By Sean Scarpiello
Sebastian Thrun, a former college professor, has recently resigned from his position at Stanford University to work on an online education project called Udacity. The project’s goal is to bring education to people all over the world at affordable costs. The program has already been successful as Thrun had taught an Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class. The class was completely free and comprised of 160,000 students from all over the world. Using the internet, Thrun made videos and interacted with students who took the course. He even enlisted the help of volunteers to translate the course to over 40 different languages. Approximately 23,000 students from 190 different countries graduated the class. Of this amount, 248 students graduated with a final grade of 100%, which is better than any Stanford student. Thrun also discovered that his students in Stanford dropped the traditional classroom course for the online version. They described how the online course was much more personalized and helpful. Thrun plans on offering two new courses at no cost for students in February. The courses are on building a search engine and programming a robotic car. So far Thrun’s project looks to be successful, but some educators do not think the classes will do as well as predicted.
A lot of the criticism against Thrun’s project is based on each class’s accreditation. The people teaching the classes are college professors with PhDs who have taught at respected universities like Stanford and University of Virginia. Since the professors have good reputations in the academic world, there should not be any disputes. Problems do emerge when the instructor of the course is not a leading figure in their field. As Thrun is a professor, he will not hire anyone who he thinks is not qualified to teach. Thrun also has a lot of colleagues who are college professors lining up to teach classes through Udacity. However, there are problems associated with Udacity being recognized by the academic world. Every college and university needs to go through a strict accreditation process to make sure that their academics meet high standards. This will not be easy because there are currently only a few classes that make up Udacity. Also, it will be difficult for students of the classes to receive credit for the class at other institutions and in the workplace.
If one of Thrun’s students wants find a job and use Udacity’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class as a credential, then Thrun needs a way to show that the student successfully completed the class. Also, the potential employer of the student will want to know that the class is taught by credible individuals. Thrun will have to come up with a system to show that the student deserves credit for taking a high level course. Moreover, Thrun needs to get Udacity’s name out there to everyone. If Thrun can become a well-known name in the academic community, Udacity will be successful. Udacity would need to be regarded as the Ivy League University of the internet. This is a very difficult task because very few universities became household names overnight.
Overall, Udacity has a lot of potential and has already proven to the world that an online education can be provided at a low cost and reach thousands. The problems now lie in receiving international accreditation for classes and expanding the university. Udacity has the potential to become one of the best online colleges as it is cheap and courses are taught by qualified professors.