School House Wonk

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Turning an Online Page: 140,000 Enroll In Stanford Course

Today my husband turned in his first homework assignment for an online course he’s taking at Stanford University: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.

So did 140,000 other students around the world.

What started out as an experiment at Stanford in measuring the interest in and effectiveness of online learning has become a potential watershed moment in the evolution of online learning.

The instructors, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, are rock stars in the world of artificial intelligence.  Norvig, a former head of NASA’s computer sciences division, is now director of research at Google.  Thrun, a Stanford professor, is known for developing a robotic car that drove 132 miles in the Mojave Desert.  He now leads Google’s autonomous car program.

Their course is one of three being offered for free by Stanford’s computer science department as part of an effort to extend technology and learning beyond Stanford to the entire world.

While interest in the course initially was modest (about 80 students signed up at first), an email describing it was distributed widely by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.  That email went viral, resulting in a course enrollment over 140,000 students from around the world, ranging in age from high school to retirees.

Online students will not receive a grade or course credit, but their performance will be ranked against other online students.  Students will also receive a “statement of accomplishment” upon completion.

“I personally would like to see the equivalent of a Stanford computer science degree on the Web,” said Andrew Ng, who is offering an Introduction to Machinery course online through the same program.

These online offerings differ from past efforts because they are more interactive, with graded quizzes and homework, streaming video, and moderator software that will let students vote on the best questions to ask the professors. And again, it’s free.

About a million videos were viewed on the first day, causing servers to overload.

Thrun and Norvig were inspired by the ground-breaking work of Sal Khan and Khan Academy, a free, online learning website with over 2,600 courses focused primarily on middle and high-school students.

Should elite universities accustomed to charging hefty tuition be worried that Stanford has changed the rules for good? Dr. Thrun says no, because his aim is different.

“I’m much more interested in bringing Stanford to the world,” Dr. Thrun said. “I see the developing world having colossal educational needs.”

First reported in the New York Times: Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course.

Follow up story in San Francisco Chronicle: AI Experts Let Thousands Join Class

You can watch Dr. Thrun describe the course here.

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One thought on “Turning an Online Page: 140,000 Enroll In Stanford Course

  1. Pingback: And Then There Were 35,000 « School House Wonk

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