Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Past and Future of Game Development Education

This was originally posted by Colt McAnlis on his blog. Sharing some of his experience with game development and creating the HTML5 Game Development Class.  

With most things, when you get to the end of an adventure, you start thinking about the beginning, which for me, started waaaay before our upcoming UDACITY course on HTML5 Game Development.

Education has always been an important portion of my career. Back in the early 90’s, when I started getting into game-development, education on the subject didn’t publicly exist; I had to teach myself what was needed through scraping together tutorials, Quake 1 / 2 source code, and hounding the gamedev.net forums. It was slow, painful, lonely, annoying work, and the results were often hit and miss. By the time I hit college my obsession had driven me from a novice to a self-educated semi-stable games-programmer, which caused nothing but grief for my CS professors (looking back, I greatly apologize to all of them ;)

The constant lamentation that I had during my self-education was the isolation. Honestly if it wasn't for a handful of contributors on the flipcode.org pages and GameDev.net forums, my career in Game development would never have happened.

That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to work as a part-time Adjunct professor at SMU Guildhall school for game development; Firstly I was impressed that this school even happened: you had heard of specialty schools like DigiPen and Full Sail, which were mostly specialty technical schools, but an accredited university picking up game dev? Wow.

Secondly, I couldn't help but see myself in the process; If I had some formal system of grizzled developers educating me on game dev, I might have been a better developer, faster. In some ways, this opportunity would be a way to try and help these pending game-developers with mentor-ship that I never had. I spent a great  4 years working there, teaching courses on Math, Physics, Graphics, and Concurrent programming. During that time, I was able to connect with hundreds of students and bring to them knowledge of all the crazy game-dev stuff that was stuck into my head. Quite frankly, I loved working with the SMU staff, and was really sad to have to move on from that chapter in my career.

I also found during that time, Engineering in Game Development is the most unique, difficult, and complex skill set across disciplines for programming; It’s very hard to find a set of programmers that have to produce as much content in a short millisecond frame time. Seriously, think about it; an RTS has to do pathing, network prediction, physics/collision detection, animation, visibility culling, scene setup, lighting, shadowing and finally graphics submission/rendering; in 30ms.

In contrast, a web-developer is considered as doing really good if their site loads in under 3 seconds.

Game dev is hard and most times unrewarding considering that most game-players won’t spend their time talking about your long hours optimizing the terrain rendering, and instead will complain about a 0.02s change in the cast-rate of your Druid build.... So part of teaching game developers involves a bit of ego-breaking; You have to let them know that any of their work is only part of the larger picture.

Back to the point, fast forward 3 years (Seriously? WTF?) I’m sitting in a cafe at Google’s Mountain View campus where I’ve spent the past year as a Developer Advocate, writing code, planning strategically, and largely educating developers. +Peter Lubbers, and I were chatting about how to reach more developers on best practices in web-game development, when he said:

“What if we did a UDACITY course on making an HTML5 game?”

I’m not really sure I ever agreed to do any work, or formally asked to be part of the project, I just started rambling on about curriculum, time frames, and started mail-bombing Peter with ideas and code snippets. We had recently wrapped up our exercise building the HTML5 PvP game GRITS, so there was plenty of content available, and it seemed like the perfect chance to bring that knowledge to more developers.

Fast forward 4 months to January 2013, where +Sean Bennet and +Calvin Hu are hunched over a video timeline, trying to find the best way to edit out my usage of the phrase “Your mom” from a UDACITY video snippet for our upcoming class; meanwhile Peter is syntax checking all the code snippets, grumbling about how awful our code looks. It’s a massive understatement to say that working with the UDACITY folks has been an amazing experience; Peter, Sean and Calvin are world-class superstars to work with, and have made creation of the course a fun and awesome process; Those guys built this course, I just opened my mouth and vomited out all the crazy game dev stuff locked in my head. The entire endeavor has proven something I’ve been thinking for a while now, standard-education for game-development is a difficult path to climb. Game devs are young, energetic, ambitious, impatient and generally focus on challenging the status quo; they need their attention funneled into an intense education curriculum to get them up and moving fast. SMU, DigiPen, FullSail and UDACITY are changing how developers make games, in the right ways.

