The launch of Story Xperiential.

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2021 by Brit Cruise

Over the past few months my partners at X in a Box (Tony DeRose and Elyse Klaidman) and our team launched a brand new educational product/program: Story Xperiential in partnership with Pixar Over the past few months my partners at X in a Box (Tony DeRose and Elyse Klaidman) and our team launched a brand new educational product/program: Story Xperiential in partnership with Pixar Animation Studios. In simple terms, our idea allows anyone to try their hand at working in different industries by building a prototype that industry would recognize – a kind of virtual apprenticeship open to all. With Pixar we used the storyreel (animated storyboard) as the prototype the students work on while Pixar employees assist as mentors. This program allows any student to mimic working in the real-world at top companies: it’s collaborative with weekly deadlines, ongoing peer feedback and culminates with a final online exhibition. I see it as a great prerequisite for pretty much everything students might do after.

Here is a 2 min overview of the program with actual product shots from the last 2 months:

The results of this program exceeded even my own rose coloured projections when we set out to build it. It has been an exhausting yet exhilarating learning experience. There is nothing quite like inventing a new experience from scratch and watching people walk through the door for the first time. We went live Oct 4th 2021 and our first Pilot wraps today with our first ever public exhibition of student work. The results of this program exceeded even my own rose coloured projections when we set out to build it. Over 90% of registered students completed the program with a final prototype (this involved 40 hours of work across 8 weeks with multiple weekly submissions). This kind of retention is unheard of in our industry. But the inevitable question arises: would it scale… ?

A NEW NARRATIVE

In February of 2021 while brainstorming with my team, I was struck with an idea of blending a course, exhibition, internship and field trip all into one big linear experience. As with Art of the Problem or my Khan Academy work I like to imagine big linear narratives people travel through (I loved making haunted houses as a kid). This was spurred by a frustration with what I saw being done in the world of “online learning” during the lockdowns. What annoyed me most was seeing my own kids being forced to use technology backwards ( zoom school ). Not as a tool, but as a hurdle. I also saw people in the online edu industry  ‘pivot’ to more ‘live learning’ now that everyone was stuck at home (live workshops, etc.).  But the big realization for me is that many industries now operate almost fully remotely – and so taking advantage of that and  peeking behind the scenes would be easier than ever.

This spurred me to think of how to use the best of the online and offline world to create a totally unique learning opportunity. One idea I kept coming back to was the anti-Masterclass. I see the original Masterclass concept as a bait and switch, they sell access to celebrities and finding your passion, but what you get is paywalled videos with a comment section. I was browsing user reviews of the platform and one comment jumped out at me: ” best part of Masterclass was in the comment section where somebody gave good feedback on my work at the end…”. To me this felt like a golden nugget laying on the ground waiting to be picked up. Rich user to user interaction, which powers most online products, was largely missing from online education or ‘bolted on’. Almost everyone I worked with always thought of the “online community” as a secondary to something else (the lecture, the multiple choice question, the interactive simulator.) The proof was in the pudding, even today no online courses can retain more than 50% of users through a long form educational course. I remember back when 10% was state of the art in terms of user retention…why didn’t kids want to watch videos and do multiple choice tests…even when we add bells and whistles? The problem was the goal post. People were designing for ‘engagement’, ‘virality’, ‘session time’, ‘stickiness’, ‘curriculum/standard alignment’, but ultimately it was about telling.  In our approach we would like to shift the focus onto doing. So our ideas is simple: what if we designed a program entirely around making your work better? To focus this point slightly, what if our program helps you make industry grade prototypes. In a world where your portfolio is much more important than a resume, this seems like the obvious right direction. That’s it. Start from scratch and build something that focuses on doing this well. Do we need badges? probably not. Do we need a point system? na. Do we need ‘cute profile pictures’, nope. So what do we need?

THE PITCH

The first napkin sketch of this idea

I love artifacts, such as when a company is still just a pitch deck. Here is first pitch deck from day 0 (Makeworks was a working title that became Xperiential). Here are a few key slides from that presentation back in Feb 2021.

The first was the idea of taking the best of school and work, and finding that intersection…that’s kinda the lifeblood behind what we want to do at X in a Box (jumpstarting your future). And this would be the first original product/ program for the company.

The second idea was using the “industry prototype” (such as a business pitch, or a game prototype or script) as the goal post. So that our user builds a mental model for how prototypes are designed and made in various industries, included the various roles involved.

The third is that real world work happens in teams (at some or all levels), requires feedback and iteration and is eventually consumed on a deadline (exhibition). These would act as pillars for whatever we designed.

What the product/program would do is push people ahead towards being excited about making X AND knowing what role they enjoy most in its creation. Giving all young people access to this kind of guidance/mentorship, as early as possible, brightens the future for all.

