Thursday, September 27, 2012

110000110101000000 Students!

In the first programming quiz ever offered on Udacity, students were asked to write a program that prints the number of minutes in seven weeks. SPOILER: solution below!

print 7 * 7 * 24 * 60

Now, seven months after the first release of Dave Evans’ introductory computer science course (CS101), over 200,000 students have written this line of code. From such simple beginnings, these students have gone on to do some amazing things. Some took more Udacity classes. Some went straight to building projects of their own. Some got jobs at large companies like Google and smaller startups like TrialPay.  Four of those students were even hired at Udacity! 

Artist's rendition of what 100,000 students studying computer science may look like.
That’s a big number. Two hundred thousand. We’re pretty proud of Dave, our editors, our TAs, and of course our students for helping to make this happen. We’re proud, but we aren’t even close to satisfied.

Because this course, like every course made, isn’t perfect.  Since its launch, we’ve been constantly tweaking CS101.  Later this week, you’ll see even more additional content added to the class. Over time, we plan to continually re-edit, re-record, and--when necessary--recreate our courses.

If you’ve already taken CS101, what will you take next? If you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sebastian Thrun: Learn. Think. Do. That's the Udacity experiment.

"Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn." 
(Herbert A Simon; referenced in "How Learning Works" by Susan Ambrose et al).

What a great quote!

Herb was my friend and mentor at Carnegie Mellon University. And he was perhaps Carnegie Mellon's most dedicated teacher. As a Nobel laureate in economics and a Turing Award winner, Herb made a point to teach the freshman language class. I recall being in an auditorium filled with 800 students with Herb waving dictionaries at us: a big comprehensive one and a small one.  Which one, he quizzed us, should you take with you when travelling?  After an uncomfortably long pause with students guessing - after all this was just a yes/no question - he triumphantly proclaimed, it's the small one. Because it fits in your pocket.

Herb's quote above summarizes all there is to know about Udacity. At Udacity, learning results from what the student does and thinks. The instructor at Udacity can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.

A Udacity class is different from most other online classes. It is not centered on the professor. It is not about performance, lectures, monologue. It's not about listening. It is all about student thinking and student problem solving.

The key element of a Udacity class is the student exercise. Sometimes exercises are as mundane as a multiple choice quiz. Yet others require students to implement advanced scientific concepts in software. Exercises come in sequences curated to lead students onto a path. They start easy; they progress. The role of the teacher is to curate these exercises, to explain them, and to assist students when they get stuck. And exercises often come first, before presenting solutions. We challenge our students to think - not just to memorize and apply known solutions. So at Udacity the teacher is the student's coach. In our system, students can easily advance to the next exercise when no more explanation is needed, or they can rewind the teacher as many times as they want. Our mission is to empower the student.

Udacity is not about assessment. It's not about grades. It's about mastery. This is an important difference. In most of higher education, the pacing of a class is fixed (as Sal Khan points out), and if students fail to acquire a skill in a certain time, they just get a bad grade. Udacity classes allow students to progress at their own pace. Students can take exams as often as they wish. It's not the failures that matter, it's the successes. When a student finally solves all problems, mastery has been achieved. This is what we are after. We don't certify failure to reach mastery in a given time window. We certify success!

Udacity classes are also about intuition. I believe everything in math and sciences can be made more intuitive. I believe intuition beats formalisms when it comes to understanding concepts and applying them to real-life problems. In my own classes - from Introduction to Statistics to Advanced AI - I take pride in building intuition through exercises and simple explanations.

Hands down the most important aspect of Udacity is the following. At Udacity, we don't know. When Peter and I launched AI class back in 2011, I had no clue whether teaching large number of students online made any sense; I only had an inkling. And we didn't know how to teach online. In the past year, we have made a lot of progress. But we still don't have all the answers. The Udacity team are learners, too.