So what’s the course about? Directly we've broken down the GRITS framework into a Client-side, and Server-side curriculum, and this first course focuses entirely on the client. We tried to approach the content to present all the tips, tricks, tools and ‘useless info’ that’s needed to make a fast, functional, client-side-only web game. The team has worked in overdrive mode to make sure that we present the right amount education, humor, and great games-industry stories to keep people interested. (also, trying to balance the right amount of @FAKEGRIMLOCK references...)

So if you’re looking to start making HTML5 games, sign up for the class now! If we’re lucky, and there’s enough feedback to warrant it, we just might be able to do the 2nd course, where we teach you how to write all the server-side portions of the GRITS code base; So no pressure, but if you like the course, tell your friends ;)

The class is set to go live on February 4th, followed up by a series of live-streamed weekly study groups, from the Google offices in San Francisco; So if you’re in the area, make sure you stop by for some face-to-face tech talk on a weekly basis!

Until then, here’s a nice blooper reel for you folks to sink your teeth into :)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Site Redesign: Updated Design and Features

We are excited to share with you the redesign of the Udacity website!  Our goals are to offer an improved look and feel and a seamless and consistent experience.  The new design is founded on these key design principles:

Simplicity:  Clarity in an interface is imperative for a great learning environment.  To that end we have created a new look and feel that relies on the content to provide the structure of the page and reduce unnecessary distractions and adornment.  We have also eliminated clutter to allow students to focus on the most important content, while keeping tools for navigating to other parts of the course and site on hand.


Integration:   At-a-glance tools are offered in the interface for easy access to the information you need.  My Courses gives you a quick overview of your progress within a class for all the classes you’re taking.  Discussions are integrated on the Classroom page below the video so you can see what other students are saying about the class.


Responsiveness:  Recognizing that there are a plethora of ways to consume content on the internet, we have employed the most modern web technologies to offer a responsive, elastic interface, which scales and changes based on your browser screen size.  We have also addressed latency issues which has improved real and perceived responsiveness on the site.

We strive to offer the best online learning experience for students with each change we make to the site.  We will continue to evolve and improve the site experience.  If you have feedback, please email us at feedbackprogram@udacity.com.

Irene Au
VP Product and User Experience

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age


Work on this Bill of Rights & Principles began in Palo Alto, California, on December 14, 2012. We convened a group of people passionate about learning, about serving today's students, and about using every tool we could imagine to respond better to the needs of students in a global, interactive, digitally connected world.

The Internet has made it possible for anyone on the planet to be a student, a teacher, and a creative collaborator at virtually no cost.  Novel technologies that can catalyze learning are bubbling up in less time than it takes to read this sentence.  Some have emerged from universities, some from the private sector, some from individuals and digital communities.  In the past year, Massive Online Open Courseware, or MOOCs, have become the darling of the moment--lauded by the media, embraced by millions--so new, so promising in possibility, and yet so ripe for exploitation.

We believe that online learning represents a powerful and potentially awe-inspiring opportunity to make new forms of learning available to all students worldwide, whether young or old, learning for credit, self-improvement, employment, or just pleasure.  We believe that online courses can create "meaningful" as well as “massive" learning opportunities.

We are aware of how much we don't know: that we have yet to explore the full pedagogical potential of learning online, of how it can change the ways we teach, the ways we learn, and the ways we connect.

And we worry that this moment is fragile, that history frequently and painfully repeats itself. Think of television in the 1950s or even correspondence courses in the 1920s. As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.

All too often, during such wrenching transitions, the voice of the learner gets muffled.

For that reason, we feel compelled to articulate the opportunities for students in this brave electronic world, to assert their needs and--we dare say--rights.

We also recognize some broader hopes and aspirations for the best online learning. We include those principles as an integral addendum to the Bill of Rights below.

Our broad goal is to inspire an open, learner-centered dialogue around the rights, responsibilities, and possibilities for education in the globally-connected world of the present and beyond.