We imagined users would walk out of the program with something tangible in their hands (a strong prototype) and the knowledge they gained making it.

THE PRODUCT

In the past few months we rapidly built a new platform to accomplish this, and it acts like a simulated company (www.storyxperiential.com). People log in everyday, interact, and create and share their work. Everyone always told us “don’t try to be a platform” it’s “too hard” and “too much competition”, I’m glad we didn’t listen, because existing platforms didn’t do what we needed.

Each week you meet a different industry host helping you towards a goal. These weekly deliverables lead to a final prototype (in this case a storyreel) and follows actual industry processes.

We follow a weekly pattern, with a Monday live sessions where a the industry host speaks to the week ahead and takes live questions

livestreams

During the week users work asynchronously with (and across) teams. This leads to a Friday deliverable which is submitted for weekly user review. This mimics the work week in an online word. By doing this program users are experiencing the pressures and dynamics of working professionals.

Every Friday all teams upload their work-in-progress to our system. That leads to the engine of our program: the Weekly Gallery. A firehose of work which shared with everyone in the program.

And every user in the program reviews to several other submissions each week. Our #1 rule is everyone gets multiple pieces of feedback every week. Nobody is ignored (we are experimenting with various approaches to equalize feedback). Every user wakes up on Monday morning with their own dedicated page, with their work-in-progress at the top and feedback at the bottom. I like to say that “everyone is a youtuber” in this program. Instead of handing in work to their teacher it goes out to peers from other schools.

Watching the Galleries evolve has been fascinating. The biggest surprise was the power of the “gallery as the teacher”, as peers absorbed the work of many others. People borrowed and shared ideas of hundreds of others (both technically and conceptually). I have a new motto “the gallery wants what the gallery gets” written on my wall.

That leads to the best part at all, the final exhibition which acts as the program capstone. All users get a dedicated page in a public gallery (Netflix style), along with user choice awards and a celebration video featuring industry reaction videos to top entires. The quality of work was incredible (“this is equivalent to what we’d see in Pixar story boards”)

The work exploding out of this program is very exciting, a firehose of raw talent. I keep thinking what we are making started as an online school, but ends up looking like a virtual, crowdsourced production company… And the potential becomes enormous when you imagine creating many of these Xperiential programs in other industries.

Finally scale. This is where things get exciting. Most mentorship programs make the mistake of physical mentorship (1 mentor to 10 people), and high cost (often over $1000). Our model is designed to allow 1 mentor to N (many) people at very low cost (the dream would be ~$1-2 per week for under 18). This so far has required some clever design and technology such as AI to help with content moderation…but I’m convinced it can scale based on our pilot. That’s what we are going to do next. We are offering this program again (with many improvements and a larger cohort!) in early 2022 for youth AND adults, please join our waiting list if you’d like more info.

The feedback coming out of the program has been strong.

Announcing X in a Box & Array 101

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2020 by Brit Cruise

In March 2020, I launched a new company (X in a Box – http://www.xiab.org) with my colleagues Tony DeRose and Elyse Klaidman. Our idea was to take what we’ve accomplished with Pixar & Imagineering in a Box and expand on it in various ways. Here is a teaser of what we do:

We’ve been unexpectedly inundated with opportunities because of the dramatic shift to online learning as a result of the pandemic. Continue reading

The Beauty of Neural Networks

Posted in Uncategorized on November 15, 2019 by Brit Cruise

I’m thrilled to finally post part 3 in my Deep Learning series, it covers the first 80 years of neural network research and was one of the more difficult scripts & visualizations I’ve ever worked on. It pulls together many years of thinking about this subject:

Making “Imagineering in a Box”

Posted in Uncategorized on July 30, 2019 by Brit Cruise

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 12.03.00 PMToday I’m happy to announce we are finally launching Imagineering in a Box on Khan Academy from my team behind Pixar in a Box + some new partners at Walt Disney Imagineering. Here is a five min overview of the project:

A Brief History

When I was 12, I was so curious to find out how one could become an Imagineer. I wanted to learn about all the cool work going on behind the scenes of a theme park.

Image result for WDI engineering robots

In the mid 90’s Continue reading

New series on Artificial Intelligence coming soon

Posted in Uncategorized on April 15, 2019 by Brit Cruise

Been hard at work at a seven part series on AI. I’ll most more details soon. For now:

 

What I made with IEEE in 2018

Posted in Uncategorized on December 12, 2018 by Brit Cruise

This year I produced two videos with my friends at IEEE (Information Theory Society) which cover two highly influential academic papers from the 20th Century. What’s really exciting about these videos is we had the original authors of the papers review the script during development (Abraham Lempel and Robert Gallager). On average we spent about 4 months writing & iterating on each script until we had something that is clear and correct.