This is why I view Udacity as one big experiment. Every class is an experiment. Sometimes we mix basic with advanced material. Sometimes we optimize the visual production quality of the material. We run countless experiments. And we carefully analyze the data. Data comes in the form of collective statistics (e.g., quiz results). And it comes in the form of individual testimonies.  We eagerly want to transform teaching into a data-driven science. At Udacity, we can look at every aspect of student problem solving and engagement, and meticulously improve our courses based on all this. We aspire to "discover" what works online from data.

Creating Udacity has been the single most amazing thing in my life. I care passionately about education. I believe education is the core of modern society, and access to high-quality education must be a basic human right.  It is a privilege to have the trust and dedication of so many students and educators. If Udacity succeeds, it will change humanity. We aspire to bring meaningful and effective education to everyone in the world.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Udacious September Announcements

It’s been an exciting summer, Udacians!  Here at Udacity, we have remained focused on what has been--and will always be--our top priority: providing the highest quality educational experience to you, our student.

We have been furiously recording, editing, re-recording, and re-editing to bring you three new classes: Differential Equations, Software Debugging, and How to Build a Startup. On October 1, we will also be releasing a class on Computational Theory.

But a good education is more than quality classes, and with this in mind we’ve been focusing on some of these other components as well.

  • To support the grassroots collaboration that’s already been happening, we recently held our first Global Meetup, where thousands of students met in over 400 cities around the world to socialize, exchange ideas on education, and form study groups. We hope the meetings will lead to more study groups forming and we will continue provide tools for you through both and through our site, starting with downloadable flyers.
  • To give our students a chance to share their incredible creations with their classmates, we launched the Udacity Showcase. Any projects, code, and other content created from classes can be shared for feedback and as starting points for further collaboration.  Check out each others’ work and post your own!
  • We also want to continue to provide meaningful end experiences for students that go beyond the hard work and learning that happens, whether through employment opportunities or by finding a path towards credit. We were happy to announce that Colorado State University-Global Campus started offering credit for students who complete Introduction to Computer Science and pass the proctored exam. We hope that will be the first of many other options to come.

Happy September and stay tuned for more Udacious developments coming soon!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Over 400 Global Meetups and looking forward to your next local study group!

On September 15, Udacians around the world gathered for Udacity’s first Global Meetup. We hope to see this enthusiasm grow in future meetups, which organizers should feel free to organize anytime and advertise for in their favorite cafes, restaurants, etc. We look forward to continuing to support and get feedback from our local organizers and students.
Clockwise from top-left: Students in Ghana meet with Udacity's Clarissa Shen. In Palo Alto, over 100 Udacians met up with Udacity (c) Drew Sherman. Students in London meet with their computer science instructor, Dave Evans. Udacity's newest instructor, Steve Blank, meets with students together with Sebastian Thrun on our Livestream (c) Drew Sherman
Here in Palo Alto, over 100 of us met in the TrialPay offices (huge thanks to TrialPay!). Instructors Peter Norvig, Steve Blank, Dave Evans, Andy Brown joined in person and Steve Huffman in San Francisco and Michael Littman in NYC joined by Skype.

Overall, Udacity students met with each other in over 400 cities around the world, and this is just the beginning! We hope that Udacians everywhere will continue to use our page to organize local gatherings, form study groups, and socialize with their classmates. To help advertise future meetups, feel free to use the 100% official, Udacity-approved, flyer (in both letter and A4 size). See you at the next meetup!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Steve Blank's Lean LaunchPad Course is Live

Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad course, which has taught thousands of entrepreneurs how to start a business, is now live and we’ve already seen plenty of exciting feedback from students. Students are already meeting online in the class discussion forum, where they are sharing ideas, feedback and skill sets as well as making plans to meet up outside of class to start their own companies. 

At Udacity, we know the growing pains that come with creating a startup. Much of the advice that Steve gives in his class is advice we could have benefited from in our early days. To help other companies avoid the mistakes that we--and countless other startups--have made, we’ve spent the past three months working with Steve to convert his already-successful course to the Udacity format. The class is built around his Customer Development process--the foundation of the Lean Startup Movement--which has been guiding startups for more than a decade.