Image from americanconflicts.com
I.  Bill of Rights

We believe that our culture is increasingly one in which learning, unlearning and relearning are as fundamental to our survival and prosperity as breathing. To that end, we believe that all students have inalienable rights which transfer to new and emerging digital environments. They include:

The right to access
Everyone should have the right to learn: traditional students, non-traditional students, adults, children, and teachers, independent of age, gender, race, social status, sexual orientation, economic status, national origin, bodily ability, and environment anywhere and everywhere in the world. To ensure the right to access, learning should be affordable and available, offered in myriad formats, to students located in a specific place and students working remotely, adapting itself to people’s different lifestyles, mobility needs, and schedules.  Online learning has the potential to ensure that this right is a reality for a greater percentage of the world’s population than has ever been realizable before.

The right to privacy
Student privacy is an inalienable right regardless of whether learning takes place in a brick-and-mortar institution or online.  Students have a right to know how data collected about their participation in the online system will be used by the organization and made available to others.  The provider should offer clear explanations of the privacy implications of students' choices.

The right to create public knowledge 
Learners within a global, digital commons have the right to work, network, and contribute to knowledge in public; to share their ideas and their learning in visible and connected ways if they so choose.  Courses should encourage open participation and meaningful engagement with real audiences where possible, including peers and the broader public.

The right to own one’s personal data and intellectual property
Students also have the right to create and own intellectual property and data associated with their participation in online courses.  Online programs should encourage openness and sharing, while working to educate students about the various ways they can protect and license their data and creative work.  Any changes in terms of service should be clearly communicated by the provider, and they should never erode the original terms of privacy or the intellectual property rights to which the student agreed.

The right to financial transparency
Students have a right to know how their participation supports the financial health of the online system in which they are participating.  They have a right to fairness, honesty, and transparent financial accounting.  This is also true of courses that are "free."  The provider should offer clear explanations of the financial implications of students' choices.

The right to pedagogical transparency
Students have the right to understand the intended outcomes--educational, vocational, even philosophical--of an online program or initiative.  If a credential or badge or certification is promised by the provider, its authenticity, meaning, and intended or historical recognition by others (such as employers or academic institutions) should be clearly established and explained.

The right to quality and care
Students have the right to care, diligence, commitment, honesty and innovation.  They are not being sold a product--nor are they the product being sold.  They are not just consumers.  Education is also about trust.  Learning--not corporate profit--is the principal purpose of all education.

The right to have great teachers
All students need thoughtful teachers, facilitators, mentors and partners in learning, and learning environments that are attentive to their specific learning goals and needs.  While some of us favor peer learning communities, all of us recognize that, in formal educational settings, students should expect--indeed demand--that the people arranging, mentoring and facilitating their learning online be financially, intellectually and pedagogically valued and supported by institutions of higher learning and by society.  Teachers’ know-how and working conditions are students’ learning conditions.

The right to be teachers
In an online environment, teachers no longer need to be sole authority figures but instead should share responsibility with learners at almost every turn.  Students can participate and shape one another’s learning through peer interaction, new content, enhancement of learning materials and by forming virtual and real-world networks. Students have the right to engaged participation in the construction of their own learning. Students are makers, doers, thinkers, contributors, not just passive recipients of someone else’s lecture notes or methods.  They are critical contributors to their disciplines, fields, and to the larger enterprise of education.

II.  Principles

The following are principles to which the best online learning should aspire.  We believe the merit of specific courses, programs, or initiatives can be judged on the strength of their adherence to these principles and encourage students and professors to seek out and create digital learning environments that follow and embody them.

Global contribution
Online learning should originate from everywhere on the globe, not just from the U.S. and other technologically advantaged countries.  The best courses will be global in design and contribution, offering multiple and multinational perspectives.  They should maximize opportunities for students from different countries to collaborate with one another, to contribute local knowledge and histories and to learn one another’s methods, assumptions, values, knowledge and points of view.

The function of learning is to allow students to equip themselves to address the challenges and requirements of life and work. Online learning can serve as a vehicle for skills development, retraining, marketable expertise.  It can also support self-improvement, community engagement, intellectual challenge, or play.  All of these functions are valid. The best programs and initiatives should clearly state the potential contexts in which they offer value.

