news about Khan Academy, Udacity, MITx, and Stanford online courses
February 9, 2012 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Recent news about free online education.
1, Khan Academy: Google's first employee, Craig Silverstein, is leaving Google and joining Khan Academy.

2, Udacity: Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun has founded an online university called Udacity. Thrun taught the popular Artificial Intelligence course in the fall. (By the way, if you heard that Thrun left Stanford in order to found Udacity, you heard wrong. See here or here for clarification and more info.) The first two Udacity courses begin on the 20th of this month.

3, MITx: Announced in December, it's still hard to find specific details on what MITx will offer. However, searching turns up a few clues: There will probably be one or a few courses in the spring, and a "handfull" of courses in the fall. The first course will likely be Circuits and Electronics. There will be optional, for-a-fee certification. The price for certification will be "maybe a week of wages of the median income of people in [the user’s] country", and the certificates will have a letter grade.

4, Stanford: Courses that were originally planned to start in January will start this month or later (which means there's still time to enroll). Also, it seems that two of the courses, The Lean Launchpad and Technology Entrepreneurship, have been cancelled.

Udacity courses (beginning Feb 20):
    CS 101: Building a Search Engine
    CS 373: Programming a Robotic Car

  Planned courses:
    Theory of Computation
    Operating Systems
    Computer Networks
    Distributed Systems
    Computer Security
    Algorithms and Data Structures
    Software Engineering Practices
    Building Web Applications

Stanford courses:
  Computer Science:
    CS 101
    Machine Learning
    Software Engineering for Software as a Service
    Human-Computer Interaction
    Natural Language Processing
    Game Theory
    Probabilistic Graphical Models
    Design & Analysis of Algorithms I
    Computer Security


  Civil Engineering:
    Making Green Buildings

  Electrical Engineering:
    Information Theory

  Complex Systems:
    Model Thinking

    The Lean Launchpad
    Technology Entrepreneurship

Stanford previously: 1, 2
Khan Academy previously: 1, 2, 3
MITx previously: 1
posted by -jf- (39 comments total) 166 users marked this as a favorite
The Prob & Stats stuff of the AI class killed me and I suspect the same will happen in the Machine Learning and Natural Language classes. I see the Information Theory requires a "solid grounding" in it.

I better just start the Khan Prob & Stats units before I do anything else.
posted by DU at 7:08 PM on February 9, 2012

That was pretty much the only part of the AI class that was taught with any rigor, too. I feel like I learned some real probability theory skills and then the names of a lot of AI / ML techniques.
posted by grobstein at 7:14 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

1,042,450 points in Khan Academy and still counting! In fact, I'm taking a break from the Quadratic Equations exercise module to write this post.

I really love Khan Academy; it's increasing my math knowledge by leaps and bounds.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:16 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's the thing that concerns me most, that a lot of these online courses are "learning-themed" activities that don't involve much deep learning and are in no way comparable to an actual, rigorous academic course. It'd be pretty awful if complaints about access to quality higher education were derailed by pointing at stuff that's little more than "alumni college": reminiscent of learning from a distance, but not to be confused with it.
posted by Nomyte at 7:21 PM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Geeze, I wish my university had offered "Building a Search Engine" in my CS101 when I was there in 1990. I could have really gotten the jump on Google!
posted by pashdown at 7:21 PM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm "taking" (via iTunes U offerings) Stanford's Programming Methods (CS106A) course. I don't get to ask questions or get my homework looked at, but hey, free, and so far, so good. It's really not the same as being in a classroom, but it's heaps better than trying to invent the wheel myself. For chrissakes, I'm reading about Java! Because I want to!
posted by rtha at 7:29 PM on February 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

News (to me at least):
The Khan Academy has a section devoted to Vi Hart nerding out.
posted by lekvar at 7:43 PM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

well, after 30 years of bringing the efficiencies of the marketplace and entrepreneurial risk-taking to higher education it's now time for a little creative destruction.

it's amusing and horrifying to watch the little piggies at ycombinator slaver their lips at education startups, learning metrics, etc. but this time it's different...
posted by at 7:46 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I started doing Khan Academy about a month ago, and I've gotten to the point that I dread getting something wrong because the little sad face looks so disappointed.

I am sorry I made a mistake, little sad face! I will try harder!