Steve teaches his Lean LaunchPad course at Stanford, Berkelely, Columbia, Caltech and Princeton, corporations around the world and now, Udacity.  In 2011, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) adopted his Lean LaunchPad curriculum and has used it to train this country’s best scientists and engineers on how to start companies.  Over 100 teams of NSF-funded scientists have gone through the NSF “I-Corps” program, which will train 200 more teams in the next year.

In Steve’s words, “the class teaches entrepreneurs that startups are searching for a business model. And unlike an existing company that’s executing, searching for a business model requires a ton of hard work testing hypotheses in front of customers.”

“I am thrilled to have partnered with Udacity and their world-class learning platform to bring the Lean LaunchPad to teams of entrepreneurs all over the world,” Blank says. And we’re thrilled to have him too!

The full, eight-session Lean LaunchPad curriculum allows you to learn and test your hypotheses on your own or with a team of co-founders.   Each lecture comes with significant “homework” that drives you to develop and refine your Business Model Canvas, and then pushes you “out of the building” to talk to customers, gain their feedback about your product or service, and integrate that feedback into your company’s business model in real time.  Have an idea you’d like to launch?  You can start here today!

You can sign up for more free Udacity classes at

Monday, September 17, 2012

Push the Limits of Computational Possibility with Sebastian Wernicke

At some point in your life, addition was difficult. Then you learned how to do it, and now it’s not! This concept of difficulty, at least on the surface, seems to be a subjective one.

But is it? What if we could invent the ultimate computer? One that made today’s best supercomputer look like an abacus. Surely then a skilled programmer with superstar abilities could solve any problem! Right?

Well... no. Some problems, as it turns out, are fundamentally difficult and some are truly impossible for any computer to solve. As computer programmers, it is our duty to delve deep into this realm of computational capability. In Udacity’s new course, Introduction to Theoretical Computer Science: Dealing with Challenging Problems (CS 313), which begins on October 1, you will do exactly this.

As Sebastian Wernicke, the instructor for this course, puts it, “Theoretical computer science is about what computers can and cannot do. It shows us the fundamental capabilities and limitations of computation itself. Simple problems no computer can ever solve. Complicated problems that are actually easy. Anyone serious about computer science should know this.”

But if some problems really are impossible, why bother learning about them? Sebastian puts it nicely: “One of the most exciting things for me is that theoretical computer science often sounds ‘depressing’ because many famous results will tell you ‘a computer cannot do that. Ever.’ Yet when you look closely at these results and try to understand them, you can often find pretty neat ‘loopholes’ that will tell you ‘yes, a computer CAN do that as long as you tread carefully and put some thought into the process.’ Not many people know this.”

Sebastian Wernicke: Nothing is impossible. Unless it is.
Even if you’ve taken a course on computational theory, this will still offer something new. In designing this course, Sebastian took a fresh approach. He believes that “many courses on theoretical computer science are very formal and focus on the theoretical insights and ‘depressing’ results, i.e., things a computer cannot do.” In this course, you will learn the practical side of theory: how to recognize and quantify the difficulty of a problem and what you can do to solve it.

This course assumes a knowledge of computer programming and a familiarity with algorithms. If you’re intimidated by such a theoretical course, don’t be! In the strictest sense of the word, it won’t be difficult. 

So what are you waiting for? Sign up now!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Udacity Showcase: Share your Udacious projects with the world

Today, Udacity is proud to launch Udacity Showcase, a platform where Udacity students can put their original projects on display. This project was conceived and built by one of Udacity's own Web Development students, Gian Carlo Martinelli from Brazil. In collaboration with Udacity's all-start intern Anthony Teate, Martinelli has been helping to redefine and refine his project. Martinelli states, "I originally built this to scratch my own itch, since I was curious about projects that other Udacians were working on."