Here they are:

Lempel-Ziv compression – One of the most influential compression algorithms of the 20th Century:

LDPC codes – One of the most versatile and widely applicable error correction codes which was about 40 years ahead of its time:

 

In 2019 I will continue this project with IEEE.

What is Bitcoin?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2018 by Brit Cruise

I spent a long time thinking about a way to explain the what/why/how’s of Bitcoin to general audiences (my Mom) in a way that doesn’t frustrate Engineers (no hand waving). I feel that all existing Bitcoin videos contain jargon that scares away the typical viewer. In this video I made a point to avoid using a single word that might confuse people. I don’t know if I succeeded but I tried my very very best…

 

Please share this video with anyone who still doesn’t “get it” – as it might fill in some gaps.

 

 

Art of the Problem & IEEE join forces with “The Information Age”

Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2017 by Brit Cruise

This year marked the beginning of a long term collaboration with IEEE Information Theory Society. The goal of our ‘Information Age’ series is to produce short videos which bring to life the most impactful ideas from Information Theory and show how they play a role in our lives today. The first two pilot videos we produced in 2017 were on Network Coding and Space-Time codes. In 2018 we’ll be exploring source coding, channel coding, quantum information theory and security. Below are the 2017 pilot videos. I’ve enjoyed working with Matthieu Bloch, Michelle Effros, Christina Fragouli & Suhas Diggavi on this project.

Network Coding:

Space-Time codes (multi-input multi-output networks):

Does P = NP?

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2017 by Brit Cruise

 

I spent many years pondering (making sense of) this question. I ended up building a entire Computer Science series just to get to it. This video explores complexity theory and the (P vs. NP question) and is the conclusion to the CS series. I hope it helps others get the the key realizations faster than i…

The birth of a market

Posted in Video / Theatre on August 30, 2017 by Brit Cruise

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 8.00.09 PM.png

The paper that started it all…

In November 2016 I felt something in the air…my gut told me it was time for the blockchain sector to finally have its moment. After playing around with cryptocurrencies for years it was the Ethereum launch that seemed to catapult this sector from a small network of crypto geeks into a larger pool of technology enthusiasts and investors looking to be part of web 3.0 – the decentralized internet. Continue reading

How a Turing Machine works

Posted in Uncategorized on May 17, 2017 by Brit Cruise

For years I struggled to clarify exactly what a Turing machine needs to do, and more importantly, how Turing conceived of it. Even after I finished a CS degree I wasn’t able to “build one from scratch” because I hadn’t yet independently realized what he had…

09484-1jm-kt25lww9sh33epb8ctw

Recently I had a moment of insight and hit on an improved analogy for the “program” of a Turing machine, which Turing describes as “a book”. I took this one step further and clarified that each page in this book can be thought of as a unique state. A page contains a single instruction to follow (which takes the form of a conditional statement). This subtle step is something Turing didn’t include in his paper (instead he skipped ahead and simply refers to it as a ‘big table’, which can be tough to digest at first)

Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 2.31.03 PM

I feel this is the key to make the mechanism behind Turing machines more concrete and intuitive for the new learner. I hope Turing would approve of my modification to his analogy…and after reading his paper some 20 times, I can say with certainty that he would.

Here is the video on how it all works (this is also the 2nd last video in the CS series)

 

What is a Computer?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3, 2016 by Brit Cruise

This video was on the tip of my tongue for years, it feels wonderful to finally move on. It features Aristotle, Leibniz, Adam Smith and Charles Babbage. It’s the main “case study” for this series, after which we’ll move into more modern views on computers and computability.

 

Logic, Abstraction and Aristotle

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2016 by Brit Cruise

Posted a new video this week I’m really happy with. It covers abstraction, deduction & syllogisms through the lens of Aristotle’s work on Logic. Now that this video is complete I can finally get to the real meat of this series…. the dream of a “Universal Computer”. This video also features my son Booker, his second appearance in an Art of the Problem video.

What is an Algorithm?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2016 by Brit Cruise

I’ve seen so many botched, overcomplicated, misconstrued and boring attempts at explaining algorithms to new minds that it was a huge relief to finally finish this video. My goal here is to explain procedural knowledge (know-how) via a thought experiment involving actors. I cover what I consider the two core ideas behind algorithms and where they came from. I also extend the explanation to setup a future video on time/space complexity. You’ll see no mention of while loops, for loops, or bubble sort…horse before cart. This is part 2 in the series on Computer Science.

 

What is Computer Science? (Part 1: declarative knowledge)

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2016 by Brit Cruise

This first video explores declarative vs. procedural knowledge through the lens of the Turing Test & Oracle machines. It’s intended to hook + ground the viewer in some basics before building towards Logic & Turing Machines. After this video we will dive deeper into procedural knowledge via. Algorithms. Then we’ll explore more history (arithmetic vs. formal logic) before building towards 20th Century ideas.