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School's In For Summer At Udacity 105

Posted by timothy
from the nerd-camp-by-remote dept.
theodp writes "Forget about his self-driving cars. CNN reports that Sebastian Thrun's Udacity — where you and 159,999 fellow classmates can take a free, Stanford-caliber online course together at the same time — just might be the future of higher education. Interestingly, of all the students taking Thrun's AI class globally and at Stanford, the top 410 students were online; the 411th top performer was a Stanford student. 'We just found over 400 people in the world who outperformed the top Stanford student,' Thrun said."
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School's In For Summer At Udacity

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  • by Antony-Kyre (807195) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @10:25AM (#40575353)

    are they factoring in that the online students may have much, much, much... much more free time than a "brick and mortar" student?

    Seriously consider the possibility that an in-person student may be taking many classes all at once, with attention diversified versus someone online who may only be taking one class.

    As I said, I haven't read the article.

    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      so there's nobody at stanford who is taking just 1 class?
      • by HiThere (15173)

        Probably not. Perhaps a grad student or two. When I was at college the minimum load you were allowed to take was 12 1/2 units / semester. I think the measurement units have changed since then, but the concept probably continues.

        • So 4 classes minimum? Well, it's not that bad also, is it?

          What I wanted to point out is that a lot of people in the top percentile were also better qualified than the average Stanford student.
          I found a lot of people on there who are CS professionals in the classes (I participated in all 3 initial ones). Some even had done work on ai or ml systems but even if they hadn't the experience of 4 or 5 years in the field coupled with an agile mind gives such participants a good advantage compared to an average stud

    • by timeOday (582209) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @10:36AM (#40575409)
      Yes, self-pacing is a huge advantage of online courses. At university I was always struggling to drink from the firehose, and if I wasn't, then I would feel bad for not taking a heavier load to get through sooner. But I always wished I had more time to absorb the topic and really get into it. Cramming for 4 years and then never cracking a book again [mentalfloss.com] (nor an online course) is no way to live an educated life.
      • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Saturday July 07, 2012 @10:50AM (#40575517)

        Udacity classes aren't self-paced (which is their advantage over the likes of MITx). You can watch the lectures whenever you like, but the assignments and tests are due on a set schedule. This not only provides accountability and motivation to finish, but also means that there are other people learning the same thing so you can get help via forums/study groups.

        • by timeOday (582209)
          I was referring more to the topic raised by the parent, which is the challenge of taking 5 or 6 courses at the same time. Instead of working like crazy for 4-8 years and then saying, "OK, I'm educated now!" maybe it would be better to bootstrap for just a couple years, then continue learning throughout life, as career needs evolve. Even if just a course per year. (I don't know if Udacity allows that, but it certainly seems to be more feasible without the inordinate travel time of commuting to a univers
          • This whole Udacity thing is fascinating. I think comp-sci is especially suitable for online education. Self paced is awesome for geeks like me with day jobs, but a rigorous schedule is probably better for full time students. I don't know where this is going, but 160K students learning this course has to have a bigger global impact than any lecture.

        • Actually, over the summer, the Google Car course is self paced. I finished it in about a week. It was very cool. Unfortunately I have to wait for a couple months until they offer the final exam again.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            It seems they are going further than that...
            (From the google car course announcement page)
            "Dear students,
            We have listened to your feedback about how awesome, engaging, exciting and educational, but also time consuming, our classes are. We are aware that most of you have many commitments in your life - job, family, studies at offline brick-and-mortar universities, house, garden, pets, vacations, travel plans, and many other things that are incompatible with our deadline based course model. Therefore we have

    • by daemonc (145175)

      Er... are you factoring in that many of the online students may have other things that consume their time, like say... a job and family?

      I know that when I was a "brick and mortar" student, I had much, much, much more free time than I do now. And I am exactly the sort of person that considers taking an online course such as this.

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      are they factoring in that the online students may have much, much, much... much more free time than a "brick and mortar" student?

      Seriously consider the possibility that an in-person student may be taking many classes all at once, with attention diversified versus someone online who may only be taking one class.

      As I said, I haven't read the article.

      I find your analysis rather unbalanced (one class vs. many?), and the exact opposite is more likely true.

      An online student can easily be enrolled in many classes at once, and quite literally be "in" all of those classes at the same time by simply opening up another browser window or tab and signing into the class.