But other than that, it's a blast. I got my first Sun badge the other day! It is useful for reviewing concepts.
posted by winna at 7:47 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I heard Craig Silverstein has joined Khan for the sole purpose of brand management. In six months they'll re-launch under the new domain:
posted by clarknova at 7:55 PM on February 9, 2012

The Khan Academy badges are addictive. I'm at 4 Sun Badges, and I can't even count how many Earth Badges I have...
posted by spinifex23 at 7:59 PM on February 9, 2012

For those who don't know, John Resig, creator of jQuery, joined Khan Academy last year.
posted by gwint at 8:03 PM on February 9, 2012

Hacker News had a recent discussion of Khan Academy criticism.
posted by problemspace at 8:04 PM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

Wow. Never heard of any of this shit. This is fucking exciting.
posted by phaedon at 8:13 PM on February 9, 2012

My daughter's school uses Khan Academy and she's on it every night doing algebra. I didn't realize its nerdy roots. Pretty cool!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:25 PM on February 9, 2012

phaedon, if you're interested in the courses, you might be interested to know there was a MeFi study group for the Stanford classes in the fall. I don't know anything about it except that it happened, but maybe there'll be another one this time. On Reddit, there are "subreddits" for the classes, which sometimes have good information. The subreddit for the algorithms class has links to textbooks that might be helpful. I'm guessing there are subreddits for Udacity, too, or there will be.
posted by -jf- at 8:34 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

So where are the humanities courses?

Khan, you need some better history content. Call me.
posted by LarryC at 9:00 PM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

CS 221(AI) at Stanford...

Andrew Ng taught the class some years ago. Every class he teaches becomes hard. Final project of CS221 becomes one of the hardest projects for undergrads. I am looking at the course ratings for CS221 at Stanford. Autumn 2008-2009; Andrew Ng. 5 stars. It's incredibly hard, the problem sets are a doozy. Winter 2008-2009; Andrew Ng. 5 stars. Interesting programming assignments.
Winter 2010-2011. Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. 3 stars. Winter 2010-2011. Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. Two stars. I won't reproduce student reviews, but apparently, the reactivity of being on the Internet did not do good for the class.

Each of the Stanford classes offered are offered by Coursera, a startup founded by Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller.

So, CS at Stanford. I can give you course numbers, and you can read the in-person course descriptions, which are more concise, and the prereqs for the in-person class. This is useful for following the prereqs. in order to do the CS221 material, the actual course description says that you need CS103 (CS math) and CS106(programming), and 'exposure to probability' (probability at CS109 (probability) ) level.

Following is my guesses as to the equivalent classes and my reports of CourseRank rankings.

CS101 is CS101 at Stanford. 4 stars. Recommended for non-CS majors, because CS majors should know the material coming in. If it hasn't been emphasized enough, it's not a class for significant programming implementation.

Machine Learning is CS229. It is among the hardest classes for a CS major at Stanford. Also, tales of being the best class that people have taken at Stanford. The predicted time for class is 10-15 hours. Reviews say about double that.

HCI is CS147. It gets a reputation for being pretty easy, for a CS class. HCI itself gets a light handling, the main thing is the experience of working on a web application on a team.

Natural Language Processing is CS224N. Prereq of an AI class for the in-person. Chris Manning is a good teacher.

For Game Theory, they pushed the two best professors of game theory together for one class, so no in-person equivalent. The game theory course in economics gets a bad rap for being too easy. In CS, it gets a high rating.

Probabilistic Graphical Models is CS228. More claims of being the most difficult CS class. Very mixed reviews, but mostly with regards to poor quality homework. The project is an epic undertaking. Homework is excruciatingly hard and often riddled with typos. I suspect that will not happen in Coursera, but you never know. Reports of hard-ass workload, due to homework.

Cryptography is CS255. Damned amazing lectures, hard homework.

Design and Analysis of Algorithms is CS161. Apparently, it has the curious quality of making you smarter after taking it. It's good for acing programming job interview questions, because it makes you able to think on the fly. Roughgarden is a really good lecturer.

Computer Security is CS155. Top-notch class, with problems with regards to bad wording on tests, problems. I suspect that being exposed to a million eyes will fix that.

Overall, it really seemed that they picked the cream of the crop with respect to the classes, with some exceptions, both in omitting really good courses and introducing merely OK courses.

The intro sequence at Stanford is really, really good.

