifty years later, Nick Holonyak Jr.’s LED is lighting up the future, and there’s still more coming.

Video games can test how fast a learner you are and predict how well you’ll end up doing in school.

CONTENTS

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DRONES IN JOURNALISM

ONLINE COLUMNS

COMPETITIVE NATURE

READTECHNOGRAPH.COM

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The military uses drones to acquire intelligence -— and so do Illinois students. “Drone journalism” is a developing field in which reporters use drones to seek information for investigative work. But does the use of drones impede any legal or ethical boundaries?

Check out our columnists’ say on what’s what in the tech world. They’ll comment on anything, spanning from the hottest new gadgets, to weird tech, every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday online and every Tuesday in The Daily Illini’s features section.

The University’s economic and psychology departments are working together to study brain activity during competitive learning, tying together both medicine and business to test how more successful competitors are different on a biological level.


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LENDING A HELPING HAND BY BRIAN YU | TECHNOGRAPH WRITER


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BUMP, NONPROFIT DESIGN STUDIO, PROVIDES CHEAP PROSTHETIC ARMS

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s a subsistence farmer, Maranio Acensio Aragon has to grow and harvest enough crops every year to feed himself and his family. However, ever since the Guatemalan farmer lost his right hand in a machete attack, he has found it very hard to do so. Like many other amputees living in developing countries, Aragon would normally find it almost impossible to find a prosthetic limb to replace his hand, even if he had the money to afford one. But in October 2011, he was able to return to work in his fields using a cheap and reliable prosthetic arm designed by several engineering students from the University. It all started when Jonathan Naber read about the Jaipur foot, a $30 rubber-based prosthetic foot, during his sophomore year in 2009. Developed in its namesake city of Jaipur, India, the prosthetic garnered international attention due to its price, reliability and its ability to fit a broad range of amputees. However, Naber was disappointed to find that a similar breakthrough had not been made in prosthetic arms. He set out with five of his other friends in Engineering to discover a solution. The main difficulty with developing an affordable prosthetic arm lies within the fact that they need to be a perfect fit for their users. Thus in developed countries such as the United States, almost every prosthetic is custom-made and can only be fit to individuals by certified prosthetists. However, Naber and his team came up with the OpenSocket design as a prosthetic below-elbow limb that would be easy to

Photos courtesy of bump Top Left: Prosthetists fit amputees with prosthetic limbs. Bottom Left: The OpenSocket was designed to be fitted with almost all possible stand-ins for hands. Above: The OpenSocket, designed by bump, uses just two straps to fit the prosthesis to an individual in less than 20 minutes by someone with minimal training. manufacture and fit a wide range of users. Using a combination of hard and soft materials, the OpenSocket design incorporates two layers of plastic to provide much-needed rigidity and strength, but also to have the flexibility to expand and contract for different sized users. The outer layer of the prosthesis is made of harder plastic to provide the support needed to the entire limb, while the inside layer is made from flexible plastic that forms a tight seal around the amputated limb. Harnesses are then attached to the opposite shoulder and provide the tension to the cable that pulls the prosthetic hand close to grasp objects. The end result is a prosthesis that can be fit in less than 20 minutes without the need for professionally trained individuals. The lack of custom-made materials also brings the cost of the limb to only around $300, a stark contrast to the usual $5,000 to $10,000 current body-powered, below-elbow prosthesis on the market cost. Naber and his friends founded Illini Prosthetic Technologies in their senior year, which is now run by current president Adam Booher at Research Park in Champaign. The newly renamed startup, bump,

totes itself as a nonprofit design studio with the aim of changing the prosthesis industry. With Naber scouting potential beneficiaries for the OpenSocket prosthesis in South America, Booher continues research to better their design as well as expand their operations with a small staff of volunteers. The studio hasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t applied for a patent on its OpenSocket design. Rather, it hopes to encourage current companies in the prosthesis industry to copy the design. Besides the obstacle of excessive legal fees associated with patents, Booher explained how bumpâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s goal is to improve the outlook for amputees worldwide. Currently, only 2 percent of an estimated 10 million amputees worldwide have access to prosthetic limbs. Because of the complexity and cost of current popular prosthetic designs, nonprofit aid organizations have not been able to help most amputees. Even with a model of aggressive growth in the number of prothetists and advance in prosthetic technology, Booher said the demand would still not be met even after 200 years. Which is why bumpâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s current goal is