Students should have many options for online learning, not simply a digitized replication of the majors, minors, requirements, courses, schedules and institutional arrangements of conventional universities.  The best online learning programs will not simply mirror existing forms of university teaching but offer students a range of flexible learning opportunities that take advantage of new digital tools and pedagogies to widen these traditional horizons, thereby better addressing 21st-century learner interests, styles and lifelong learning needs.  Ideally, they will also suggest and support new forms of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary inquiry that are independent of old gatekeepers such as academic institutions or disciplines, certification agencies, time-to-degree measurements, etc.

Hybrid learning
Freed from time and place, online learning should nonetheless be connected back to multiple locations around the world and not tethered exclusively to the digital realm.  This can happen by building in apprenticeships, internships and real-world applications of online problem sets.  Problem sets might be rooted in real-world dilemmas or comparative historical and cultural perspectives.  (Examples might include: “Organizing Disaster Response and Relief for Hurricane Sandy” or “Women’s Rights, Rape, and Culture” or “Designing and Implementing Gun Control:  A Global Perspective.”)

Learning is emergent, a lifelong pursuit, not relegated to the brick walls of an institution or to a narrow window of time during life; it has no specific end point. The artificial divisions of work, play and education cease to be relevant in the 21st century.  Learning begins on a playground and continues perpetually in other playgrounds, individual and shared workspaces, communities and more.  Learning can be assessed but doesn’t aim itself exclusively toward assessment.

Both technical and pedagogical innovation should be hallmarks of the best learning environments.  A wide variety of pedagogical approaches, learning tools, methods and practices should support students' diverse learning modes.  Online learning should be flexible, dynamic, and individualized rather than canned or standardized.  One size or approach does not fit all.

Formative assessment
Students should have the opportunity to revise and relearn until they achieve the level of mastery they desire in a subject or a skill.  Online learning programs or initiatives should strive to transform assessment into a rich, learner-oriented feedback system where students are constantly receiving information aimed at guiding their learning paths.  In pedagogical terms, this means emphasizing individualized and timely (formative) rather than end-of-learning (summative) assessment.  Similarly, instructors should use such feedback to improve their teaching practices.  Assessment is only useful insofar as it helps to foster a culture of success and enjoyment in learning.

Experimentation should be an acknowledged affordance and benefit of online learning. Students should be able to try a course and drop it without incurring derogatory labels such as failure (for either the student or the institution offering the course).  Through open discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of programs, the industry should develop crowd-sourced evaluative guides to help learners choose the online learning that best fits their needs.

Courses should encourage interaction and collaboration between students wherever it enhances the learning experience.  Such programs should encourage student contributions of content, perspectives, methods, reflecting their own cultural and individual perspectives.  Online learning programs or initiatives have a responsibility to share those contributions in an atmosphere of integrity and respect.  Students have the right and responsibility to promote and participate in generous, kind, constructive communication within their learning environment.

Open online education should inspire the unexpected, experimentation, and questioning--in other words, encourage play. Play allows us to make new things familiar, to perfect new skills, to experiment with moves and crucially to embrace change--a key disposition for succeeding in the 21st century.  We must cultivate the imagination and the dispositions of questing, tinkering and connecting.  We must remember that the best learning, above all, imparts the gift of curiosity, the wonder of accomplishment, and the passion to know and learn even more.

Signed on January 25, 2013 by:
  • John Seely Brown, University of Southern California and Deloitte Center for the Edge
  • Betsy Corcoran, Co-founder, CEO, EdSurge (edsurge.com)
  • Cathy N. Davidson, Distinguished Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies, Co-Director PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, Duke University, and cofounder Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (hastac.org)
  • Petra Dierkes-Thrun, Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Stanford University; blogs about literature and digital pedagogy atliteratureilluminations.org
  • Todd Edebohls, CEO of careers and education service, Inside Jobs (insidejobs.com)
  • Mark J. Gierl, Professor of Educational Psychology, Canada Research Chair in Educational Measurement, and Director, Centre for Research in Applied Measurement and Evaluation, University of Alberta, Canada
  • Sean Michael Morris, Educational Outreach for Hybrid Pedagogy (hybridpedagogy.com) and Part-time Faculty in the English and Digital Humanities Program at Marylhurst University in Portland, OR
  • (Jan) Philipp Schmidt, Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU, p2pu.org) and MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow
  • Bonnie Stewart, Ph.D candidate and Sessional Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada
  • Jesse Stommel, Director of Hybrid Pedagogy (hybridpedagogy.com) and Director of English and Digital Humanities at Marylhurst University in Portland, OR
  • Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity, Google Fellow and Research Professor in Computer Science, Stanford University
  • Audrey Watters, Writer, Hack Education (hackeducation.com)
This was originally posted on Edsurge today.

