GREAT BARRINGTON — For Lucien Firth, it’s a high school course that doesn’t feel like school, and it’s not something his parents made him do.
Yet, he loves this immersion in the big questions of our time in a remote, Socratic-style seminar from the new, Berkshire-based startup, Edgi Learning.
In the course, “Technology & the Future of Work,” Firth, 17, is thinking about how technology is shaping our lives and futures, just as the pandemic has accelerated our reliance on it.
The course is one of the first to sprout from Edgi, whose mission it is to help teens adapt to and understand a fast-changing world.
Edgi, born from the COVID-19 crisis, was founded by Josh Shapiro, 25, a Stockbridge resident and native who is passionate about revolutionizing education, and his partner, Tinsley Maier, 22, who works in the ed-tech industry in New York. The company, which partners with the Berkshire Innovation Center and is sponsored by four county banks, won first place in the nonprofit PosiCOVIDity’s Innovation Challenge.
“Our hope here is to inspire students to think critically about the education they are receiving and if it is preparing them for the future,” he said. “And if not, how to change that.”
The pandemic accelerated the education shifts that were coming, Shapiro said, adding that course topics can’t help but touch on the moral ramifications of technology.
“All my classes revolve around the idea that the world is changing faster and faster,” he said.
Students enrolled now are thinking about the mechanics of technology and its intent. The current course, taught by Shapiro, includes discussions that range into the implications of artificial intelligence, of human choices choices based on algorithms, and the effect of surveillance capitalism on social justice movements.
Firth, a senior at Monument Mountain Regional High School, said penetrating these topics is helping him get ready for a wild new world and helping him stay sane now.
“It’s something to look forward to,” said Firth, of Monterey. “It’s been one of the few certainties in these really crazy times. What Josh has done is to show us what we can know and prepare for.”
Firth said his interest in architecture and engineering has migrated to environmental work or technology since he began taking an Edgi course last summer. And he now is a discussion facilitator for the seminar, giving him extra leadership and public speaking chops — and paid work.
There are 96 public high school students from almost every district across Berkshire County now taking the class for $25. The program spread quickly by word-of-mouth after a pilot class this summer. Students also have found it a powerful social outlet during the lockdowns.
“Now I know kids from Taconic and Wahconah and Lee [high schools] that I didn’t before,” he said.
Shapiro, who is an adjunct professor at New York University, based the course on one he taught at the college.
The plan eventually is to create more than one course at a time, and open up the program to private school students and home-schoolers, and expand beyond the Berkshires.
While students continue their hybrid pandemic-model schooling at their high schools, they attend the course twice a week. Shapiro also brings in guest speakers.
Shapiro also sees Edgi as a continuation of Edify Monument, a program he cultivated with students that grew out of a need to redesign the deteriorating high school with a future-forward creative approach.
Ben Sosne, executive director of the BIC, says Edgi is in line with the education aspect of the nonprofit’s mission to grow the local tech and science economy and to create a “talent pipeline.”
Sosne says that while it’s a great business opportunity for Edgi, it also will do great good for the county.
“It’s a real testing ground in the Berkshires,” he said. “We see it as casting a wide net to high school students and to helping a young company. Our goal is to make this one of the pillar programs of the BIC that grows year after year.”