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Author Topic: Udacity - free online education for real  (Read 3149 times)
40hz
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« on: June 19, 2012, 11:04:37 AM »

In case you missed IainB's earlier forum thread here, Udacity is an online site that offers college level courses free of charge.

Unlike most other free course sites, Udacity provides interactive class environments (where appropriate), along with actual instructor feedback, graded exams, and a certificate of completion for passing the exam. Noted robotics expert and former Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun founded Udacity with a dream and the ambitious goal to someday offer a recognized Masters Degree that would not cost the recipient more than $100. If successful, Udacity could finally break the high tuition "paper chase" graduate degrees have largely become for American university students.

The WSJ did a write-up on what it's all about. Read it here.

I just received an e-mail from Udacity announcing their upcoming intro stats course. It includes a challenge for high school students that those of you who are may be interested in looking into. Here's the e-mail:

Quote
Hi 40hz,

I am writing you to ask a personal favor. I am trying to break the student record for the largest online class ever taught with my new class "Intro to Statistics", which will begin June 25th.  Sign up, forward this e-mail to your friends and family and let's set a new record!

We've also launched a challenge for high school students.  Winners will get a trip to Stanford University and I will be delighted to give a tour of my lab!


Thanks,
Sebastian Thrun, Professor

I'm in the middle of two Udacity courses right now and I've been quite happy with my experiences so far. Check it out! Thmbsup

Udacity's homepage can be found here.
 Cool
« Last Edit: June 19, 2012, 10:13:22 PM by 40hz » Logged

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zridling
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« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2012, 03:05:57 PM »

Indeed, Udacity is great. Along with Khan Academy, et al., I'm hoping these will be the beginning of the end of the college-industrial complex that rockets so many young people (in the US at least) into crippling debt before they get a decent job.
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« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2012, 07:07:09 PM »

By the way, Sebastian Thrun is a fantastic researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence and has written some great stuff.
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TaoPhoenix
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« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2012, 07:52:12 PM »

Indeed, Udacity is great. Along with Khan Academy, et al., I'm hoping these will be the beginning of the end of the college-industrial complex that rockets so many young people (in the US at least) into crippling debt before they get a decent job.

A tricky question will be precisely what jobs a "Udacity Graduate" can get. So far they do okay providing an "interesting experience" but we'll have to see if it's anything more than a hobby. (This year - I know all about how it's easy to disparage something in year 1 and then by year 5 it's a force of nature.)

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40hz
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« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2012, 10:17:00 PM »

A tricky question will be precisely what jobs a "Udacity Graduate" can get. So far they do okay providing an "interesting experience" but we'll have to see if it's anything more than a hobby.

The same could be said for my friend's daughter who took on 6 digits worth of debt getting a undergraduate and graduate degree from a "name" school. She's been out since May and is still looking... ohmy

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zridling
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« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2012, 11:49:01 PM »

@TaoPhoenix:
You simply have to differentiate between education and schooling. I have all of both I'll ever need, but use little of it in my work (mostly the research and some math skills). If the person knows the subject, I'd take them over anyone highly "schooled." Universities had their millennium, but I hope they're coming to an end as we know them. At my age today, if you offered me a bachelor's degree with significant debt against my own self-motivated ability to learn online without a dime of debt, I would not go to college.
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« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2012, 06:32:34 AM »

@TaoPhoenix:
You simply have to differentiate between education and schooling. I have all of both I'll ever need, but use little of it in my work (mostly the research and some math skills). If the person knows the subject, I'd take them over anyone highly "schooled." Universities had their millennium, but I hope they're coming to an end as we know them. At my age today, if you offered me a bachelor's degree with significant debt against my own self-motivated ability to learn online without a dime of debt, I would not go to college.

Hmm. This sounds a bit like throwing out babies with bathwater. I'd like to do some separating myself.

First, let's separate "complete path of education" with "Some Classes". Very roughly, a uni degree does provide *some* organized learning of a subject. Sure, when you get out you find that it has to be tweaked, but it was modestly efficient for me. But I believe a big part of this is also the Elective process, where if 5 people do Business degrees, one goes for marketing, one goes for industrial design, one goes for HR, one goes for sales, and one goes into accounting.

So Mr. Thrun's initiative is certainly a nice start, but it must *not* end with "3 classes per level comprising only one path". There have been a few other open-ed initiatives recently, one of which MIT was involved, but they looked a lot like loss leader sales - juicy low level courses were available, then like that McDonald's promo, the ones you needed to complete the degree were back under full price.

