This past August fellow Singularity Hub writer Aaron Saenz wrote about Udacity, the online university created by Stanford artificial intelligence professor and Google autonomous vehicle leader, Sebastian Thrun. At the time Thrun was gearing up to teach his Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course to a class of 200 at Stanford. But why teach 200 when you can teach 1,000…or 160,000? With Udacity, Thrun and fellow AI giant Peter Norvig created an online version of the course, and anyone that wanted to enroll could – for free. The homework assignments and exams would be the same as the ones given to the Stanford students, and they would be graded in the same way so online enrollees could see how they stacked up to some of the brightest students in the world. It was to be a grand experiment in education.
Now, the semester’s over. The exams have been taken, the homework’s been turned in, computers logged off and pencils set down. How’d it all turn out? Thrun spoke recently at the Digital Life Design conference about he and Norvig’s experience. As you’ll see, his students weren’t the only ones with much to learn.
Online, the course went viral. Over 100,000 people enrolled in the initial weeks. By the time the lessons began Thrun and Norvig were instructors for a class size of 160,000. With students all over the world, they enlisted the help of some 2,000 volunteer translators to translate the classes into 44 different languages. Discussion groups were set up on social networks like Facebook so students could help each other, forming what Thrun called an “entire counterculture.”