College graduates, Domestic, Open Source Education, Required, STEM / Science, Technology, Education, Math, Students, Technology - Written by on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 22:23 - 0 Comments

Stanford Attracts 58,000 Students for Virtual Artificial Course

photo: Nick Laham (Getty)

(Above: If Shea Stadium were your classroom, and 58,000 students cared what you say.)

by Elbert Chu


Stanford is hosting a semester long virtual classroom of 58,000 international students eager to learn about artificial intelligence from two leading scientists in the field, Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun. And it’s FREE.

An interesting connection to note is both Norvig and Thrun now work for Google. And they say they were inspired by Khan Academy. We wonder what Stanford’s retention rate will be for the virtual artificial course. But then again, since it’s free, there’s no government subsidies and sleazy sales tactics involved, so who’s counting?

Stanford University has long offered entrepreneurship lectures online, as have Carnegie Melon, MIT (and Open Courseware), and University of Michigan in other subjects, primarily as pod casts. Stanford also launched the first Online High School for Gifted Youth circa 2006. Professors Norvig and Thrun says this is different, New York Times reporter John Markoff writes:

The Stanford scientists said they were focused on going beyond early Internet education efforts, which frequently involved uploading online videos of lectures given by professors and did little to motivate students to do the coursework required to master subjects.

The three online courses, which will employ both streaming Internet video and interactive technologies for quizzes and grading, have in the past been taught to smaller groups of Stanford students in campus lecture halls. Last year, for example, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence drew 177 students.

The virtual students will not earn expensive Stanford credits, but they’ll be tested on what they learn in order to garner a nice letter of accomplishment. No word on whether Google would consider hiring the virtual artificial grads. But of course, the brainy professors will not be grading papers late into the next century: they’re getting professor Google and teaching assistant Amazon to do it. Markoff continues:

How will the artificial intelligence instructors grade 58,000 students? The scientists said they would make extensive use of technology. “We have a system running on the Amazon cloud, so we think it will hold up,” Dr. Norvig said.

In place of office hours, they will use the Google moderator service, software that will allow students to vote on the best questions for the professors to respond to in an online chat and possibly video format. They are considering ways to personalize the exams to minimize cheating. Part of the instructional software was developed by Know Labs, a company Dr. Thrun helped start.


We love the idea of open source education, but the experiment leaves us wondering:

  • Does the Google moderator service more heavily weigh questions from students paying $40,050 in tuition (and just got hit with a 3.5% tuition hike this year)
  • Interestingly, the personalized exam seems focused on preventing cheating, rather than helping students who excel go to the next level, nor is there any mention of analytics for teachers to deliver extra help for the 16 year old straighten his linear algebra.


via New York Times


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