This fall, I enrolled* in the free, online, Stanford artificial intelligence course. For me, this class was a watershed moment. I have followed the development of many online courses over the years. I have often felt that the courses are really just a textbook copied onto a screen followed by a multiple choice question that asks you to recall what you just read. In other words, 19th century pedagogy, but it’s on a computer, so now it’s really exciting. In contrast, this Stanford course had a number of features that make me think very differently about what is possible in an online space. For example, although as a teacher I would really prefer smaller class sizes, I was surprised that a class with 160,000 students could lead to more learning than a smaller class would.
As a result, when I learned that Sebastian Thrun, one of the professors from the artificial intelligence class, had created a new free online university (udacity.com) and is offering a new online course this spring in computer science (tagline: create your own search engine in seven weeks!), I immediately signed up for the class. But then, as I thought about it more, I thought, “I bet there’s some students in our schools who would be interested in this course too.” I had started to compose an email to all the high school math and science teachers in our schools telling them about the course when I thought, “You know what, I should take this on myself.”
A few weeks ago, I met with a group of juniors and seniors at High Tech High International and made the following pitch. Join me for 7 weeks. We will all take this online class and will support each other through a study group that meets twice a week. We’re going to learn some computer science. We’re going to learn something about how we do or don’t learn in this environment. A bunch of students said yes. I am going to post about what we are learning.
* I can’t say I “took” the course: with full disclosure, I did stop working on the class in week 4. Life interfered, which could be the subject of another post.