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School's In For Summer At Udacity 105

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 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 [] (nor an online course) is no way to live an educated life.
  • 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 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 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 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 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.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"