Last autumn hundreds of thousands of students signed up for three computer-related free online courses offered under the auspices of Stanford University. This year the number of courses on offer has expanded, but now run by two newly launched companies, Udacity and Coursera.
The formation of Udacity was announced at the end of January. The successor to Know Labs, which delivered the record-breaking Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class, it has been founded by Sebastian Thrun with two other roboticists, David Stavens, who was another of the principal co-creators of Stanley the driverless robot car that won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, and Mike Sokolsky who was another Robotics Research Engineer at Stanford University.
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.
Each of these courses will have six weeks of instruction in which you'll watch video lectures at a rate of one unit per week and complete an assignment based on it - and the new courses support programming assignments not just numerical boxes and multiple choice. In Week 7 there will be a final exam. Successful graduates will receive a certificate signed by the instructor(s) and also by an "academic officer of Udacity".
David Stavens comments:
The entire software platform has been rewritten from the ground up to be scalable and support a better student experience and we do plan to have "office hours".
In case you were one of the few who didn't take the AI course "office hours" refers to a Google Hangout where students can ask questions of the instructors.
The titles of another eight courses are billed as "Coming 2012" and the second wave are due to start in mid April, with others following at eight-weekly intervals. The idea is to have an entire Computer Science curriculum online in due course.
Meanwhile it has emerged that the two Stanford professors who pioneered the idea of interactive online courses at Stanford, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, are founding Coursera, a company that is following up on the success of last autumn's Machine Learning and Database classes delivered to hundreds of thousands of students in 176 countries around the world.
We are committed to making the best education in the world freely available to any person who seeks it.
We envision people throughout the world, in both developed and developing countries, using our platform to get access to world-leading education that has so far been available only to a tiny few. We see them using this education to improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.
Although no general announcement has been made more information about Coursera is included on its Job Recruitment pages where it is looking for technical and support staff to help
scale up online education efforts to provide a high quality education to the world
Although there is still no firm dates for the commencement of the classes that were due to go ahead in January and February they are due to go ahead once remaining administrative problems have been resolved.
Both the Udacity and Coursera classes have already gained tens of thousands of sign ups and are still open for enrollment. It promises to be a busy spring for those who want to further their knowledge of computer science, machine learning, robotics and many related topics. But it seems we need to stop referring to these classes as "Stanford Online Courses"