See PROSTHETICS, Page 6


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PROSTHETICS FROM PAGE 5 to put the finishing touches on their OpenSocket prosthesis and begin selling them to non-profit aid organizations to distribute. While currently funded off grants and awards, such as Naberâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s LemelsonMIT Illinois Student Prize, such operations would help the studio grow further and achieve its goals. Currently, the organization hopes to expand into South Asia and South America, working together with established non-profits such as the Range of Motion Project, located in Chicago. As the fi eld director in Latin America, Naber has already found nine other amputees which bump will fit with their OpenSocket prosthesis by the end of the year.

Photos courtesy of bump In this series of photos, bump demonstrates how the prothesis is worked by a simple harness and cable system.

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Photo courtesy of Hani Sharabash, Bloc From the left: Hani Sharabash (CS, UIUC 2011, born and raised in Champaign), Dave Paola (CS, UIUC 2010), Roshan Choxi (ECE, UIUC 2010) Bloc, one of two startups that have taken up residence in Silicon Valley, Calif., offers intensive, 12-week online courses that provides students a chance to be mentored, not self-taught.

LEARNING ON THE WEB UI alumni involved in Web education initiative

BY THOMAS THOREN | TECHNOGRAPH WRITER

There stands a house in Palo Alto, Calif., which until recently held 10 people in thier low- to mid-20s. Many of them had college experience, but you wouldn’t have said a college education was their primary interest. The nine-bedroom house and its residents were really no different from any other home and its inhabitants in the heart of Stanford University country. Six of the 10 residents actually hailed from Illinois — four of them by way of the University of Illinois. They were not spending every day together at their house to take the alterna-

tive route through college. Instead, they were looking to create it. They formed Bloc and Claco, two Silicon Valley startups aiming to overhaul the way education works, starting in kindergarten. They are part of the growing movement expanding online education, but they don’t see any of the other companies as competition — they’re going about online education in different ways.

Roshan Choxi, Hani Sharabash and Dave Paola constitute the core of Bloc, an online education platform that connects students with mentors in 12-week Web-development courses. “Outside of a university, if you want to learn something new, your options are usually pretty limited,” said Sharabash, co-founder and December 2011 graduate of the University’s computer science program. “After you’re done

with college ... you don’t have the opportunities to network with other people who are interested in learning the same things as you. We see that as a problem.” For $5,000 per course, Bloc sells the learning experience, not the educational content, said Paola, another co-founder who graduated from the University’s computer science program in May. There are free online education sites, such as Coursera and Khan Academy, that offer vast amounts of learning materials for HTML, CSS, Ruby, Javascript and more. These sites have less to offer when it come to the learning experience, however. “They’re not really competitors, because we’re not selling our content,” Paola said. “We’re selling mentorship. We’re selling the

See STARTUPS, Page 15


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UI professor ill

BY CH

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ick Holonyak Jr. couldn’t care less about receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics — or any prize for that matter. For him, his achievements are symbolized through what we see, how we comm unicate and how we solve some of our toughest municate challenges. “I see some Nobel Prizes out there where I would not trade where I’ve been for where they’ve been, but that’s OK. ... It’s not my prerogative to say anything. I had a lot of fun doing this,” he said.

LIGHTS

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of his historic invention: the visible LED, or light-emitting diode. And campus officials are moving to replace incandescent bulbs with this high-efficient light source, especially in locations where light is used for long periods of times.

Holonyak, 84 , still mentors aspiri the field; he is the John Bardeen e in electrical and computer enginee ics at the University. He has an offi and Nanotechnology Laboratory, n Quad but prefers to work out of h in his lab. Directly north of that building onyak’s discovery — and his collea ments — will be on showcase for According to its early plans for t ing, half of the facility’s lighting w So the state-of-the-art building w cent reduction in lighting consump energy-saving measures in which L be installed in all instructional spa the building, except the main aud teleconference room, according to

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Future car designs will have LED headlamps integrated with GPS systems to detect where a car is.

WIDE IMPACT OF LED

Holonyak’s invention is a significant advancement in energy efficiency over previous lighting technologies. They are set to impact the way we drive as well.

