Stanford on-line AI course draws 58,000 — but is it real?
58,000 people is a huge demand for an on-line AI course offered at Stanford. That really argues for the demand for on-line education. But what kind of a course is it?
From the description in the NYTimes piece, there will be video lectures, and interactive “quizzes and grading.” I suspect that the traditional, face-to-face Stanford AI course is more demanding. Our AI courses at Georgia Tech have a significant programming requirement, and have a long pre-requisite chain, including courses in software engineering and data structures. The AI course at Stanford will be joined by a database course and one on machine learning. Our database course requires using SQL to generate queries, and our machine learning course has a significant math requirement.
A challenge in open-learning is doing significant assessment on authentic tasks (like grading programs) and to respond to the variable background knowledge in the cohort. What will students do who lack the appropriate math for the Stanford machine learning course? How will they know that they lack the math background? Where will the teacher send them?
Is this really a Stanford-quality AI course? Or is it more like outreach, community education, or adult ed? The latter is fine, and it’s great to include graded quizzes in an open course. It’s a step forward. But it’s not really a Stanford AI course, then. It’s an experiment in educational technology and distance education.
It’s an important distinction, between an experiment and a class. The NYTimes piece quotes Dr. Ng saying, “I personally would like to see the equivalent of a Stanford computer science degree on the Web.” I’d like to see that, too. My guess is that Stanford wouldn’t actually count any of these courses toward any degree. They’re not really undergraduate classes yet.
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 two additional courses will be an introductory course on database software, taught by Jennifer Widom, chairwoman of the computer science department, and an introduction to machine learning, taught by Andrew Ng.