Education | DOI: 10.1145/2093548.2093556
Stanford University’s experiment with online classes
could help transform computer science education.
LAsT ocToBer, For the very first time, Stanford University made available online—and at no charge—three of its most popular computer science courses, classes that normally require admission to the extremely selective and expensive university.
More than 300,000 students registered for Introduction to Artificial
Intelligence, Introduction to Databases, and Machine Learning, and participated in an experiment that could
help transform the way online education is delivered.
“Never before has a premier institu-
tion offered a real class experience to
the general public, one with meaning-
ful interaction and real assessments,”
says Daphne Koller, a CS professor at
Stanford’s AI laboratory. “These cours-
es are a much more meaningful and
active experience than the static online
course materials that have previously
been available to students.”
While metrics are not available for
the three courses, an online Stanford
report shows that of the 91,734 stu-
dents who registered for Introduction
to Databases—taught by chair Jennifer
Widom— 25,859 turned in some home-
work, and 6,513 received “statements
No class credits are given to the
graduates. Instead, students received a
“statement of accomplishment” provid-
ed by the instructor, not the university.
Greg Linden, a research associate at
the University of California, Berkeley’s
Haas School of Business, enrolled in
the Machine Learning class taught by
Associate Professor Andrew Ng.
“The course seemed a bit light,”
says Linden. “It could have had more
depth, more time commitment, more
material, and harder programming
assignments…. That being said, it was
stanford cs professor Daphne Koller.
a great start for many and a very well
done class, probably my favorite ma-
chine learning class I’ve ever taken.
I have to say—even though I should
know this material having worked in
the field for some time—I learned sev-
eral new things in the class.”
Peter Norvig, director of research
at Google, taught the AI class with Se-
bastian Thrun, a Google Fellow and a
Stanford CS professor, having taught
only traditional classes in the past. “I
think we learned a new set of idioms
for interacting with students in a way
that is simultaneously impersonal, be-
cause the student can’t ask questions
that will alter what we present, and
highly personal, because we present
the material in the same way we would
in sitting down and doing one-on-one
tutoring,” he says.
Norvig believes the online format
demonstrated three things: Many peo-
ple are hungry for high-quality CS edu-
cation; students can learn by watching
videos, answering frequent quizzes,
and doing associated homework; and
students can get the advantage of peer-
to-peer interaction through the online
Paul hyman is a science and technology writer based in
Great neck, ny.
© 2012 aCM 0001-0782/12/03 $10.00