The introduction to programming methodologies is the most popular class in Stanford, hands down, for good reason.
The class after that is programming abstractions, which covers data types, basic algorithms.
The class after that is programming paradigms. The class has changed much since the video was filmed.
posted by curuinor at 10:08 PM on February 9, 2012 [22 favorites]

KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!! academy?
posted by thewalrus at 10:36 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I love Khan Academy, but I find their presentation of lessons a bit daunting (probably because there are so many of them). I'd love to be able to say "I want to learn X and I know Y", and be told what lessons to take and in what order.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:49 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I started doing the pre-Calculus lessons in the order listed, which seemed to be about what I needed, but then suddenly after 8 or 10 lessons, the next one was narrated by someone else, and not at all as good, I thought. Although I guess Khan can't do all of them personally.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:50 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love Khan's delivery, just because he always sounds so excited to be explaining everything. It's infectious.

The only other professor online I've found who is nearly as good as Walter Lewin at MIT.
posted by empath at 11:03 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

This makes me excited about the future of education :)
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 12:01 AM on February 10, 2012

The Prob & Stats stuff of the AI class killed me

The Bayesian section caused me to drop out, but I'm pretty determined that I'm going to hire a maths tutor to get me through it soon, just because it looks really useful. But that course failed to teach it to me. No opportunity for one-to-one sessions.
posted by Leon at 2:29 AM on February 10, 2012

You know, I could probably pick up a few favorites just by posting something here.
posted by KHAAAN! at 4:16 AM on February 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

1,042,450 points in Khan Academy and still counting! In fact, I'm taking a break from the Quadratic Equations exercise module to write this post.

I really love Khan Academy; it's increasing my math knowledge by leaps and bounds.

Damn I thought I was the biggest Khan Academy geek around with 1055,356 points. No, I'm not bragging. ;)

I have to thank Sal for helping me overcome my math phobias.

From lekvar:
News (to me at least):
The Khan Academy has a section devoted to Vi Hart nerding out.

Loved those videos, has watched everyone.

posted by KaizenSoze at 4:17 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Man, it is so bogus that the only way to save your progress in the Khan tests is to log into one of two privacy-destroying mega-corporations.
posted by DU at 4:51 AM on February 10, 2012

Has anyone here gone through a calculus course on Khan Academy or the MIT open courseware stuff? If so, I want you to take the final exam I wrote for my Calculus I (or Calculus II) course.

I want to know if these online courses are effective. If they are (and better than "regular" classrooms as most people are now saying), then the final should be a breeze. Memail me if you're interested in the challenge.
posted by King Bee at 5:01 AM on February 10, 2012

My son, who is not a math person at all, used the Khan Academy SAT study module and felt much more prepared for the SAT after completing it.
posted by COD at 6:03 AM on February 10, 2012

Shame about the two canceled Stanford courses.
posted by ersatz at 6:38 AM on February 10, 2012

I just signed up for the Information Theory course, which is a part of my field (Electrical Engineering) which I've always had an interest in, but never found a decent course for (in either graduate or undergraduate schools). I'm totally stoked about this.
posted by Xoder at 6:57 AM on February 10, 2012

I'm debating how many of these I want to attempt simultaneously. It would be better for me if they were asynchronous, but I can understand the adherence to the traditional concept of scheduled classes in order to force things to get shipped.

I took the Introduction to AI, and for me the biggest problem was remembering to do the homework... life intervenes, and if you're not paying $10k/quarter to be there, you might just forget about it for a bit. ;-)

I'll probably end up in some combination of

Software engineering for Software as a Service
Computer Security

I want to build an open source operating system based on the principle of capability based security.

I also want to attend

Building a search engine
Programming a Robot Car

Because I have a feeling they might not be offered again.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:19 AM on February 10, 2012

Man, I was hoping the Khan Academy was going to be an in depth research academy looking in to the awesomeness of Chaka Khan.
posted by Eekacat at 9:10 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Stanford course I signed up for has not been cancelled, but it is several weeks late, and still has not started.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:28 AM on February 10, 2012

cntl + f "ecology"

No results for this search. Please try a different query.

posted by eustatic at 9:35 AM on February 10, 2012

Now, I got a large collection of ecology materials somewhere, if you want them. No lectures, though, that's the thing (MeMail me). I would say that getting a lot of math done is pretty essential to any understanding of ecology, however.

The lateness of the Coursera courses is due to the slowness of the Stanford bureaucracy, not the profs themselves.
posted by curuinor at 9:59 PM on February 10, 2012

MITx has just opened its first course for enrollment. As expected, the first course is Circuits and Electronics.

Go to the MITx website for more information or to enroll.
posted by -jf- at 6:31 AM on February 13, 2012

New Stanford course added:
Computer Vision
posted by -jf- at 6:41 PM on February 20, 2012

And I guess I should be saying "Coursera course" rather than "Stanford course".
posted by -jf- at 6:47 PM on February 20, 2012

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