HEAT

LIGHT

Incandescent lights: These bulbs are least advanced and produce light by flowing electrical current through a filament until it heats up so hot that it glows. This bulb releases a significant amount of energy in the form of heat.

HEAT

LIGHT

Fluoresce These bulbs p flowing electr gas that produ light that gets light by the flu inside the tub releases ener much as incan


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luminates the future

HRISTOPHER GOZALI AND DARSHAN PATEL TECHNOGRAPH WRITERS

ing pioneers in endowed chair ering and physice at the Micro near the North his corner desk

g is where Holague’s advanceyears to come. he ECE buildwill use LEDs. will see a 20 perption because of LED lights will ace throughout ditorium and a early plans.

ent lights: produce light by ricity into a tube of uces ultraviolet (UV) s converted to visible uorescent coating be. This bulb also rgy as heat, but not as ndescent light bulbs.

The ECE building, which is to be completed by August 2014, is just one example of how LEDs are becoming increasingly common in the commercial world, just as Holonyak predicted they would nearly 50 years ago. In a 1963 issue of Reader’s Digest, he said LEDs would someday replace Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulbs. “I told (the reporter) at that time, ‘As far as I’m concerned, since we’re just at the beginning of this, there is a lot more to do and there will be further progress to go further from the red, to the orange, to the yellow, to the green, to the blue and the visible spectrum,’” Holonyak said. “And I thought it would be only about 10 years or so to get the next part and the next part. I didn’t realize it would be 50 years, but I had told (the reporter) that we would get to white light. I just didn’t know it would take 50 years.”

Holonyak first developed the visible LED in 1962 while working at General Electric in Syracuse, N.Y. While other researchers had developed LEDs that emitted invisible infrared wavelengths, Holonyak found the recipe for the semiconductor alloy that would emit visible light. His semiconductor material — made from gallium, arsenic and phosphorus — was the perfect combination for electrons to flow through and emit red light when they fall into “holes” that cause a drop in the electron’s energy. Following in Holonyak’s footsteps, researchers have developed other semiconductors with different changes in electron energy, resulting in different wavelengths of light. “These materials gave us the free-

A thin film of polyimide was made by coating a precursor material and baking it in an inert atmosphere at 250 degrees Celsius. This serves as the support for the devices.

See LED, Page 10

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When the GPS detects a car is approaching an intersection, the headlamps extend their width to illuminate any approaching traffic.

HEAT

LIGHT

LED lights: These bulbs produce light through the flow of electrons through a semiconductor material, exciting photons of light to produce illumination. Small amounts of heat are produced and released into a heat sink, leaving the bulbs cool to touch.

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Once the car passes the intersection, the LED lamps automatically turn off until the next intersection.


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LED FROM PAGE 9 dom to choose the corresponding color of light emitter,” said Russell Dupuis, a former student of Holonyak’s who teaches electrical and computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Because of these properties, LEDs only emit monochromatic light, which make them highly effective for usage with colored lights such as traffic lights. White light is achieved either through the combination of red, green, and blue LEDs, or through a luminescent phosphor coating that converts monochromatic light to more palatable colors. This differs from an incandescent light bulb, which uses the flow of electrons to heat a filament until it glows. However, compared to LEDs, incandescents are power leeches. Holonyak planted the seeds for his students, including Dupuis, who in 1977 developed a method that has become the leading tool in producing LEDs and semiconductor devices. But five years earlier, another student, George Craford, invented yellow and red LEDs, which expanded the potential of LEDs today. The Holonyak seed has blossomed to a variety of nifty applications — including even the possibility of total control of lighting in a building from your computer. “(In the future), you can have an application on your computer that has access to every light in your house,” said ECE professor John Dallesasse. “You will be able to basically control every individual piece of illumination in your house from your computer.” Automobile manufacturers are also looking toward LED technology for future cars. Wolfgang Huhn, vice president of Audi, said the high variation of power control makes

