In the summer of 2011, I saw an announcement about an online course called AI-class. It was taught by two well known experts in the field and seemed like an opportunity that should not be missed. I was lucky to participate in the original class, and it had a great impact on me in many ways. But after the course ended, and especially since I started to work at Udacity, I have talked to a lot of people who missed this opportunity. I was really looking forward to open it up in our new platform. But before I get ahead of myself, some history.
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This is the story about the beginnings of AI-class – the class that made MOOC history. It was the first online class to graduate more students in the field of Artificial Intelligence than all other brick and mortar classes combined. This class has touched thousands of students and marks the beginning of what you now know as Udacity.
The story starts in March 2011 at the TED conference. Sebastian Thrun had presented about self-driving cars, but was more inspired by hearing Salman Khan talk about his work with Khan Academy. Energized by Khan, Thrun spoke with Peter Norvig, Google’s director of research and his Stanford CS221 coprofessor, and they agreed to open up their next class to the entire world as an experiment.
In June, Thrun took the next step and co-founded a small company with fellow roboticists from Stanford – David Stavens as CEO and Mike Sokolsky as CTO. This company was the beginnings of what eventually became Udacity when it re-launched in January this year.
At the time, Stavens thought they’d get 500 students. Sokolsky hoped for 1,000. Norvig figured they might hit 2,000. In late July, Thrun emailed 1,000 members of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. By the next morning 5,000 students had signed up. A few days later the class had 10,000. Just two weeks later—58,000.
As shared in a Wired Magazine article, by mid-August, word of AI class went viral after a write-up in The New York Times. Enrollment skyrocketed past 100,000. The website had been built to handle 10,000 students. Class was starting in a matter of weeks. “That,” Sokolsky says, “is when I stopped sleeping.”
One of the most interesting results, however, was not that there were so many people in the world that wanted to learn AI from top experts for free, and that there were so many people in the world who could complete such an advanced course from a top university, but the fact that many of the on-campus Stanford students stopped going to lectures. The students preferred the online version and those who participated online scored a whole grade better in both the midterm and final exam. On this front, the experiment was considered a success. The seeds of reimagining what online learning pedagogy could be — and the focus on learning by doing — had been planted.
And now, for the announcement!
Since the first run of the class ended last December, we’ve received many requests from people all over the world to make the original AI class available again. We are proud to announce that Intro to Artificial Intelligence featuring Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig is available for enrollment today!
The content of the AI class is the same but with some improvements. We put a lot of thought into whether or not we should make major changes such as including programming assignments, but decided to leave them out. The class originally was not designed around programming but really to explain the fundamentals. The class does not have programming as a prerequisite, and can be taken by anyone interested in AI and willing to work hard. In the original introduction to the class Sebastian Thrun said – “the goal of this class also is to excite you about the field of Artificial Intelligence,” and the class content does a great job at that. It also gives the basics about the field, and gives you enough information to know how to tackle different problems, or at least – where to look for solutions.
Since the launch of the class last year we have created a lot of other classes, some of them cover similar topics and similar instructors – both Peter and Sebastian have continued their efforts in educating the world with Intro to Statistics (a good course to take before AI Class), Artificial Intelligence for Robotics (if you are looking for something more advanced with more programming exercises), and Design of Computer Programs (if you want to enhance your programming and problem solving skills). Peter also went on to create Course Builder at Google, which allows anyone to create online courses.
For students who took the original AI Class and received certificates, they can be accessed here.
We will continue to expand our course offerings and add engaging and challenging courses, but for now – enjoy the original, amazingly exciting AI-class!
See you in class!