Monday, January 30, 2012

CS 101: Classroom Droop Mountain

I was excited to read this last week: Udacity and the future of online universities by Felix Salmon. Speaking of Sebastian Thrun, Salmon writes:

... It started as a way of putting his Stanford course online--he was going to teach the whole thing, for free, to anybody in the world who wanted it. With quizzes and grades and a final certificate, in parallel with the in-person course he was giving his Stanford undergrad students. He sent out one email to announce the class, and from that one email there was ultimately an enrollment of 160,000 students....

Thrun was eloquent on the subject of how he realized that he had been running "weeder" classes, designed to be tough and make students fail and make himself, the professor, look good. Going forwards, he said, he wanted to learn from Khan Academy and build courses designed to make as many students as possible succeed--by revisiting classes and tests as many times as necessary until they really master the material.

.... he concluded that "I can't teach at Stanford again." He's given up his tenure at Stanford, and he's started a new online university called Udacity. He wants to enroll 500,000 students for his first course, on how to build a search engine--and of course it's all going to be free.

Here's the Website for the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class that started it all, and here's the Udacity site, which is preparing to offer two more computer classes free on the Web. They say:

We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we've connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students all over the world.

I've signed up for "CS 101: Building a Search Engine" to learn Python. Aside from my FORTRAN course in 1976, everything I've ever learned about computers has been self-taught and ad hoc. I'd love to try it in a structured environment. (I enjoyed my FORTRAN course, but the Computer Science department at my alma mater made it really clear they didn't want a bunch of ladies running around their nice clean building.) Classes start February 20!

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