the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

First Class Education

On the one hand: Student outrage as university places are cut by 15,000

On the other hand: Udacity and the future of online universities:

Thrun told the story of his Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class, which ran from October to December last year. It started as a way of putting his Stanford course online - he was going to teach the whole thing, for free, to anybody in the world who wanted it. With quizzes and grades and a final certificate, in parallel with the in-person course he was giving his Stanford undergrad students. He sent out one email to announce the class, and from that one email there was ultimately an enrollment of 160,000 students. Thrun scrambled to put together a website which could scale and support that enrollment, and succeeded spectacularly well.

Just a couple of datapoints from Thrun's talk: there were more students in his course from Lithuania alone than there are students at Stanford altogether. There were students in Afghanistan, exfiltrating war zones to grab an hour of connectivity to finish the homework assignments. There were single mothers keeping the faith and staying with the course even as their families were being hit by tragedy. And when it finished, thousands of students around the world were educated and inspired. Some 248 of them, in total, got a perfect score: they never got a single question wrong, over the entire course of the class. All 248 took the course online; not one was enrolled at Stanford.

I went to university, it was a great experience, and I begrudge it to noone. But let's be honest: even back then, it was one part education and one part middle class rite of passage. I read about Lithuanians and Afghans, hungry and overcoming obstacles and I'm inspired, and I read about whiny Western kids complaining because their lives aren't turning out to be as privileged as their parents', and I'm unmoved.

So good luck to the kids who win the University place lottery, you'll have a ball. But if you don't get in, don't despair. You've lost out on a few years of shagging and boozing at the taxpayers' expense, but you still live in a world where it's easier and cheaper to get an education than ever before.

{2012.01.25 23:09}

« Taxing the tree

» First Class Education II