Posted by: Dave Moursund
Tagged in: Standards
Stanford University is going to make its regular Introduction to AI course available free on the Web this fall (2011). The course regularly enrolls nearly 200 students. Students taking the free online version of the course can turn in lessons that will be graded and can take the tests. They can receive a certificate indicating their level of performance in the course relative to the regularly enrolled students.
For details, see http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/stanford-u-offers-free-online-course-in-artificial-intelligence/32622?sid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en. Here are a couple of quotes from that website:
The course—which is taught by Sebastian Thrun, a computer-science professor at Stanford, and Peter Norvig, director of research at Google—is among the largest at the university, with nearly 200 students typically enrolling each term. Those who want to join online need not register with Stanford officials or make their way to Palo Alto, though.
Mr. Thrun said the purpose behind grading the online students is to encourage them to work as hard as the Stanford students to meet deadlines and watch lectures. The benefit of having the courses run simultaneously as opposed to simply posting the course materials after the fact is that [classroom and online] students can interact. “We wanted to synchronize the community of people taking the class,” Mr. Norvig said. “Nobody knows for sure what the right way is for courses to be run online.”
Here are some of my thoughts about this offer of a free AI course online:
- Stanford has long been a leading center for research and study in AI. Thus, people taking the course will be participating in a “world class” course.
- People who teach AI in colleges and universities throughout the world will be interested in the course because it will give them the opportunity to see what a high-quality version of the course looks like.
- It seems likely that this “experiment” will raise the bar for standards in an introductory AI course throughout the world. Both students and faculty can readily compare the standards used in this course versus the standards used in their own college or university.
- The methodologies used to make this course available free to a very large audience will prove to be an interesting experiment. If this course proves reasonably successful, then it will help pave the road for such online courses to be offered in other subject areas.
- We are used to the idea of somewhat standardized (widely sold) textbooks being used in a particular course that is widely taught. For example, College Algebra is taught throughout colleges and universities in the U.S. and many may use the same basic textbook. But a textbook does not determine either the quality of the course or the standards being set in the course. Thus, the AI course experiment could well prove to be a step toward establishing a greater amount of uniformity in courses that currently vary widely in quality and standards.
- The Massive Open Online Course movement (MOOC, n.d.) may signal a major change in education. Most of us are used to the idea that some courses are taught in large lecture sections that are accompanied by small discussion groups taught by graduate assistants. Suppose that in a particular course such as College Algebra there are a dozen or so “large lecture sections” available online. Some might be taught by colleges and universities, while some might be offered by for-profit corporations. Why would other colleges and universities offer their own version of the course when instead they could piggyback on a carefully developed online course taught by others?
- Now, think about a MOOC being accompanied by high quality, modern, Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning (HIICAL) materials. Courses based on a combination of these two approaches to instruction could well come to dominate education throughout a country.
Retrospective Comment 12/19/2011
Today I encountered two articles about distance learning. The first indicated that this coming Spring MIT will offer its first free online course in which a student can do the assignments and receive a Certificate indicating that they have successfully taken the course. This sounds very similar to what Stanford has set up for its online AI course.
This is a very interesting concept. We seem to be moving in a direction in which students can learn on their own via distance learning courses, and then get a Certificate of Accomplishment of some type to be used as evidence of their work. Think about a future in which a job applicant says, "I could not afford to go to college. However, here is a set of certificates that verify I took and passed all of the courses required for a degree. You can verify the authenticity of these certificates by checking with the University that issued them."
The second article was a forecast of a continuing increase in online education at the precollege level. It raised the issue of whether we are preparing teachers to deal with this type of teaching and learning situation.
Of course, there is also the issue of preparing students for this changing component of education. Students vary considerably in the amount of immediate and personalized help they need from a face-to-face human teacher as they work to learn new material. This may be missing in an online course.
Our current educational system is to some degree oriented toward students developing into independent, self-sufficient, intrinsically motivated learners. However, our level of success in this effort leaves much to be desired.
It seems to me that one of the major goals of education should be to substantially increase the number of students who gain the knowledge, skills, and drive to be self-sufficient, intrinsically motivated, lifelong learners. To what extent can online learning help students to reach this goal?
The Web as a global library, combined with distance learning via the Web, make potentially powerful educational change agents. Each teacher (as well as each parent, and others interested in education) can help students move in the direction described above.
One way to do this is to help students learn to ask researchable, interesting, and relevant questions about the various topics they are studying in school, and then have students follow up with research on the questions they ask. To achieve this, students may continue to need traditional classroom interaction with a teacher in addition to online classes. (See the IAE Blog entry, That's a researchable question at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/thats-a-researchable-question.html.)
Such researchable questions could become a routine component of each unit of study. Parents can accomplish the same thing with their children by asking questions of mutual interest and seeking relevant information via the Web. This could become a "play together, learn together" routine activity. See the free IAE book:
Moursund, D. (11/4/2011). Play Together, Learn Together: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download a free copy of the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/212-play-together-learn-together-stem.html and/or a free copy of the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/213-play-together-learn-together-stem.html.
What You Can Do
The Standford course is a start on a major change in higher education. Remember, a student does not need to be in college to take a MOOC. Such courses open up the possibility of parents and students simultaneously taking the same course, and for TAG students at the precollege level to see what a "solid" college course is all about.
My recommendation is that you pay attention to the MOOC movement. It will spread quickly, and it will also produce courses for the "ordinary" precollege student. You might want to try taking such a course to gain experience in this educational game changer.
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications.
Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.
A major turning point in education. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/a-major-turning-point-in-education.html.
Dillon, Sam (4/27/2011). Foundations join to offer online courses for schools. The New York Times. Retrieved 4/28/2011 from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/28/education/28gates.html?_r=1.
Distance education and distance learning: A vision of the future of education. See http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2009-25.html.
IAE-pedia (n.d.) Distance learning. Retrieved 4/29/2011 from http://iae-pedia.org/Distance_Learning.
Leber, Jessica (3/15/2013). In the developing world, MOOCs start to get real. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 3/20/2013 from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/512256/in-the-developing-world-moocs-start-to-get-real/.
Mangan, Katherine (4/27/2011). Texas could offer a stripped-down degree for just $10,000, commissioner says. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 4/29/2011 from http://chronicle.com/article/Texas-Could-Offer-a/127281/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.
Personal professional development for educators. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/personal-professional-development-for-educators.html.
The Google art project. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/the-google-art-project.html.
MOOC (n.d.). Massive Open Online Course. A Web search using this term produces a huge number of hits. See, for example, http://wallyboston.com/2011/07/11/what-is-a-massive-open-online-course-aka-mooc/.
Moursund, D.G. (7/13/2011). Open courseware is changing the world. IAE Blog. Retrieved 8/2/2011 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/open-courseware-is-changing-the-world-of-education.html.
Parry, Marc (8/29/2010). Online, bigger classes may be better classes. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 8/2/2011 from http://chronicle.com/article/Open-Teaching-When-the/124170.