Stanford opens some information technology courses to the world

Courses on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and databases will be delivered to virtual classrooms of ten of thousands of students, if not hundreds of thousands.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

As part of a dramatic effort to expand its IT offerings to a global audience, Stanford University will be offering three popular 101-level courses free online as part of a global virtual classroom.

The offerings include "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence," "Introduction to Databases" and "Introduction to Machine Learning," all to be delivered between October and December. Study groups have been formed at reddit.

The AI course is generating quite a bit of excitement, since more than 130,000 people have already signed on to receive more information. Assuming that a majority proceed to formally register, there's potential for the course to be delivered to a virtual classroom of 100,000 students. The course will be taught by two leading thinkers in the AI field, Sebastian Thrun, a professor at Stanford, and Peter Norvig, director of research at Google.

As the course description defines it, Artificial Intelligence is the science of making computer software that reasons about the world around it. Humanoid robots, Google Goggles, self-driving cars, even software that suggests music you might like to hear are all examples of AI. Students will learn how to create this software in this class, and non-Stanford students will receive a "statement of accomplishment" from the instructors upon completion. Details on the course, including a syllabus, is available here.

The "Machine Learning" course explores the emerging science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. In the past decade, machine learning has given us self-driving cars, practical speech recognition, effective web search, and a vastly improved understanding of the human genome. The course will cover Silicon Valley's best practices in innovation as it pertains to machine learning. The syllabus is posted here.

The "Introduction to Databases" course covers database design and the use of database management systems for applications. It includes extensive coverage of the relational model as well as NoSQL (Not Only SQL) databases. It also covers XML data including DTDs and XML Schema for validation, and the query and transformation languages XPath, XQuery, and XSLT. The course includes database design in UML, and relational design principles based on dependencies and normal forms. Course material is posted here.

What does this portend for the future of higher education and learning? Writing at the Singularity Hub, Aaron Saenz observes that Stanford's offerings are "a careful step towards a bigger goal – one that extends even beyond Stanford." Thrun and Norvig were inspired by efforts Salman Kahn and his online, globally accessible Khan Academy. "Now, a world class university is bringing the same level of innovation to higher education, showing us that online distribution and automated systems can bring college-level courses to anyone with a steady internet connection. A class of 100,000 or even 200,000 isn’t impossible – it’s inspiring."

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