Stanford prof defects to education disruptor side, launches global classroom

'University-level education can be both high quality and low cost. ...we've connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students in almost every country on Earth.'

"Now that I have seen the true power of education, there is no turning back. It's like a drug. I've just peeked through a window into an entire new world, and I am determined to help bring education to everyone out there."

-Sebastian Thrun, Stanford research professor and educational disruptor

We've been tracking the building disruption of the higher education system, now breaking down from expensive on-campus engagements to low-cost, or even no-cost, modularized online offerings. Consider the amazing success of an online classroom environment now being offered and replicated by Stanford professors, as well as being adopted by MIT. More than 160,000 participants from across the world enrolled in Stanford's eight-week course on the basics of artificial intelligence. Now, one of the those professors, Sebastian Thrun, says he is leaving the full-time employ of the university to help launch a new higher education site, dedicated to bringing online classes, for free, to hundreds of thousands of students from across the globe.

Thrun, who teamed up with Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, to deliver the AI course, announced last week that he was leaving his tenured position Stanford to found Udacity, a start-up offering free online classes.

A report in The Chronicle of Higher Education documents Thrun's reasoning in defecting to the disruptive side of higher education:

"[Thrun said] his move had been motivated in part by teaching practices that evolved too slowly to be effective. During the era when universities were born, 'the lecture was the most effective way to convey information. We had the industrialization, we had the invention of celluloid, of digital media, and, miraculously, professors today teach exactly the same way they taught a thousand years ago,' he said. He concluded by telling the crowd that he couldn’t continue teaching in a traditional setting. 'Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again,' he said."

Thrun joined David Evans, a professor of computer science at the University of Virginia, in launching Udacity. The first set of online courses will cover "Building a Search Engine" and "Programming a Robotic Car."

Udacity's mission statement talks about the disruptive opportunities sweeping through higher education:

"We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we've connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students in almost every country on Earth. Udacity was founded by three roboticists who believed much of the educational value of their university classes could be offered online for very low cost. A few weeks later, over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled in our first class, 'Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.' The class was twice profiled by the New York Times and also by other news media. Now we're a growing team of educators and engineers, on a mission to change the future of education."

Classes start on February 20th, and those successfully completing the classes will be awarded a certificate by the professors.

(HT: Jesse Hand.)

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