Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sebastian Thrun: Udacity Announces For-Credit Course Pilot with San Jose State University

Today Udacity is thrilled to announce a partnership with San Jose State University to pilot three courses -- Entry-Level Mathematics, College Algebra, and Elementary Statistics -- available online at an affordable tuition rate and for college credit. To my knowledge, this is the first time a MOOC has been offered for credit and purely online. Much credit for this partnership goes to Mo Qayoumi and Ellen Junn, president and provost of SJSU, and to the five fearless SJSU professors who have chosen to work with us at Udacity to explore this new medium. The offices of Governor Brown and CSU Chancellor White have also been critically important to this partnership for their leadership and expediency. Last but not least, I want to personally thank our great Udacians who, like everyone on this list, have worked endless hours to drive innovation.
Over the past year, MOOCs have received a lot of attention in the media and education circles mostly because so many students are taking advantage of the course for free. Predictions that MOOCs would fundamentally change higher education often revolved around the fact that the courses have unprecedented reach and affordability.

While broadening access and increasing affordability are very important, our work truly focuses on another critical aspect of MOOCs: that of pedagogy. SJSU and Udacity strive to develop the very best in online education. Amanda Ripley summarizes our pedagogical approach well in her recent Time Magazine cover article: “What surprised me was the way the class was taught. It was designed according to how the brain actually learns. In other words, it had almost nothing in common with most classes I’d taken before.” This is what we are after. We want students to become hooked on learning.

With this pilot, we will offer substantial services and instructor access for tuition-paying students. The objective is to increase success rates and enhance the learning outcomes for all students in the MOOC. Internally, we have been referring to this model as MOOC 2.0 -- a new generation of MOOCs that will combine student support and services with the scale of MOOCs to empower all students to achieve mastery of the material.

Over the past few months, we have done substantial research on retention, outcomes, and the MOOC 2.0 model. But there is a lot left to learn and more research is needed. With this pilot, we will be able to dive deeper into the many open questions surrounding MOOCs, and perhaps arrive at a model that can add even more value to higher education. To be cautious, we are limiting the enrollment in this pilot phase, and we are working with a number of institutions, including the NSF, to help with the evaluation.

Living up to our promise to always provide a free path to high-quality education, we are also offering these courses free of charge as conventional MOOCs, but this path will not include instructor access, additional support services, or a path to college credit.

There may be a temptation to consider MOOCs the silver bullet of higher education. However, in the 1960s, we thought of TV as the solution, and it wasn't. If MOOCs are to stay, we need patience, diligence, an ability to think critically about our own work and to continuously improve. I am extremely delighted that, with SJSU, we have found a partner who is willing to engage in bold experiments while applying the highest levels of academic rigor.

And finally, I am so excited to work with a partner who is committed to enhancing access to higher education! Too often high-quality education is locked up, not available to students simply because of where they were born, how much money they have, or any number of other factors. Broadening access is the most important ingredient for truly democratizing education and I view this collaboration as an important step towards that greater goal.

-- Sebastian