To 40hz's snarky but underrated remark, a full degree in itself is not a hobby - education is education. It's no fault of the student who did his part. That's where these points intersect.

If the student could prove the same education but earned cheaply through one of these initiatives, and we got past the fraud problems, then that's part of the education of the future. In all our wars on copyright it's kinda amazing that no one is really mentioning education.

Finally to the "learn on your own vs schooling" bit, that just means that we need more modular education. "Everything is teachable" but those particular details never seem to make into standard course offerings. If anything, run it like "Go to Khan Academy. Choose your own 538 modules."
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40hz
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« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2012, 07:27:35 AM »

To 40hz's snarky but underrated remark, a full degree in itself is not a hobby - education is education. It's no fault of the student who did his part.

Hardly snarky. Just a simple observation. And I rather think you missed my point.

The point was me wondering how is "what jobs a "Udacity Graduate" can get" any different from asking what jobs my friend's daughter may get as a 'traditional' graduate. Because, as many graduates are discovering, having a very expensive degree becomes a questionable endeavor when there's no assurance of earning the high wages needed to pay for it. Especially now that so many jobs have been shopped overseas -and management positions (the traditional "upwardly mobile" or "good jobs") are being aggressively eliminated by businesses wherever possible.

Here's some interesting questions:

  • Why has the cost of a college education risen by approximately 10-15% per year regardless of economic conditions or the rate of inflation?
  • If many top universities are now sitting on endowment funds with holdings in the billions - and in some cases (Yale) have frankly admitted they really don't need to charge tuition in order to operate since they are sufficiently endowed - why do they continue to do so?
  • Precisely why is it accepted as given that quality education must be extremely expensive?
  • Why, when confronted about the issue of education costs do so many universities, public school administrators, and academic text publishers offer no rationale beyond the repeated assertion that education is, by its very nature, expensive?

To my way of thinking, there are a lot of unchallenged assumptions and agendas driving up the cost of a higher education. And few if any are based on anything other than the lame excuse that fundamentally says: Well...that's what we have decided to charge.

So anything that questions and can help break the largely pointless and arbitrary practice of ratcheting up education costs is fine by me. And even if it doesn't - at least it's a start in the right direction.

---------------------

Note: I also don't judge education primarily in terms of what employment it will get you slotted into. I have to agree with Zaine that there's a difference between schooling (or training as I would prefer to characterize it) and education. smiley
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barney
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« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2012, 12:33:20 AM »

... a full degree in itself is not a hobby - education is education. It's no fault of the student who did his part.

Well, in point of fact, education is not always education.  And ofttimes, a [higher] degree does become a hobby for those with the wherewithal.  Several unwarranted assumptions there.  And are you talking about the student who learned, but did not pass [questionable] tests?  Did not pass university muster?  Or are you talking about the student who knew how to pass tests even though that student couldn't put a round peg in a round (and bigger) hole?  Which did not do their part?  And which did?  There are dichotomies in that concept.

Bottom line - if there is one - is who can best perform in the real world.  Experience tells me that most university graduates are not nearly so successful as trade school alumni, on average.  Knowledge, despite the old adage, is not always power.
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TaoPhoenix
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« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2012, 04:55:09 AM »

... a full degree in itself is not a hobby - education is education. It's no fault of the student who did his part.

Well, in point of fact, education is not always education.  And ofttimes, a [higher] degree does become a hobby for those with the wherewithal.  Several unwarranted assumptions there.  And are you talking about the student who learned, but did not pass [questionable] tests?  Did not pass university muster?  Or are you talking about the student who knew how to pass tests even though that student couldn't put a round peg in a round (and bigger) hole?  Which did not do their part?  And which did?  There are dichotomies in that concept.

Bottom line - if there is one - is who can best perform in the real world.  Experience tells me that most university graduates are not nearly so successful as trade school alumni, on average.  Knowledge, despite the old adage, is not always power.