      Unless you've figured out how to clone yourself, the in-person student, while enrolled in the same number of classes as the online student, still can only physically attend one class at a time, thu

    • by bobdehnhardt (18286) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @10:46AM (#40575479)

      As someone currently enrolled at Udacity, I can confirm that I'm only taking a couple courses at the moment. That's the advantage - I can learn at my own pace, in a manner that suits both my schedule and style of learning, and get the most possible benefit out of the classes. I'm not saying that I would outperform a Stanford student; hell, I wouldn't even pass the admissions test. And yet, I'm currently participating in Stanford-level classes in computer science, physics and statistics. For free.

      IMHO, that's a pretty compelling argument for the value of this effort.

    • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @10:54AM (#40575531)
      There are other factors not accounted for as well. I took the course just to experience what the state of the art in online learning is, even though I've taken almost all of the material in my undergraduate and graduate. The course was very easy for someone who's encountered this stuff before. Probably all the Stanford students were experiencing the material for the first time.

      Also, I don't know how the class at Stanford was structured. Were those students taking an online class or a real class? As in show up and take the exam for a 3 hour period. People taking the online course had 72 hours to complete the exam, and of course it was open book, open web (even if ostensibly not). With the exams accounting for 70% of the final grade, doing well on those is a major factor.
    • by dragisha (788)

      are they factoring in that the online students may have much, much, much... much more free time than a "brick and mortar" student?

      Seriously consider the possibility that an in-person student may be taking many classes all at once, with attention diversified versus someone online who may only be taking one class.

      As I said, I haven't read the article.

      First and most important thing first: Thrun is one selling Udacity, Meaning - everything he says is biased. Bias by money, nothing unusual, but bias still.

      High education without academy and without personal contact with peers and faculty staff... Looks like Thrun just invented high education without hassle called human factor, err.. professors. Car without driver, education without teachers... Pure genius! :)

    • by trout007 (975317)

      Seems like an argument for doing away with brick and mortar schools since you can't really concentrate. I agree. After
      I graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1996. I really don't have a news for a graduate degree but I have taken about 15 graduate level credits over the years in subjects of interest. I have learned much more this way than when I was a full time student taking 18 credits a semester.

      It might have been more productive to work full time as a drafter/designer while going to school par

      • by msauve (701917)
        "Seems like an argument for doing away with brick and mortar schools since you can't really concentrate."

        I suppose it depends on the goal. Do you want a degree to improve the chances of getting a job (I'm looking at you, Liberal Arts)? Or, do you want to learn something that you can apply to the real world?
        • by pnutjam (523990)
          or do you want to drink alot and cheer for people dressed funny and chasing a ball...
    • "are they factoring in that the online students may have much, much, much... much more free time than a "brick and mortar" student?"

      Are you serious?
      Both myself and most of the people I know that have been interested in these online classes are older and have full-time jobs. We squeeze in our lecture watching and homework during lunch hours and instead of the evening TV. We emphatically do -not- have more free time than a standard student (and we should know, since we were students once too, with free time,

    • by Pantero Blanco (792776) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @11:19AM (#40575663)

      I suspect some of the top people in the class went in with a full understanding of the subject matter, intending to test the class itself.

    • by Georules (655379)
      Many of the people taking these online courses already know the material as well. The top stanford student was probably still looking at much of it for the first time. Myself, for example, have taken a few udacity courses just to see the content delivery. I already knew the material and just blazed through assignments with nearly no effort.
    • The attention diversification factor definitely lowers your GPA. When I have a heavy class-load and things get hairy I have to make decisions about what class is going to get the most attention. A lot of times I will get A's in all of them after making these trade-offs, but still. You don't really have time to ruminate ideas and concepts though, one of my complaints about college. Then there is that strained look in the eye of a professor that you get when he/she is trying to run through all of the mate

    • are they factoring in that the automobile drivers may have much, much, much... much more free time than a "horse and buggy" driver?

      Seriously consider the possibility that an equestrian driver may be having to feed, stable, and shoe all at once, with attention diversified versus someone driving a car who may only be putting in gas and driving.

    • Or better still—how do we know some of these students haven't already taken an equivalent AI course and are just messing with the statistics? Outliers come in all shapes and sizes!
    • Then I think they just discovered a much more efficient way to educate university students, huh?
    • by Mattsson (105422)

      On the other hand, online students might be working 10 hours a day while studying.
      I had much more free time when I was a full time student than I have being a full time employee.