In addition to Web Development, Martinelli has also completed Intro to Computer Science. Before taking Udacity classes he studied Business Administration and has been studying computer science consistently for the past year. He states, "Udacity gave me the confidence that I could build something -- that I could start with nothing, take the problem apart and solve it step-by-step."

Udacity Showcase is a website that gives students the opportunity to show off projects they've created from what they have learned in their Udacity courses. The platform makes it easy for students to post their projects and share them with the world. Just create an account, submit a title, screenshot, description, and link for your project -- then you're done!

Each project page allows for students to comment on projects, to provide suggestions, improvements, note any bugs or errors, and any other constructive criticism. It also allows students to submit a link to either view or download a project, so they are free to link to a Github, Bitbucket, or any other open-source project hosting website. This way students can view, clone, and fix/improve the original project.

Udacity is so excited to provide this platform for our students. Teate notes that, "I'm amazed at what Udacity students are capable of, and I've seen their projects on the forums. But the forums aren't necessarily designed to showcase work, especially if all of the projects are scattered throughout one thread. With this platform, Gian and I wanted to give students a place to post their projects, know that they would be seen, and make it easy for them to gather feedback on their work -- in short, make it easy for them to show off!"

Note: Currently, anyone can sign up on Udacity Showcase to submit a project. User accounts on Udacity Showcase are not tied in with accounts on Udacity, so you have to create another account. (We hope to compensate for this in the future with something like OpenID).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who are Udacity's Top Ten Meetup Communities?

Saturday marks Udacity's first ever Global Meetup Day! Over the course of just a few weeks, Udacity students have done a tremendous job self-organizing for this event in cities across the globe.

We are excited to have Steve Huffman joining us and hosting our San Francisco Meetup at Hipmunk, and Michael Littman as a special guest at the New York City Meetup! In Palo Alto, Sebastian Thrun and the Udacity team will be joined by Peter Norvig and Steve Blank. And in Germany, Joern Loviscach will be joining the Berlin Meetup and potentially bringing along some internet friends.

We are also really happy to announce the top ten communities that have grown the largest and who will be receiving a video phone call, via Skype, from the Udacity team during their event!
  1. Koyampattur
  2. Bangalore
  3. Accra
  4. London
  5. Delhi
  6. Tanjah
  7. Pune
  8. Barcelona
  9. Beijing
  10. Bombay
Meetup organizers in these cities should look out for an email from Udacity. We look forward to meeting you this Saturday!

If you still want to attend a Meetup in your area and have not yet RSVPed, do it today on Udacity's Meetup Everywhere page!

Also, don't forget, you can add photos from your event to the Udacity Meetup Everywhere Flickr group!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sebastian Thrun: Statistics 101 will be majorly updated

Students of STAT101!

When I designed STAT 101, my hope was to make the material accessible to everyone, even students who don't like math. Statistics, to me, is a highly intuitive field -- a field full of magic and surprises. I aspired to share these insights with everyone, and to have students experience them by working on interesting problems. In making this class, I also experimented with a mix of materials. Plenty of materials are optional, such as mathematical proofs that students can elect to construct. We have been carefully studying engagement numbers and student feedback for these experiments and learning a lot about how students learn in this new online medium.

We have also received a lot of direct feedback from our students throughout the course in our forums and in discussions, which we really appreciate. I recently came across this article by another professor, which I read very carefully. While luckily not all of our students share this view, this article points out a number of shortcomings that warrant improvements that a few students have also raised and we have noted for iteration. Some are the result of my attempt to experiment with open questions (challenge students before I provide an answer), my dedication to get rid of overly formal definitions, and my desire to place optional challenges into an otherwise basic course. But I agree with the author of this article -- and our many supporters who have voiced similar things -- that the resulting course can be improved in more than one way.

