Daren Coudriet is obsessed with disruption. The good kind. The kind that gets entrepreneurs buzzing, an idée fixe akin to chocolate for Willy Wonka, caves for Indiana Jones and space for Buzz Lightyear.
Don’t let the jacket fool you. There’s a big kid underneath the twill.
“I’ve been the person who served as a translator between understanding what this new, disruptive technology can do, and helping the business side or organization understand how to apply it,” he said.
Coudriet began his career during the dot-com boom. He started his first internet consulting company in the mid-1990s, which led to a bigger job in Boston around Y2K. There he helped companies like The New York Times and Standard and Poor’s go digital.
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Now the entrepreneur in residence at the Penn State EdTech Network, Coudriet works to bring innovation into the world of higher education. For that, it requires a different way of thinking.
“I think of students as customers,” he said. “How do we best serve the customer? How do we improve the customer experience? I think if we can start thinking that way, then it’s better for all of us.”
Coudriet, a Penn State graduate, has connected leaders in the tech space to his alma mater. In November, for example, he helped bring IBM to HackPSU, a 24-hour student-run hackathon. With ideas ranging from AI transfer credit solutions to a personal student assistant who learns with the user, Coudriet’s mind still whirs constantly.
He wants to continue that momentum.
“We’re still in startup mode,” he said. “I view the EdTech Network as a facilitator as opposed to a decision maker. We’re trying to facilitate what’s happening in the marketplace and the rapid innovation that’s happening in higher ed.”
Q: How would you describe the EdTech Network and its goals?
A: The way I always describe it to people is the EdTech Network is a vertical of Invent Penn State. One main goal is advancing (online education network) World Campus capabilities around innovation and technology. World Campus is an 18-year-old entity now; it’s projected to have $160 million in revenue this year.
A second goal of the EdTech Network is to provide entrepreneurial engagement for students and research opportunities for faculty. An example would be we’re doing the Nittany Watson Challenge in the spring. It’s providing students, faculty and staff an opportunity to create solutions around artificial intelligence. The kickoff is on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20 where IBM is going to come and participate. We’ll have about four or five people from IBM and then we’ll have workshops around specific Watson services.
Q: How can education harness machine learning to make the academic experience easier for students?
A: An idea of a use case is something that every university faces, and Penn State is no exception: There is a huge challenge around transfer credits. My vision around that is I think if we can solve the transfer-credit challenge at Penn State, we could potentially create a transfer-credit solution for the entire U.S. So the Big Ten could share the transfer system and then the system gets smarter and smarter and before you know it, it would make sense for every university to use it because it would be quicker, more accurate and probably save a university a lot of time and money.
Q: How is EdTech looking to innovate the online learning space?
A: An example would be embedding an artificially intelligent chatbot within a course who could be personalized to each learner and their needs. You could even take that chatbot a step further and have it look for students who are disengaging from class and then serve prompts to pull them back in. It gets kind of interesting.
We’re really solidifying our strategy right now around AI and EdTech. The goal is to find a strategic AI partner. There’s another company we’re looking at called IP Soft and they have an intelligent digital employee. They call her Amelia, and they’ve developed her so that she can learn while she’s talking to you. Maybe she assists a Penn State student all they way from when they’re first applying through their entire Penn State experience. Imagine what we could do if we could pull that off.