  • If all the courses are free, and they offer the ones I want, I'd pick up Mechanical Engineering + Physics + Chemistry degrees, then work my way through the liberal arts degrees. That Political Science degree will look nice mounted under my MCSE certificate. ;-)

    • I don't see how you could get online mechanical engineering, physics, or chemistry degrees, since each requires significant lab experience. Computer Science is probably the only science degree you could do fully on a computer, for obvious reasons.
      • by shiftless (410350)

        I don't see how you could get online mechanical engineering, physics, or chemistry degrees, since each requires significant lab experience.

        You don't have a lab in your home?

        • Indeed. I wouldn't mind completing the coursework online, and borrowing a lab / buying / borrowing the equipment and doing it in the basement.

          Of course, knowing my luck, DHS agents will descend on me because of all the chemicals I'll be ordering to a residential address.

  • That is where we need to go with jobs more certificates / vocational learning / non degree / apprenticeships.

    And less big one size fit's all degrees.

  • If there really were 160k and he finished 401 then he finished in the top 0.25%. BTW, what's this about "Stanford-Caliber" courses? I mean I went to a fairly well regarded private university and lets say the quality of their courses was rather underwhelming. (I later took classes at a public university that is supposedly not in the private's league and the education they offered was as good if not better. Then again they didn't have loads of top researchers which is what those rankings are about anyway. Yes
    • BTW, what's this about "Stanford-Caliber" courses?

      I wanted to make the same point. I've also been to a variety of universities from state to top tier private and found the caliber of teachers to be largely equivalent between them. Because of the competitiveness in academia, almost all professors across the board come from the top school in their field, so they have very similar styles, knowledge, and values. You'll find professors at State U and Ivy U who probably were lab mates.

      The real difference between schools is facilities and the quality of equipm

      • The one that goes something "The difference between the education at an elite school and a non elite school isn't the education, it's the other stuff." (IE Like you say, access to research equipment, chance to network with elite professors and other elite students, etc. The classes are pretty much the same.)
    • I went to a high-ranked public university (Georgia Tech) and also took the experimental online classes last fall (AI, Machine Learning and Databases) and found that the quality of the courses was pretty equal with Tech.

  • by DigitalSorceress (156609) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @10:43AM (#40575461)

    If the classes are good, who cares who's on top or not? The whole bit about other students doing better than an in person one doesn't matter a bit to me. Neither does the whole degree / not degree thing.

    What matters is whether there's something really interesting/useful to learn. If you're looking to just get your degree and get out of school and forget learning, well... I suggest you get an MBA. This kind of thing is really great for those of us with a thirst for knowledge and learning that merely got its START when we were in college.

    • by MacDork (560499)

      If the classes are good, who cares who's on top or not? The whole bit about other students doing better than an in person one doesn't matter a bit to me. Neither does the whole degree / not degree thing.

      It matters for Udacity's credibility.

  • This kind of sounds to me like the early Lexus ads. Can't afford a Mercedes? Get the trappings of such a car without the engineering that comes from the creator of the petrol automobile. Feel like you are riding in an incredible machine without actually doing so.

    I am sure that that the online courses are good. I am sure that the online students are as collaborative and work just as hard and are just as honest as the students who are working on similar projects at standford or any other university. B

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Achievement Unlocked: Missing the Point

  • Too many people go to college just to go. We need more technical schools and apprentice programs to teach them skills that will actually help them get a job.

  • My master's program is a "hybrid" - half our classes are in the brick and mortar building, for times when we have guest lectures or exercises that need to be done in person. The other half are conducted via an online classroom, where we can just as easily see the powerpoint and hear our professor's voice, but we don't have to leave home. My husband is teaching his summer session classes entirely in asynchronous online time, posting assignments and readings and grading them and hosting forum based discussions of the topics. (Everyone has to make a forum post for participation credit.)

    At this point, the only value coming from a fully paid program versus an online program is accreditation (there's a reason that diploma mill degrees are looked down upon) and the contacts that distinguished faculty members have for their students. Also, brick and mortar institutions are better for lab and research oriented classes. I don't think my plant physiology classes back in undergrad days when I minored in botany would have been as fulfilling without the labs, where we got to blend, electrocute, and otherwise torture plants to measure all the stuff their guts were doing. Sure, we could do all the organic chemistry and mathematics online, but those equations need to translate to the real world too.
  • IT jobs need to drop the NEED CS degree idea as that is number more of a programing skill set but some CS is way more the high level theory side then what most programing skills need. Now for all IT jobs some theory is nice to have but the CS level is over kill and the time can be better off doing stuff that is more like real work.

