Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Watch: Sebastian Thrun Leaves Stanford to Teach Online

One of the most memorable sessions at this year’s DLD conference in Munich was a presentation by Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor who recently led development of self-driving cars for Google.

Thrun announced on stage that he is giving up his tenured position at Stanford to teach online courses at a new start-up he’s founded, called Udacity. Here’s the video of the session. (I can’t seem to extract embed code from the Livestream site, but when I do, I will post it directly here.)

Udacity is funded by Charles River Ventures, and already has a staff of 10.

Inspired by the video-and-quiz teaching work of Salman Khan at Khan Academy, last year Thrun co-taught an online course on artificial intelligence, based on the curriculum of one of his Stanford classes. It signed up 160,000 students, and was transformative in many of their lives.

Thrun showed emails from a student who took the AI class, when he could get Internet access, amidst mortar and rocket attacks in Afganistan; and another, a single working mother, who refused to quit the class because it gave her a sense of accomplishment.

Thrun said his experience disproved the common wisdom that small class size is best, and that he hopes to teach 200,000 in each of his Udacity courses. Students frequently watched the AI class videos 30 to 40 times, he said. Of 248 students who received perfect scores in the class, none of them attended the Stanford version; all were online.

“Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again,” Thrun said, describing his decision to leave Stanford as a choice between a red pill and blue pill, a la “The Matrix.” (This bit comes just about exactly 20 minutes into the DLD video, if you want to skip ahead.)

Udacity’s first two free seven-week courses will start next month, and will cover building a search engine and programming a robotic car. Here’s a description of the search engine class:

(Photo courtesy of DLD)


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