Sebastian Thrun pilots free online university with open enrollment

Sebastian Thrun, Research Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and a Google Fellow, has turned a lot of heads lately. He’s left his tenured teaching position and founded Udacity, an online university that’s offering free classes to anyone interested in taking them. So far, he and his growing team of colleagues are offering two classes online — “Building a Search Engine” and “Programming a Robotic Car.”

Screenshot of The Chronicle article. The germ of Prof. Thrun’s start-up was planted last year, when he and his co-instructor, Peter Norvig, Google’s Director of Research, made the bold move to offer their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online to all students — Stanford and non-Stanford.

It proved to be a good one. The online artificial intelligence course drew 160,000 students from around the world, including those already taking the course in-person. Students were attracted to the online course’s videos, which helped them better absorb the material at their own pace.

I commend Prof. Thrun’s efforts to continue to look for innovative ways to change the face of higher education. I especially appreciate his emphasis on creating more interactive, engaging, practice-based learning experiences. At our Online Education Institute, we have found that when you combine these three attributes with a skilled scholar-practitioner capable of guiding students throughout the learning process and the meaningful assessment of outcomes, you have an exciting and effective model for the delivery of quality higher education.

Several media have covered Udacity’s launch, including The Chronicle of Higher Education. Nick DeSantis wrote an article about why Prof. Thrun decided to start Udacity, and I left a comment on his article with more of my thoughts on Udacity. Give it a read and scroll down to my comment for more.

I’ll be watching to see how Udacity unfolds, including student feedback and outcomes. What are your thoughts on Udacity? How do you think it will do?

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