To join the discussion, visit one of the many platforms where this Bill of Rights and Principles is being published and blogged about (each of us, and each of the platforms, will likely create a different sort of engagement).  We invite further discussion, hacking, and forking of this document.  On Twitter, please use the hashtag #learnersrights when you share your versions and responses.  Finally, and most importantly, this document can’t be complete (can never be complete) without continuous and dynamic contributions and revising by students.  We invite students everywhere to read this beginning, to talk about it, to add to it.

Additional resources:  We have not included reading resources here but invite you to add the ones most meaningful to you in the public, crowd-sourced version of the Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age.  [Here's a GitHub repository.]  Collective contribution is the principle we espouse in this document.  We look forward to your participation.

Share your thoughts with us below in the comments.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January Updates and Announcements

We hope everyone had a great holiday season. Here’s to a new year of learning and broadening access to education! It’s the beginning of the year but we have a lot of great things in the works. Here's a summary of what’s happening.

College Credit 

On January 15, 2013 we announced a pilot in conjunction with San Jose State University called SJSUPlus.  This partnership will make Visualizing Algebra, College Algebra and Statistics available available for U.S. college credit.  This pilot will be available to 300 students. In order to receive credit you must register on the SJSUPlus page to be accepted into the pilot.  These credits are accepted in the California State University system, and in the case of Statistics, in the University of California system as well.  Courses will also be available for those looking to learn or brush up on math skills.  Enroll for those courses on the Udacity site. These courses are open for enrollment and will begin on January 30, 2013. If you’re interested in seeing the full story of our press event and announcement visit our Storify page.  

ACE partnership

We’re also working with ACE on a collaboration to explore college credit recommendations for four of our courses in addition to research initiative to look at impact and students served. This is all a part of wide-ranging research and evaluation effort to examine the academic potential of MOOCs and we’re pumped to be a part of it.


Thank you for your help and support in getting us nominated for a 2012 Crunchie. Now that we’re on the ballot please help us win Best Education Startup.  You can vote once a day.  The last day to vote is January 24th.  Vote here!

To receive the most up to date news follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sebastian Thrun: A Time to Learn with the California Faculty Association

This morning I saw an article written by the California Faculty Association. The CFA's mission is to ensure quality education for the students in California, fairness to their teachers, and policies that ensure access to higher education.  The article specifically discusses our pilot program with San Jose State University, SJSUPlus.

I am very moved to see this article. I had been informally communicating with members of the CFA for quite some time, and their input and guidance had an impact on how this pilot is structured. Moreover, I find myself in strong agreement that quality and educational outcomes matter above anything else; that access is a key ingredient of higher education, but also that there is a need to experiment, get data, and honestly and truthfully study the data to make sure we don't prematurely go for solutions that do not work.

I want to publicly thank the California Faculty Association and the faculty of San Jose State University for an ongoing dialog, which I hope will intensify as this pilot goes forward. Udacity has a strong interest in learning more about the new MOOC approach to online education. We are committed to explore new ways to make it work well for all students, not just the highly self-motivated ones. And we are committed to put students, quality, and the integrity of SJSU professors ahead of everything else.

This is a time to learn, and I am excited that we are ready to try.

- Sebastian Thrun

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

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Udacity Student Success Story: Hayden Lee

We have a success story that we’re very excited to share.  Like many other Udacity students, Hayden Lee has really applied what he learned in class.  Here’s his story.

