This is an idea I’m going to be revisiting quite often, I believe, because I think there’s a revolutionary concept waiting to be chiseled out of this rough brain nugget.
If you’re not very familiar with how software design works, then you’re going to need to try to grasp the concept of “the stack”. If you’re already familiar with this concept, feel free to skip the purple section.
To grasp the concept of “the stack” you’re going to need to understand, at least a little bit, how websites and the internet work, and as someone who barely understands it myself, obviously I’m in the perfect position to do the explaining.
At its very core, the internet is two computers sharing information between themselves. That’s the dumbest explanation of the internet you’ll find. When you go to a website, it’s essentially your computer asking another computer for the information your computer needs to build the website you’d like.
If you go one level deeper, though, you find that this process is divided up into a string of different activities that must take place to get information from this other computer to your computer. From here, the explanation can get pretty technical, so I’ll try to avoid that. The basic process that follows from you entering in www.bigbutts.com and hitting enter (not that you would… would you?) is that a request is sent to a specific computer that owns the information your computer needs to make the web page. It would be like sending a letter to your Aunt Ethel to get her recipe for… cake, or whatever Ethel does. Now this computer at the other end will probably be one of those giant fancy server computers like you see on hacker shows, but really it’s just like the computer you’re reading this on now (assuming you’re using a lap/desktop). Only, rather than running on Windows or Mac it uses an OS called LINUX, which you can actually download and use on your computer right now. When this computer running LINUX at the other end receives this request, it uses a program called APACHE to figure out where your information is located within its guts and then give you access to it. Once your request has access to the information it needs, it uses language called PHP to interact with the giant data table (basically a giant Microsoft Excel spreadsheet), a program called MySQL, to find the exact information it wants. This could be your username, your password or an embarrassing yearbook photo of you. When this info is found, it’s then packaged up and delivered back to your computer where the browser you’re using (Firefox/Chrome/Safari) turns it into the web experience you see before you.
So, in the end, your internet experience is just a whole mess of different tools connected together to take raw data and bring it to you in a useful way. So, you can imagine LINUX, APACHE, MySQL and PHP “stacked” on top of one another, filtering your digital needs into useful action. This is called a LAMP stack, and this is the stack Facebook began on.
Guess what, though. There are other kinds of stacks with other kinds of tools. Another very popular one right now is the MEAN stack, which is MongoDB, ExpressJS, AngularJS and NodeJS. How exciting is that? Despite the fact that everyone’s underlying goal is the same (I just want www.bigbutts.com!), different tools can be used to create entirely different user experiences on the end and business models/value structures in the middle.
Annnnndd… Welcome back computer people.
So, if the internet is just a way to find, manipulate and transport data between two different digital parties, we could also imagine education as a way to find, manipulate and transport data between two physical parties (people).
Let’s say I want to learn about economics. One way I could do that would be to search for who has the data I need (George Mason University looks nice), find its address (4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA), gain access to the data (“Dear Mr. Dean, I’m a very nice boy.), travel there (Roadtrip!) and absorb the data (keg stands).
While that might actually be a pretty effective way to learn economics, it’s also very time consuming because of the artificial constraints of the STACK of activities I have to perform to absorb the data. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Education isn’t a monolithic entity. It’s nothing but a stack of protocols and processes, which means it can be broken down into smaller functional parts.
If I look at higher education from this perspective, I can quickly start to see how the functional areas can be separated and reconfigured. The ‘ole University route has been a tried and true education stack, but perhaps its time to explore some new configurations.
PS: If you understand why I chose the picture for this post, tweet me the quote and I’ll award you one internet point.