Chong Jiang The Daily Illini Professor Nick Holonyak Jr. stands to address the crowd assembled in the Union on Oct. 9 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his invention of the first practical light-emitting diode, or LED. Holonyak calls LEDs the “ultimate lamp” because of their unbeatable efficiency, making them ubiquitous in digital displays. LED lighting ideal for headlamps. These can be programmed in conjunction with GPS systems, and the width and length of light can be controlled based on the location of a car. So if you were to approach an intersection at night, the headlamps could extend the width of beams to illuminate crossing cars or pedestrians. This is possible because users can control the LEDs’ level of illumination with ease, such as dimming rooms when they’re empty or brightening it when approaching an intersection. But LEDs aren’t making their way into homes just yet. The initial investment is too great: A LED bulb package can range anywhere from $40 to $100, whereas incandescent bulb packages cost only a few dollars at the most. But upfront costs are declining. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a recent sur-

vey of industry prices shows that the cost for warm white LED lights has fallen by almost half, from $36 per 1,000 lumens in 2009 to $18 in 2010. And experts say that price will continue to decline in the years ahead, making it possible for LED lighting in residential areas by the start of the next decade. As production costs come down, technology continues to change. Holonyak said it will be much harder, however, to predict how LED lighting will be used in the future. “If you asked (former professor of physics and two-time Nobel Prize winner John) Bardeen ‘Did you see all this coming?,’ he’d slowly shake his head. We knew that it was important, but he couldn’t see where it was going,” he said. “You can’t ... nobody’s got that ability.” Though the exact future of LEDs is up in the air, one thing’s certain: It’ll light up the future in such a way that can’t go unnoticed.

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BY TIM VAN DER AA | TECHNOGRAPH WRITER

WHY VIDEO GAMES CAN PREDICT HOW WELL, QUICKLY YOU WILL LEARN n dorm rooms and bedrooms all over campus and across the country, a familiar scene unfolds every day: Groups of young (and sometimes older) adults huddled around a screen vigorously mashing their fingers into hand-held controllers. You probably guessed it; whether it’s the next “Call of Duty,” “Halo” or “Mario Party,” video games have become a regular and almost inescapable part of life since Atari introduced “Pong” in 1972. Though you may not realize it, when you guide your soldier through the barrage of an enemy assault, the millions of neurons in your brain are firing, too.

Kyle Mathewson, postdoctoral fellow at the Beckman Institute, has been researching the neural activity that occurs when completing a complex task, such as a video game, and the learning curve that accompanies doing something new. “We don’t know that much still about how the brain works,” Mathewson said. “We know a lot about how the brain is working in really boring situations. So if you hear a single beep, and it’s a certain frequency, we know exactly what happens in the brain.” But after your alarm clock goes off in the morning, the world around you is much more than beeps. Just by walking down the street, your brain is taking in and processing an enormous amount of information, just by navigating obstacles, reading signs, eavesdropping on conversations and avoiding awkward eye contact with the person coming

See BRAIN GAIN, Page 12


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BRAIN GAIN FROM PAGE 11 toward you. Your brain sorts through all of these factors constantly throughout the day. To begin to understand more complicated brain function, Mathewson, along with psychology professors Monica Fabiani and Gabriele Gratton, measured brain waves of subjects learning to play a video game using electroencephalography, or an EEG. For the past few decades, researchers focused on studying basic tasks completed in a laboratory, but Mathewson and the research team wanted to understand what the brain does in more complicated environments that better replicate day-today life. A video game, they concluded, was the best replica. The game used in the study, “Space Fortress,” was created at the University specifically for experimentation and is somewhat like the old Atari game “Asteroids.” Although it is a far cry from modern video games, Mathewson noted this was necessary for an accurate study. “When someone’s playing a complicated game, like “Counter-Strike,” there’s so much happening that you don’t know when they shot the bullet or got hit,” Mathewson said. “In this game, we have a lot more control over exactly when things are happening.”

dictive of how fast people would learn to play the game,” Mathewson said. Alpha waves were considered related to sensory processing and how the brain reacts to the outside world. This pre-existing notion is what makes the novel correlation between alpha waves and long-term improvement fascinating and somewhat unexpected. It is especially exciting that this may be a clue into how someone may perform over a longer period of time. “No one would have predicted that the extent you have alpha waves that early in training would have any prediction on how fast you would learn,” Mathewson said. “Something about having that alpha didn’t just make them play better right then, it made them more likely to learn to play better faster.” This neurological prediction of learning performance may one day be applied to reallife situations in which people need to learn certain tasks. “You may be able to know something about how fast they might acquire the skills,” Mathewson said. “Maybe if you’re a coach of a sports team, at the beginning of the season you could measure the features of the people’s brains and then you would know who would need the most work and who you could spend a little less time on.”