Okay, some fair points there. I tried to make a distinction between the "full degree" passing all the tests (including all the related "un-realistic" silliness, etc.) as a formal step in the educational process with the intent to begin a career. I completely agree that we have dismal prospects out there, but then I think the applicable word becomes "tragedy", not "hobby". To me "hobby" is something done with at least subconscious intent that there results aren't ever planned on being part of a significant professional result. The learning required in a a hobby still to me counts as education, just perhaps not formalized enough to put down on a piece of paper for job contexts.
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« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2012, 07:06:18 AM »

I signed up for the "Design of Computer Programs" class - CS 2012. I should enjoy this, as the first example program has to do with Poker, and a year or so ago I came up with a C# class for a deck of cards, for the purpose of completing a Programming Assignment here at DC.
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IainB
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« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2012, 06:39:10 AM »

On 2012-06-16, I made a post about Udacity Education - a $100 genuine Master's Degree?, and was seriously impressed with the real progress being made to offer cheap/free education in the US.

Imagine my surprise therefore on reading this:
(Copied sans embedded hyperlinks/images.)
Quote
Minnesota bans Coursera: State takes bold stand against free education.
By Will Oremus
Posted Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at 7:28 PM ET
Coursera banned in Minnesota
Want to take free courses? Not in Minnesota, you can't.

Honorable mentions go to New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission for driving out Uber’s online taxi-hailing service and to automobile dealers’ groups in four states for trying to have Tesla dealerships declared illegal. But the grand prize in this week’s unexpectedly heated competition for most creative use of government to stifle innovation has to go to Minnesota.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the state has decided to crack down on free education, notifying California-based startup Coursera that it is not allowed to offer its online courses to the state’s residents. Coursera, founded by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, partners with top-tier universities around the world to offer certain classes online for free to anyone who wants to take them. You know, unless they happen to be from Minnesota.

A policy analyst for the state’s Office of Higher Education told The Chronicle that Minnesota is simply enforcing a longstanding state law requiring colleges to get the government’s permission to offer instruction within its borders. She couldn’t say whether other online education startups like edX and Udacity were also told to stay out.

As the Chronicle notes, with admirable restraint, “It’s unclear how the law could be enforced when the content is freely available on the Web.” And keep in mind, Coursera isn't offering degrees—just free classes. Nevertheless, the startup appears to be playing along, posting on its terms of service a special notice to Minnesota users. It reads, in part:
Quote
If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.
Hear that, kids? The Internet is no place for learning. You can Facebook and Twitter and play World of Warcraft all you want, but if you want to study Machine Learning, Principles of Macroeconomics, or Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, you’re going to have to take it elsewhere. Maybe you can hit a wifi hotspot in North Dakota on your way back from buying fireworks.

Looks like another authoritarian clusterfark to me. It could only happen in the good ol' USA (I hope).
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tomos
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« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2012, 08:06:41 AM »

Quote

Looks like another authoritarian clusterfark to me. It could only happen in the good ol' USA (I hope).

bizarre, an entertaining read though...

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« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2012, 11:51:59 AM »

Looks like another authoritarian clusterfark to me. It could only happen in the good ol' USA (I hope).

Makes ya wonder what kind of rake-off the state might be getting from its institution$ of higher learning, no?
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« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2012, 01:15:28 PM »

If any one of you are into freelancing or wish to start a cloud startup, I suggest taking a look at Startup Class.  thumbs up
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IainB
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« Reply #15 on: October 20, 2012, 03:55:03 AM »

...Looks like another authoritarian clusterfark to me. It could only happen in the good ol' USA (I hope).

Update: All better now.
(Copied below sans embedded hyperlinks/images.)
Quote
Minnesota Decides Not to Suck After All, Legalizes Free Online College Courses
Katherine Mangu-Ward|Oct. 19, 2012 8:56 pm

That was fast.

Slate is reporting this evening that one day after the Internet (myself included) lost its collective mind with rage, Minnesota has backed off its announced ban on free online courses like the ones offered by Coursera and Marginal Revolution University.

(from Slate)-----------------------------
 Here's the new statement from Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education:

Quote
"Obviously, our office encourages lifelong learning and wants Minnesotans to take advantage of educational materials available on the Internet, particularly if they’re free. No Minnesotan should hesitate to take advantage of free, online offerings from Coursera."

He added that the 20-year-old statute in question clearly didn't envision free online classes from accredited universities:

Quote
"When the legislature convenes in January, my intent is to work with the Governor and Legislature to appropriately update the statute to meet modern-day circumstances. Until that time, I see no reason for our office to require registration of free, not-for-credit offerings."
(end)-----------------------------

Slate's calling it a victory for common sense and a pleasing example of government responsiveness. I agree. Looks like Minnesota is nice after all.
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