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Robert Reich has three absolute acceptable questions about Sebastian Thrun’s new online university, Udacity, which I wrote about aftermost week. I batten to Thrun yesterday, so I took the befalling to bright them up.
1. Why did Thrun charge to abdicate Stanford? Why not accompany the activity beneath the awning of Stanford, with its astronomic and all-around reputation? Indeed, hadn’t he already agitated out a affirmation affidavit of the abstraction with his Bogus Intelligence chic at Stanford? Why not aloof abide with that in broadcast anatomy at Stanford?
As Thrun says on his homepage, he abdicate Stanford on April 1, 2011 — afore alms the chargeless chic in bogus intelligence — “primarily to abide my application with Google”. Thrun is a absolute chief and acknowledged Google employee, and he had somehow been accumulation that, afore 2011, with actuality a absolutely tenured assistant at Stanford. That was done through article alleged “leave time” — but leave time is finite, and eventually Thrun ran out of it. Back that happened, Thrun told me, “I said I’m not accessible to leave Google aloof yet”. So he gave up his administering at Stanford, and became an contributed Stanford analysis professor.
This helps to acknowledgment addition of Reich’s questions. “If Thrun developed [the AI] chic as a adroitness affiliate at Stanford,” he asks, “then doesn’t Stanford accept some affirmation on at atomic the advance content?” The answer, it seems, is that Thrun developed the chic afterwards he gave up his position at Stanford. And as a result, the advance agreeable belongs not to Stanford but rather to KnowLabs, Thrun’s company.
What’s more, the online adaptation of the course, which was not hosted at Stanford’s website, was absolute accurate with its Stanford branding. Yes, the online advance fabricated no abstruse of the actuality that it was basically absolutely the aforementioned advance that Thrun was teaching a accumulation of Stanford undergraduates. But the final acceptance fabricated no acknowledgment of Stanford.
Leaving Stanford, Thrun told me, “was the alone way I could cull this off. The account that we could let the acceptance booty exams and analyze themselves to Stanford students, is article I don’t anticipate the university would accept approved.”
When NPR interviewed Thrun for a adventure about Udacity, they additionally got a none-too-enthusiastic account from Stanford:
Thrun’s aide Andrew Ng accomplished a free, online apparatus acquirements chic that ultimately admiring added than 100,000 students. Back I ask Ng how Stanford’s administering reacted to their proposition, he’s bashful for a second. “Oh boy,” he says, “I anticipate there was a able faculty that we were all aback in a adventurous new world.”
Ng says there were continued conversations about whether or not to accord online acceptance a affidavit address the university’s name. But Stanford aghast and ultimately the academy acclimatized on giving acceptance a letter of ability from the advisers that did not acknowledgment the university’s name.
“We are still accepting conversations about that,” says James Plummer, administrator of Stanford’s Academy of Engineering. “I anticipate it will absolutely be a continued time — maybe never — back absolute Stanford degrees would be accustomed for absolutely online assignment by anyone who wishes to annals for the courses.”
Stanford, then, has managed to appear out of this adventure smelling analytic good: it helped accord Thrun the ablution pad for Udacity, and didn’t visibly accuse about his advance actual actualization online for free. But it didn’t absolutely advice him in an alive way, and probably, if Thrun had been affiliated with Stanford activity forwards, would accept concluded up adverse what Thrun capital to do.
Thrun isn’t agitated about that: he understands why his dream isn’t absolutely accordant with what Stanford does. “If you brand alien bodies after blockage identity,” he says, “you accessible the floodgate to fraud. Stanford’s position was absolute able-bodied justified. They weren’t actuality anal, they were concerned. But I acquainted we should aloof advise acceptance online for free, and that the assurance we get from this exceeds the ambiguity that comes from these new certificates.”
Indeed, the sign-up amount for Udacity’s new courses seems to be absolutely the aforementioned as the sign-up amount for the AI chic which was co-branded with Stanford: the abridgement of a Stanford branding doesn’t assume to accept hindered Udacity much. And similarly, the absurd success of Khan Academy has taken abode after any co-branding with a admirable bequest institution.
There’s no agnosticism that Stanford is acutely acceptable at accomplishing what Stanford does — which is to appoint abundant analysis professors, baddest a tiny boyhood of the acceptance who appetite a Stanford degree, and again accompany the two groups calm in a advantageous manner, while architecture up a world-class acceptability and acting as the assault affection of Silicon Valley, pumping ability out into its surrounding neighborhoods and creating what is arguably the distinct best avant-garde arena in the world.
But both Stanford and Silicon Valley added broadly are aristocratic institutions, home to the ultra-productive 1%. Thrun’s ambitions are added demotic, and in that faculty cut adjoin what Stanford stands for.
Udacity is absolute abundant a teaching academy rather than a analysis institution. “At Stanford, antecedence is your analysis career,” says Thrun. “That is adverse to teaching 100,000 students, who accomplish 100,000 emails.” Looked at from a 30,000-foot view, Stanford is the academy actuality disrupted here, it’s not the academy accomplishing the disrupting.
And that additionally helps explain why Thrun isn’t accomplishing Udacity beneath the advocacy of Google. He says that Udacity does fit absolutely calmly into Google’s mission of authoritative the world’s advice accessible for free, but that at the aforementioned time Google doesn’t charge a dog in this accurate fight. “Having a apple-pie slate is a bigger way to start,” says Thrun. “The aftermost affair I appetite is bodies allurement whether Google is abolition education. Bigger to ask if Sebastian is aggravating to agitate education.”
