In a recent TED talk, Bill Gates advocated placing a camera in every classroom to help teachers be more effective. He estimates the price of ubiquitous classroom cameras at $5 billion, less than 2% of what the U.S. spends on teacher salaries and benefits. The effects of putting a camera in every classroom can be far-reaching and powerful, but the cost could be far less than what Gates estimates. Cameras combined with other technology can revolutionize education at a modest expense.
These days, cameras are everywhere. Across the country, red light cameras enforce traffic laws in over 500 communities—at almost $50,000 each. New York City is investing hundreds of millions in a “ring of steel” street-level camera system to aid counter-terrorism. Stores, shopping malls, and gas stations capture our every move. It starts early; many parents even use “baby cams” to make sure their newborns are sleeping safely.
But cameras remain rare in a place they may improve society most—the classroom. In universities and colleges today, once a lecture is delivered, it is gone. The majority of academic institutions still operate in an “all analog” world, struggling to harness technology to capture content and deploy it in new and better ways.
Let’s imagine every classroom installed a camera (and software) that could record, store, and manage the lecture and materials so they were available to students anytime and anywhere on any device. What improvements would that bring? The universities and colleges that have done just that using Echo360’s edutech software (in which my firm, Revolution Growth, is an investor) have improved student outcomes and instructor efficiency. More students pass the class, and with higher grades. Fewer teachers are required for entry-level classes, and valuable time is spent on more personalized instruction.
With lecture capture and playback, students who might have missed class that day (due to sickness, work, athletics, interviews, or oversleep) do not lose out on that learning. For students who might not understand a particular concept, the opportunity to re-watch part of the lecture, just as they would re-read a section of a textbook, is extremely valuable. Teachers no longer have to give the same lecture over and over and over. Instead, they can perfect it, record it, and have students watch before class. This “flipped classroom” moves the “data dump” portion of the lecture out of the classroom, freeing up class time for high-value discussion and interaction. Even something as mundane as office hours, which students often miss, are transformed: Students can post questions online, and instructors can stream video-recorded explanations to the whole class.
This all seems great. The good news is that for higher ed the path to ubiquitous adoption can be relatively fast. Installing a camera in every classroom costs almost nothing, since just about every classroom in higher education is already equipped with a PC, at least by video-enabled devices brought in by students and instructors. The cost of a software system that records, hosts, manages, and streams the lecture to students? The same as two lattes per student per year. For about $10 per student per year* (or $20,000 for a 2,000 student college), a university can make this happen. The average tuition is now almost $40,000 per year. If a student misses class, or does not understand part of the lecture that day? Tough luck. But for $10 of that $40,000, the university could “plug in the classroom,” and revolutionize learning.
Donn Davis co-leads Revolution Growth, which invests in and helps build innovative and impactful companies, including Echo360, Lolly Wolly Doodle, Resonate and FedBid.
*estimated market cost of installing a blended learning solution