    Think taking a EE over some who did electricians apprenticeship to a electricians job. Even power line man have apprenticeship that just need high school to get in.

    Also IT need a

    • by Anonymous Coward

      IT jobs need to drop the NEED CS degree idea as that is number more of a programing skill set but some CS is way more the high level theory side then what most programing skills need.

      Are there actually IT jobs that require a CS degree? I have never tried to get an IT job (I am an EDA programmer), but that seems so ridiculous that it can't be true. Why would anyone who worked for a CS degree take a job plugging computers in? That would be like a theoretical physicist becoming a truck driver, on the grounds that trucks obey the laws of physics.

      • Likely it's HR non NON tech mangers who put down stuff like need CS degree or any degree for IT job and over look people who have real tech skills.

  • So he is still in the top 411/160,000 (.26 %) Same as being first in a class of 400.
  • Intro to Statistics [udacity.com]: Making Decisions Based on Data

  • Or outcheated him.

  • I have taken classes both at Udacity and Stanford. I found that the Stanford class was more like a traditional classroom brought online. The Udacity course felt like it was designed from the beginning as an online experience.
  • Not apples-to-apples (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 07, 2012 @12:44PM (#40576177)

    I took the class and was tied for rank 1, but I have an engineering degree from a Stanford-caliber school and the 411th guy was still an undergrad. It's an interesting statistic, but it's not an apples-to-apples comparison

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @02:11PM (#40576767) Homepage

    I have a Stanford MSCS degree from the 1980s. Frankly, the teaching wasn't all that great. Other than Zohar Manna's class on mathematical logic, none of the lecturers had really good presentations. Having the chance to argue with John McCarthy was fun, though. I know things have improved since then. (CS was moved from Arts and Sciences to Engineering and given adult supervision. That helped.)

    More recently, I've struggled through the original online Stanford machine learning course (pre-Udacity) starring Andrew Ng. Hacker Dojo offered it as a class, with meetings, two years ago. There he is, writing semi-legible math on a chalkboard (not even a whiteboard) for an hour at a time. The handouts don't quite match the videos, the motivation for much of the math is lacking, and the notation in the field is awful. (Sometimes a subscript is an exponent, and sometimes it's an index, depending on context. The precedence of operators is non-obvious and unstated. And everything, of course, is written with minimal parentheses.) Most of the concepts in that field have a geometrical interpretation, but there weren't enough pictures to give an intuitive understanding of what's the math is doing. What's actually going on is often not that complicated, but you don't get that impression from the lectures.

    Some of the big-name universities work only because their students are so good they can make sense out of mediocre instruction. It's really the labs and the other students that make it worthwhile.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Current Stanford grad student here. The parent is correct; teaching is not much of a priority here.

  • I have been hearing all this hype about how innovative online classes are, how this will change teaching, how we might not have colleges any more because it is so revolutionary. I am a little skeptical of the hyperbole of the "future of education" as the blurb puts it.

    I have watched videos on Youtube etc. to try to learn things. Sometimes the videos are not explicitly meant to be educational - Walt Mossberg interviewing some tech guy for All Things Digital can be more educational than a classroom lecture

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Udacity is more than just video lectures, they have a great format IMHO. A unit is 20-30 bite size videos of 30sec - 5min, and they are interspersed with quizzes and exercises so you can be sure to understand each concept. Then a set of homework problems which range from quizzes to through to medium sized exercises, and the final is similar. The really big bonus is the active discussion forum for each course, which is where a large portion of the learning is done, bouncing ideas of other students, requestin

    • by foksoft (848194)

      I have been hearing all this hype about how innovative online classes are, how this will change teaching, how we might not have colleges any more because it is so revolutionary.

      Then you have been hearing it wrong. This kind of education is not going to make current education obsolete. It will just complement it. If you look at reasons why Sebastian Thrun left Stanford, then you might be surprised. The reason why he left was partly due to the fact that after he started teaching online AI class, then his usually packed classes at Stanford were suddenly empty. And when he asked his students why they don't come to see him while they pay big bills to be able to, the answer was surprisi

  • "a free, Stanford-caliber online course".

    Who is making this claim? Normally when you attach a link to a statement it is because the link provides some supporting evidence for the statement. That is not the case here.

    As far as I am aware, neither Thrun nor anyone associated with Udacity has made a claim that the online classes are Stanford-level. I have taken two of his online classes. Thrun is brilliant and I enjoyed his lectures a lot. However, the homework and exams are not at a top 20 University le

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