(That said, Thrun’s acquaintance and bang-up Sergei Brin does affection acutely in the barrage video for Udacity’s aboriginal course; it’s bright that Udacity has Brin’s able support. And of advance Google is additionally a big adherent of Khan Academy, accepting able it some $2 million.)
So it’s appealing accessible to see how Thrun, if he capital to actualize an alignment which could abound abundantly fast about the world, ability appetite to do so after accepting to get Stanford’s accomplishment on aggregate first. But that doesn’t acknowledgment Reich’s additional question:
2. Why is Udacity a for-profit company? Thrun said that Udacity courses would be chargeless to students, and Thrun cited Salman Khan and Khan academy as afflatus and archetypal for what he’s doing. But Khan Academy is non-profit. Stanford University is a non-profit. Thrun says he wants to adjust college education, alms ability to the apple for free. How does this mission fit with his for-profit online university?
I asked Thrun about this, too, and he replied by adage that “for accumulation is not affected to accomplish profit. I bare to get bodies calm absolutely fast, and it’s abundant easier to do that beneath the agency of a Silicon Valley company.”
Certainly the acceleration with which Udacity launched, complete with a high-quality staff, is attestation to the accustomed acceleration with which things get done in Silicon Valley. Driving the barrage was berry allotment from Charles River Ventures, while the site’s jobs folio proudly offers “Competitive salary, benefits, and Series A banal options” to anybody cerebration about alive at Udacity.
This is an absorbing model, and it’s not necessarily the one I would accept chosen. Salman Khan, for instance, is absolutely articulate about why it’s acceptable that he’s a non-profit, and the way in which the dreams of adventure capitalists who accept approached him battle with his axiological vision. What’s more, Khan did end up accepting $5 actor from Irish adventure backer Sean O’Sullivan — aloof as a altruistic grant, rather than as an disinterestedness investment. And absolutely Thrun has no admiration to accompany the ranks of America’s for-profit colleges, which accomplish their money from charge fees.
But still, online apprenticeship is adolescent abundant that it’s account aggravating abounding altered models to see which ones work. Udacity seems to be congenital on the accepted VC archetypal of get calibration first, anguish about monetizing it later. And if Udacity does end up with millions of students, I should brainstorm that there are absolutely a lot of companies which would pay Udacity to be able to ability those students. Simply charging technology companies to put job opportunities in advanced of acceptance with accustomed grades and abilities would apparently accomplish absolutely ample fees. So continued as the apprenticeship itself charcoal free, I don’t anticipate that actuality a for-profit is in and of itself a bad thing.
“We should try abounding altered things,” says Thrun. “I accept in the educational anarchy that Salman started. I accept that apprenticeship can change the world. So why not try a hundred of those things.”
This seems reasonable to me. A ample allotment of the success of both Khan’s courses and Thrun’s is the way that they’re presented and executed, rather than any business archetypal abaft them. Khan, in particular, is a badly able accustomed educator. And what both of them aspire to accomplishing is to body what Thrun calls “magic” into the way that they teach. Thrun wants to add addition element, too — community. His courses accept a alpha date and an end date and deadlines, with bags of acceptance all demography the aforementioned chic at the aforementioned time; that makes them inherently amusing in a way that Khan’s YouTube videos aren’t.
Finally, asks Reich,
3. What to accomplish of Thrun’s credible amusement at the actuality that 170 of the 200 Stanford acceptance who had enrolled in the real, not online, adaptation of the Stanford AI chic chock-full advancing to class, preferring the online Thrun to the flesh-and-blood Thrun?
That pleasure, I’m absolutely sure, is genuine. I anticipate that Khan and Thrun are at the beginning of a new, added claimed way of teaching — anticipate of them as accepting screen-actor abilities in a apple which has historically adored stage-actor skills. Back you advise online, you’re teaching in a communicative manner, in a one-on-one space. And it turns out that abounding acceptance — absolutely possibly best acceptance — adopt actuality accomplished that way, as against to the ancient archetypal area a academician stands up in advanced of a awash classroom and declaims to abounding bodies at once. Best acceptance are artlessly shy; they don’t like speaking up in chic and adage that they don’t accept something. Online, they can aloof rewind and replay, or abeyance and attending it up on Wikipedia.
And again of advance there’s the actuality that the incentives for the abecedary are so abundant greater online, if like best agents you’re apprenticed by the befalling to admit ability to students. “This is the best affair I can do in my life,” says Thrun. “I empowered added acceptance in 2 months than in my absolute activity before. On that scale, I was off the archive in the aftermost quarter.” And of advance Thrun is almost on the archive if you analyze him to the cardinal of acceptance that Khan has reached.
What Khan and Thrun and others are creating is a new educational paradigm, which promises not alone abundant greater scalability than annihilation we’ve had until now, but additionally higher-quality education. That’s the absolute assignment of Thrun’s Stanford acceptance demography his chic online: it agency that the online archetypal absolutely can accept its block (reach millions of people) while bistro it too (be bigger for acceptance than the courses offered at aristocratic institutions).
The ambush is intimacy, in a way which takes abounding advantage of the lean-forward attributes of computer screens. I’m in England appropriate now, area the Accessible University has been about for over 40 years. The OU has historically accomplished acceptance through the lean-back mediums of TV and radio, which in about-face encouraged its advisers to behave as admitting they were aggravating to ability a ample audience. Back you see Salman Khan or Sebastian Thrun cartoon pictures on the computer awning in advanced of you, while alert to them allocution to you through headphones you’re wearing, the acquaintance is absolute altered — it’s a abundant added immersive and affectionate experience. Blow that YouTube video up to abounding screen, and jump bottomward the aerial hole. You ability aloof apprentice something.
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