Imagine a frenetic hub of ingenuity and passion, where the best tech minds in the world come together to hone their technical skills, bounce ideas of each other and solve the most obtuse tech conundrums. This is 42, a 24/7 school that’s not only been endorsed by some of the greatest names in tech – Evan Spiegel, Jack Dorsey and Brian Chesky to name but a few – but is also completely without teachers and diplomas. Here the students (who must fight off 30,000 others to get one of the 900 prestigious places) learn through their peers and project based learning, creating solutions and developing processes by themselves.
And the results speak for themselves; 42 is one of the world’s leading colleges for software engineering, coding and programming, with top companies and institutions calling on both enrolled and graduated students to help them solve complex problems. At the end of the programme, almost all students bounce straight into the workforce.
The idea of peer-to-peer learning is one that’s been gaining swift momentum during the last couple of decades, with the move from a teacher-to-student led curriculum to peer-grading showing clear benefits. But how has 42 been so successful in developing well-rounded tech and engineering employees?
We wanted to find out more, so we were honored to speak to Olivier Crouzet, Director of Pedagogy at 42, about the ideas behind the school and peer-to-peer learning, the challenges of running such a set up, and the importance of learning more than just technical skills in order to thrive in the workplace.
He explains more about 42’s success here:
Make your curriculum a giant video game
“The concept of 42 was not born overnight, it took years of development and experimentation. The curriculum had to be flexible enough to allow students to work alongside their studies, but also have some boundaries. We created a curriculum where everyone completes the same projects at first, and then they can choose from four different areas.
If their project is a failure they will start again. If it’s a success the student earns experience points and the next project is unlocked. So, each student can really choose their own path, creating their own individual profile and gaining experience in 17 different skills as they progress through the levels. Among these skills, 12 are IT skills, and 5 are soft skills (such as organization and collaboration) that allow the students to get well-integrated in a company.
Along with the gamification system we also have quests, achievements, badges, houses just like in Harry Potter – we try to make or curriculum into a giant video game.”
It’s the non-IT skills that are the most valuable
“I’m not sure what kind of IT content should be on our curriculum for the students to have a sustainable career – a specific technology or a programming language could be obsolete in three or four years.
The students come here to develop their IT skills, and they will, but what we really want is for them to develop their problem-solving skills, critical thinking, collaboration skills, adaptation skills and creativity. That is definitely one of the most important things.
It’s probable my students will create artificial intelligence that will replace other people’s jobs. In that case, it’s likely that a human being’s main asset will be to create something that is improbable for artificial intelligence. So our students need the skills to be able to manage and handle this kind of innovation.
We also want creativity that is not math-related at all, something more artistic. When we ask the 900 students to do the same project, we will probably have 900 different pieces of code. Creating code is a creative process, like some kind of art.”
Critical thinking is key
“We want our students to develop the ability to look for information and filter information. This is very valuable these days, because everyone has access to a lot of information and one of the key challenges is to be able to be critical, to be able to work out which information is relevant, useful and what is wrong.
We want our students to be able to search for everything and then have doubts about everything. They need to ascertain; ‘Is this interesting, true/false?’ and then they will test it.
We want our students to be able to create collective intelligence. So, at the end, everyone has new ideas.”
Segment peer evaluation into related skills
“With each project, we decide that up to three or four skills are connected to the project. Some of the projects require group work; some projects need to be creative, some projects are not very complex but are rigorous. So we mix different technical and soft skills to the different projects.
The job of the pedagogical team is to create project subjects and rating scales. So, when the project is over the evaluation uses a rating scale that was created by the same people who created the subject of the project.
When students finish a project, other students can evaluate it. We have an evaluation points system, where you earn points when you evaluate others, then spend those points to get evaluated.”