Our online classes are being revised frequently. We use the data and feedback in this medium to adapt and further optimize. In the next weeks we will majorly update the content of this class, making it more coherent, fixing errors, and adding missing content. I believe that Udacity owes all of our students the hardest and finest work in making amazing classes. We are very grateful for any feedback that we receive. These are the early days of online education, and sometimes our experimentation gets in the way of a coherent class.

For clarification, the "final exam" in this class is for students to prove to themselves that they got the material right -- not as a test that independently certifies a student's performance. We have launched a proctored exam for CS101 and in time will do the same for this class.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Sebastian Thrun on Ed Tech Panel at DisruptSF with Sal Khan and Joel Klein

Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity was a guest speaker at this year's TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, a four day event that brings together the world's leaders in innovation. TechCrunch's Disrupt events are hosted in both San Francisco and New York City -- they are the most anticipated technology conferences of the year. As part of this year's lectures, Thrun spoke today about the future of education, alongside Joel Klein, CEO of the Education Division for News Corporation, and Sal Khan, Founder and Executive Director of Khan Academy.

The panel focused on engaging students and empowering teachers. Sebastian spoke about careers being the ultimate outcome in higher ed, citing our Career Team's work, as well as our new courses -- particularly How to Build a Startup: The Lean LaunchPad taught by Steve Blank, starting this Friday -- as means of addressing this outcome.

Check out some photos from the event on our Flickr Set.

What do you want to know about Udacity? #MeetUdacity

With less than a week until Udacity's first Global Meetup event, we want to know: what do you want to know about Udacity?

As part of our live broadcast through USTREAM, Sebastian Thrun, Udacity CEO and founder, will be answering YOUR questions. Whether you will be tuning into the live broadcast or re-viewing it on our USTREAM channel, we want to hear your questions.

To submit a question, please tweet it and include #MeetUdacity. We will be collecting all of the question submissions and picking a handful to answer during the broadcast.

In addition to answering your questions, there is a bunch of Udacity team members and instructors who will be joining in to say "hello."

From our Palo Alto location, you can expect to hear from: Sebastian Thrun, Udacity CEO and instructor for Intro to Statistics, Peter Norvig, instructor for Design of Computer Programs, Steve Blank, instructor for How to Build a Startup, Dave Evans, instructor for Intro to Computer Science, and Andy Brown, instructor for Intro to Physics.

From our San Francisco location, Steve Huffman, co-founder of Hipmunk and instructor for Web Development; from New York City, Michael Littman, instructor for Algorithms, from New York City, and from Berlin, Joern Loviscach, instructor for Making Math Matter!

Thank you to everyone! Your participation and enthusiasm surrounding this event has been truly inspiring to the Udacity team. We can't wait to meet all of you on September 15!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Secondary School Challenge winners announced; More than 14,000 units completed

Over the summer months, students around the world have been taking Udacity classes for a chance to win an all expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley, sponsored by Battelle. On their trip, Sebastian Thrun, Udacity CEO, will take the winners on a tour through the Udacity offices and the Stanford Intelligence Labs.

Since June, 408 teams competed with over 2,591 students participating in the challenge, and seven team have been named the winners:

The Top Teams are:

  • Team Renaissance from Bergen Country Academies, NJ
  • Team NYC from The Dalton School, NY
  • Team Freehold from Freehold High School, NJ
  • Gerard's Team from San Francisco de Asis, Dominican Republic
  • Team Daphne and Aaron from Needham High School, MA
  • Team FlyingNinjas from Texas Academy of Math and Sciences, TX
  • Team DEE35 from Calday Grammar School, UK
The rules were simple: two team captains, who must be attending secondary school, can form a team. From there, captains recruit teammates, who do not have to be attending secondary school, and accumulate as many completed course units as they can for points. On August 24, Udacity tallied up the numbers of completed units to determine the winners. The results were impressive -- across all of the teams, 14,862 units were completed!

