A Whole New U: One man’s quest to see if Udacity, one of a cluster of new free, online universities, can make programmers of us
I decided to go back to school because I was underemployed and mind-achingly bored. I decided to study computer science because I was tired of not knowing how the Internet worked. And I decided to go to Udacity because I was broke.
Udacity is a free university (of sorts) that offers “massive open online courses”—or, MOOCs—to anyone with a decent Internet connection and a little self-discipline. Founded by Stanford roboticist Sebastian Thrun—of the self-driving car fame—Udacity’s first class offerings appeared this February. The way Thrun tells it, he resigned his tenure at Stanford and lit out for the MOOC territory after realizing that his same artificial intelligence course could reach 200 students in an ivied lecture hall, or 160,000 online. The technology that makes this possible—like quizzes that can be graded by robots rather than TAs—is fairly rudimentary and has existed for some time. Missing, until now, were MOOC evangelists: professors who were willing to adapt their material for the masses.
In January, Thrun told a crowd at Digital Life Design, in Munich, “Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again. It’s impossible. I feel like there’s a red pill and a blue pill, and you can take the blue pill and go back to the classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I’ve taken the red pill. And I’ve seen wonderland.”