Although this could The study focused on using EEGs be used to identify to measure alpha waves, which are the highest performers, neural waves previously thought to he doesn’t see that as the be related only to functions like sleep finding’s only purpose, notand relaxation. But the study suggesting that children’s education could be adjusted based on a ed that alpha waves also indicate how readily Image courtesy of Kyle Mathewson, student’s ability as measured by someone may learn to do a task. Specifically, brain waves. Today, every school year is the postdoctoral fellow at Beckman Institute they found that the more powerful the alpha same length for every student. But some high waves, the less distracted a person might be. school students sit slumped in their desks, bored by the slug“It’s almost like an off-switch so that you’re not paying attengish pace of a lesson, while others cannot match the pace of the tion to what’s going on around you, maybe so that you can focus course. If students could be organized into groups for faster- or on your thoughts or your internal feelings,” he said. By looking at the brain waves’ pattern the fi rst time a person slower-paced school years, maybe education could be adjusted played the game, researchers could predict how that person’s skills to each student’s needs. might progress in the long run. “I don’t see it as just a way to wean out the people that are the “We did compare other different frequencies of brain waves and best, but also a way to target people that need a little bit more found that it was actually alpha (waves) ... that were the most pretraining,” Mathewson said.


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Image courtesy of Kyle Mathewson, postdoctoral fellow at Beckman Institute This plot of EEG measurements from the study show the higher amplitude of alpha waves that participants exhibited. The bigger waves indicate that more neurons in the brain are firing at that frequency at the same time than at lower amplitudes. This means the alpha waves are more powerful. Since the results of the study demonstrated the beneficial effects of boosted alpha, it seems that gaining more alpha may enhance students’ studying ability. Part of the research done at the Beckman Institute shows there are ways of accomplishing this. But Mathewson is quick to note that increasing any type of alpha does not surely increase learning and that some methods of increasing alpha are unpredictable. Some people go to lengths such as listening to music that play beats at certain frequencies or watching flashing lights that have the same frequency as alpha waves in an attempt to improve brain function, although the method is far from proven, Mathewson said. He added that another option people could participate in is a long-term training program, in which they are told regularly how much

alpha they have over weeks or months to possibly change and improve those parts of the brain. Although some of these ideas are speculative, a more reliable and tested way to enhance alpha waves is by being calm and relaxed. Conversely, intently focusing on something will keep your alpha waves down. Mathewson compared the brain to a muscle that can be improved by regular exercise. “The reason you would get better (at these real world tasks), we would assume, is that you play some game and practice some of these skills, like responding really fast ... or having to remember some items from the game for the next round. Doing that practice for a month exercises parts of the brain

that do those things so they’re faster after the month,” he said. Measuring alpha waves of players when certain tasks came up in the game could predict how well they might improve at these real-world activities. This may explain why “brain-training” tools may work for certain people. This research could be applied to improve those types of tools. Mathewson next wants to repeat the study to confirm the findings. While we may not yet be at the point where we can determine exactly how to improve brain function and our abilities at certain tasks, researchers hope they may be able to do these types of tests in more complicated situations or games that can help us understand how the brain works day-to-day.

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Photo courtesy of Hani Sharabash, Bloc From the top left: Jack Hanford, (skipped college to join the startup), Matt Frisbie (ECE, UIUC 2011), Scott Robinson (UCLA), Eric Simons, (Naperville, skipped college to do startups), Jordan Hamel (MatSE, UCLA), Albert Pai (UIC, left college to join the startup) ClassConnect, also known as Claco, complements Bloc in that it offers a networking opportunity for teachers and acts as a means for compiling and integrating resources.