Throughout the summer, Udacity saw secondary school students cultivating their own learning communities through the Udacity forums and through social outlets. Some teams set up Facebook groups where they could help each other with problem sets and programming. One team even turned the challenge into a fundraiser for The School Fund by soliciting sponsors for each unit completed.

Feedback from students has been tremendous. As one student stated (summarizing the many emails and posts we have received), "Udacity classes are a way to learn things I wouldn't be learning in school." In a survey, 99% of students polled said that they would like to continue taking Udacity courses, even during future vacations!

High schools have taken note as well. At Battelle STEMx network high school in Ohio -- eSTEM Academy of Reynoldsburg -- has announced that they enrolled 41 students in Udacity's Introduction to Statistics and 49 students in Introduction to Physics this fall semester for credit. Their goal is to help drive high school students to excel in college-level courses.

Both challenge sponsor, Battelle, and challenge partner, the Conrad Foundation, helped promote the competition and are now exploring how to further promote online learning opportunities for high school students. Ultimately, the motivation and achievement show by high school students taking and completing college-level courses in STEM has been inspiring. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Colo. State University Global Campus offers credit for Udacity class

Colorado State University-Global Campus, the nation's first 100% online, independently accredited public university, has announced that they will be offering full transfer course credit (three credits) for Udacity's Introduction to Computer Science. This is the first U.S. institution to formally accept a Udacity course for credit. International institutions such as University of Freiburg in Germany, and the University of Salzburg in Austria, had previously announced acceptance of Udacity's computer science courses for credit.

After extensive review by CSU-Global's faculty, it has been determined that the course -- taught by Professor Dave Evans from the University of Virginia -- adequately covers the content in any typical three credit-hour introduction to computer programming course. Students coming out of Udacity's course acquire basic knowledge of Python and basic computer programming skills, as well as computer science theory.

"As a university, CSU-Global supports accessible and flexible education opportunities or adult students in Colorado and beyond. Based on the review and recommendation of our faculty, CSU-Global is pleased to be able to offer college credit for Udacity students who successfully complete the CS101 course and its Pearson exam, and who wish to transfer to CSU-Global to complete their Bachelor's degree,"stated Dr. Takeda-Tinker, President of Colorado State University-Global Campus.

Sebastian Thrun, CEO and founder of Udacity, said, "We are very excited, as this is a recognition of the real learning being achieved by our students. This presents one formal path for Udacity's CS101 students to receive college credit at one state university in the U.S. We look forward to seeing more options open for our students in the near future."

In order to receive credit, students will need to have completed the final exam and received Udacity's Certification of Accomplishment; they will also have to take a proctored Pearson exam, offered by Udacity through Pearson VUE's secure testing center.

CSU-Global accepts transfer students who have more than 12 collegiate credit hours for Bachelor's degree completion. Udacity students who fulfill the requirements will receive three credit hours towards their elective credit requirements for their Bacelor's degree upon admission to the university.

For questions regarding CSU-Global admissions criteria, please contact their Admissions Department by emailing admissions[at]csuglobal[dot]edu.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Where are the top 10 international Meetup communities

With just two weeks left before Udacity's first ever Global Meetup Event, over 400 Meetup communities have already organized, many of which are communities outside of the United States! Due to the fact that our international communities may not be able to tune into our live broadcast because of event timing, Udacity will be calling the top ten largest communities outside of the United States to say "hello" and answer your questions.

So far the largest international communities that are in the running to receive a phone call are:

  1. Koyampattur, India
  2. Bangalore, India
  3. London, England
  4. Delhi, India
  5. Hyderabad, India
  6. Barcelona, Spain
  7. Pune, India
  8. Mumbai, India
  9. Beijing, China
  10. Singapore, Singapore
Want to hear from the Udacity team? Grow your Meetup event with our downloadable organizer packet, which includes flyers to help you spread the word. On Monday, September 10, we will be announcing the communities that will be receiving a call here on the blog!

Join a Meetup community in your area today by visiting Udacity's Meetup Everywhere page and celebrate with us on September 15!