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jrichardliston comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) - Less Wrong

42 Post author: orthonormal 12 August 2010 01:08AM

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Comment author: jrichardliston 15 November 2011 05:10:01PM 10 points [-]

Hello all!

I was pointed to LW by a friend who makes a lot of sense a lot of the time. He suggested the LW community would take some interest in an education project I've been working on for over two years, The Sphere College Project. Before introducing myself I spent a few weeks perusing LW sequences. This could go on for quite some time, so I'll go ahead and jump in.

I'm 50 years old, born and raised in the US in a series of towns throughout South Carolina. I had aptitude for mathematics and music. I pursued music and became a formidable trombonist living in NYC and playing classical and jazz music. I could sight-read anything. In 1982 my girlfriend's father worked for IBM, so I got to play around with his IBM PC. I was hooked (particularly loved "Adventure", but could only fit math/computers into my scant spare time. I did read "Godel, Escher, Bach" while studying trombone at the Eastman School of Music. Later, while doing my DMA in music I observed that most of the musicians I encountered in their 50s, 60s and 70s didn't appear to be loving the life anymore, so I decided I would leave music entirely, and began taking courses in math/physics/computer science at Columbia. I discovered that I had greater aptitude than I had previously thought, and I truly enjoyed these subjects. After a Master's in CS at Wake Forest University (thesis in graph theory--love it!) I worked at Data General with some exceptional software engineers. It was there that I learned more about optimizing my own processes. Later, I pursued a PhD in CS at Georgia Tech, researching Computer Networking. I was fascinated with global communication systems.

I had done work in the arts and the sciences, but knew that my facility in the humanities paled in comparison, so I chose to seek a position at a small liberal arts college in the northeast, which would allow me to interact closely with professors in many disciplines. I accepted a position at Ursinus College. The great advantage of Ursinus for me was that all (meaning "most") professors were required to teach the freshman seminar course---primarily a humanities course. What better way to learn the humanities than to be thrust in front of sixteen 17 and 18 year olds? It was transformative for me, helping me identify what I truly wanted to do with my life: help people learn what they want to learn. So I didn't get tenure (3 years ago) and found myself on the market. I started looking at positions at wasn't excited about my options, now that I had some experience in what we like to call higher education.

So like a good software engineer, I identified my primary requirement: have as much impact on the world as possible. How? By providing education for the huge population of adults who do not fit the traditional model of higher education; by teaching people in the way they learn by providing the environment that fits them best; by making it financially accessible to anyone who wishes to engage in their education; by making the program proceed at their schedule, not a "hard-coded" two- or four-year schedule; by allowing them to first identify what they are passionate about and wish to accomplish with their lives, then helping them gain the directly related interdisciplinary skills they need, then gaining practical experience in their field; and by making it all fun for them.

All this made perfect sense to me. I couldn't find an institution that had all the required elements, so I decided to found The Sphere College Project. It's been a monumental struggle (typical businesspeople don't grok the model at all), but even in our resource-limited state it's been working well for some of the students, including one who had no concept of negative numbers when she began. I'm currently working to scale up our model. I'm convinced it's going to happen, because it must. Meanwhile, I'm doing everything I can to connect with people who agree that a new model of education is of critical importance to creating a functional society.

I'm pleased to join you here, and look forward to reading more.

Richard Liston

Comment author: Morendil 15 November 2011 05:18:13PM 3 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong!

I observed that most of the musicians I encountered in their 50s, 60s and 70s didn't appear to be loving the life anymore, so I decided I would leave music entirely

That's kind of impressive, an application of the "outside view" in just the way recommended by Daniel Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 November 2011 06:46:54PM 4 points [-]

I know someone who compared lifespans of poets vs. prose writers, and went into prose as a result.

Comment author: gwern 15 November 2011 07:08:29PM 0 points [-]

I'm amused; that's like some twisted literature version of Newcomb's dilemma - if you would seriously consider choosing between prose and poetry on that basis, then Omega filled only one box. Or something like that.

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 15 November 2011 06:25:07PM *  0 points [-]

Agree: the vast majority are not rational enough to be able to do that.