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STARTUPS FROM PAGE 7 idea that you don’t have to learn alone.” This is where Bloc comes in and helps with the teaching. Bloc encourages its users to take advantage of these resources to enhance their learning. Courses taught online are often thought of as inferior to in-class lectures, but the Bloc team has found a way it thinks can make online learning equally as engaging, said Choxi, CEO and co-founder of Bl and December 2010 graduate from the University’s electrical and computer engineering program. “We’ve been inspired a lot by game mechanics in terms of how we design our curriculum,” he said. Part of their strategy is to break free from the linear path of most schools’ curriculums,

Teaching methods Bloc aims to teach its students about Web development via a self-paced boot camp, while Claco offers online resources for teachers.

Bloc t t

t t t

Students sign up for a 12-week, self-paced “boot camp” course for $5,000 They are able to follow the coursework at their own pace, though Bloc says students need to spend at least 25 hours per week to get the best results Students learn more than 15 Web-development topics and have a mentor to assist them along them way This teaches students what Bloc says is everything a professional Web developer needs to know By the end of the course, students will have a diverse knowledge base and their own project prototype that was built from the ground up

Claco t

t t t

Teachers have their own profile pages where they can upload class materials, including lesson plans, pictures, videos, pictures, articles and more. Either search by subject or find different subjects under each teacher’s profile page Teachers can then create their own profiles and upload original content as well as retooled content from others Claco aims to shorten the amount of time teachers spend planning their teaching and more time actually teaching

15 Choxi said, and instead allow students to choose their path for learning the content. This makes the 12-week courses easier to manage.

ClassConnect, works with teachers in kindergarten through 12th grades to help them to share and collaborate on lesson plans and other teaching materials.

“We know what people want now. What we’re doing from here is to try and to build what we think is the most important educational network of the next century.” — Roshan Choxi, CEO and co-founder of Bloc and engineering graduate

“We do make our courses pretty intense,” Sharabash said. “It’s like taking on a parttime job.” Though students don’t earn degrees or have credentials to show off, they still attain the skill set to produce an impressive portfolio. “In the tech space, (employers) actually don’t really look for a degree,” Choxi said. “These days, if you want to get a job (in Web development) ... they’re looking more at actual code that you’ve written.” Bloc has been successful enough that it relocated its office to San Francisco in November, just over a year from its start last October. This is “where gravity is shifting” and better recruitment opportunities lie, Sharabash said. The co-founders are only working with Web-development courses for now because they already know the subject, Paola said. As they improve their education platform, they plan to offer courses with different subjects. “We know what people want now,” Choxi said. “What we’re doing from here is to try and to build what we think is the most important educational network of the next century.” Choxi said that while he was mentoring Bloc’s eight-week “boot camps” that got the startup off the ground, he found that many online education platforms see a shortage of resources as their biggest problem. So many of them strive to create an abundance of tutorials and other resources. “It turns out that resources are not what stops people from actually learning Web development,” Choxi said. “It’s all about being connected to other people.” The startup that once complemented Bloc in its Palo Alto home still works with Bloc in improving education. Claco, short for

“Teachers are able to create lessons, share them with other teachers, and then teachers can take pieces of lessons and build their own, create different versions for themselves and share it with all the other teachers,” said Matt Frisbie, a Ruby on Rails back-end developer for the site. Previous iterations of Claco were met with varying levels of success, said Frisbie, the fourth UI alumnus at the Palo Alto house and a May 2012 graduate in electrical and computer engineering. Teachers latched onto the ability to share content and lessons. Claco is integrating social media into its platform so teachers can more easily share and collaborate on content. This way, they can spend less time creating and more time teaching. Claco is the brainchild of Eric Simons, a Naperville, Ill., native. He gained fame earlier this year after he was found squatting in AOL’s Palo Alto office following his involvement with an entrepreneurship initiative. It was then that he first began working on the idea that developed into Claco. Simons met Frisbie while staying on the UI campus during Frisbie’s junior year. He asked Frisbie to join his startup, but Frisbie was hesitant to join a startup without any capital. Frisbie took a job as a .NET developer at Allstate instead. “Right after graduation, I got a call from him, and he said he had raised $175,000. So I pretty much called Allstate and told them I’m working for Claco,” Frisbie said. “I was on a flight out the next week.” Though Claco and Bloc are still trying to solve the puzzle of exactly what works best for online learning, they do already know that online learning is the next big step in education. “We have a phrase: ‘You can’t fight the zeitgeist,’” Sharabash said. “It’s coming. Education is going to change.”


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Technograph :: Winter 2012