Monday, October 03, 2011

Open online classes starting soon at Stanford – 130,000 students in one class

Stanford's experiment with free, online classes for thousands of students is getting under way. They are offering online sections of three undergraduate computer science courses:  Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Databases.

The classes are organized around blogs, as shown here. The lectures, assignments, exams, forums, course materials, quick guides to software and optional exercises are the same whether you are online or on campus.

I took a similarly open course a few years ago from the Harvard Law School. There were three groups of students -- regular law students on campus, an extension class, which met in Second Life, and an open section for those listening to podcasts. I was in the third group, and enjoyed it very much.

The Stanford class is more highly structured and the experience of the online students will be closer to that of the on-campus students than was the case at Harvard. Also, Stanford's online students will receive a certificate of completion, showing their relative rank in the class if they complete the full course.  There was neither social media support nor formal feedback at Harvard.

Others who have offered massive, open online courses (MOOCs) are generally positive, but they report some problems with privacy and spamming and rude behavior.  Since Stanford will allow open students to take exams and do assignments, there is also the possibility of cheating. (When you enroll, you agree to abide by an honor code).

The Stanford courses are unique in several ways. They are large.  The AI class has over 130.000 students from 190 countries.  Stanford will grade and rank open students who choose to be graded. Most earlier MOOCs have been on educational technology, but these are standard academic courses offered by well-known experts in their fields. They will also be using newly developed tools. The AI course is offered in partnership with a start-up called Know Labs, but, for now, there is no information about their tools on their Web site.

This is a bold experiment -- what are the implications for future undergraduate education if these and other experiments with MOOCs succeed?

For links to and discussion of other MOOCs: