Matt Damon: Computer Science Superstar?

There was a recent article in Salon regarding the possible use of celebrity presenters, professional actors and the more photogenic to present course material in on-line courses. While Coursera believes that, in the words of Daphne Koller, “education is not a performance”, Udacity, as voiced by Sebastian Thrun, believes that we can model on-line education more in the style of a newscast. In the Udacity model, there is a knowledgeable team and the content producer (primary instructor) is not necessarily going to be the presenter. Daphne Koller’s belief is that the connection between student and teacher would diminish if actors were reading scripts that had content they didn’t deeply understand.

My take on this is fairly simple. I never want to give students the idea that the appearance of knowledge is an achievement in the same league as actually developing and being able to apply that knowledge. I regularly give talks about some of the learning and teaching techniques we use and  I have to be very careful to explain that everything good we do is based on solid learning design and knowledge of the subject, which can be enhanced by good graphic design and presentation but cannot be replaced by these. While I have no doubt that Matt Damon could become a good lecturer in Computer Science, should he wish to, having him stand around and pretend to be one sends the wrong message.

Matt Damon demonstrating an extrinsic motivational technique called "fear of noisy death".

Matt Damon demonstrating an extrinsic motivational technique called “fear of noisy death”.

(And, from the collaborative perspective, if we start to value pleasant appearance over knowledge, do we start to sort our students into groups by appearance and voice timbre? This is probably not the path we want to go down. For now, anyway.)


2 Comments on “Matt Damon: Computer Science Superstar?”

  1. T. D. Davis says:

    Why would anyone want to model anything after a newscast? A newscast is a collection of 2.5 video packages that can never do anything more than hit the high points of whatever the story is about. Just what we want for education!


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