Hayden is a junior at Virginia Tech who entered college studying mechanical engineering. After a year in school, he had a great idea for a website but had no idea how to create it.  After thinking about it for a month or so, he decided to learn how to code the website himself.  He stumbled on Udacity and began his journey in CS101: Intro to Computer Science.   He soon completed this class and moved on to CS253: How to Build a Blog.  As he got more experience programming, he realized how much he enjoyed it and as a result of his Udacity experience, he changed his major to computer science.

He was able to put his Udacity programming skills to use when he, like Andrew B. attended Startup Weekend in Blacksburg, Virginia.  There he formed a team and created a product that helps college professors take advantage of interactive test-taking on mobile devices. Hayden stated that, “Using the skills I learnt from Udacity about web app design, I was able to contribute immensely to our project.” His team ended up finishing the weekend in second place and launched a company.

Four months later, his company Pivotal Testing created a tool that has been piloted in a course at Virginia Tech taught by John Boyer.  In the pilot, there were 60,000 questions answered from 2,500 students. He is currently in the process of implementing this with other professors at Virginia Tech.  

Hayden is currently working through EP245: How to Build a Startup and CS262: Building a Web Browser.  We wish Hayden and Pivotal Testing good luck!  We also want to encourage other students like you to be inspired and “Learn. Think. Do” to get the most of what you’ve learned at Udacity.  And feel free to share your stories with us at social (at) udacity.com!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Q&A with Dale Stephens, Founder of UnCollege.org

A few weeks ago, Dale Stephens, founder of UnCollege.org joined us at Udacity for lunch.  We had a great conversation that really reinforced the broad spectrum of options out there for learning and doing. Dale paraphrased it quite well when he said:

There's a bell curve of how people like to learn. At one end is unschooling, at the far end is the traditional system we currently have. And there’s a big opening in the middle where hopefully, one day, people can learn what they want and how they want.

We asked a lot of questions and made Dale do most of the talking (since he had so many interesting things to say)!  As I’ve reflected on the conversation, some key takeaways have crystalized for me that are highly relevant for Udacians:
  • The lines between formal learning, personal interests, and career are blurring.
  • There are tons of options for learning, from Udacity MOOCs to teaching yourself from self-created syllabi and used textbooks. Find what works best for you. 
  • Learn about what you’re interested in; it will help you be a lifelong learner.
  • Be confident and curious! 

Here’s a more detailed summary of our Q&A:

U: What are some trends you see on the education-employment spectrum? 

DS: "I think apprenticeships will become an increasingly important element of the education-to-employment trajectory. Like at Groupon, where they use an apprenticeship program in which cohorts are recruited and trained into prospective roles at the company -- and potentially hired as full time employees.  It proved to be highly effective from a recruiting standpoint because they could basically build their own developers.  I can see a real movement toward apprentice-like programs like this.
I also think there's an opportunity for a really great portfolio site making the bridge from learning and doing to employment. No one has really nailed this.  That's how I got started and there's real potential in portfolios."

U: Where do you see MOOCs fitting in to the unschooling movement?

DS: "For one, it makes information much more available. When I first started unschooling, I would go to a used textbook warehouse to find the content I needed.  With MOOCs, you don't have to go to a used textbook warehouse anymore.  A lot of the information you need is at your fingertips."

U: What are some of the most important elements of unschooling or any type of self-directed learning?

DS: "A critical component of self-driven learning is community. There are some really great communities out there, like hackerspaces.org, Noisebridge … I think Dev Bootcamp has done a great job of creating community and leveraging that for positive learning outcomes. Instead of strictly focusing on writing code, they really invest in community -- everything from yoga to accountability structures. That community is invaluable to helping people learn what they want to."

U: Can you talk about how you stay motivated, or advice you might give unschoolers to maintain motivation towards their learning goals?

DS: "Well, there's always SMART goals.  When I was just starting as an unschooler, above my desk, I had a list of all the courses I was working on.  I had syllabi outlining what I was going to learn, and every week I would list all the things I needed to get done each day in order to meet those learning goals.  I kept learning journals; daily records of my goals and progress. I also found accountability buddies who I’d check in with on a weekly basis.
But its important to remember that motivation is not really the defining factor. It is really the two things that go into motivation: Curiosity and Confidence.  It's much easier to teach these things and help people learn how to be curious and confident than it is to teach 'motivation'."

U: How do you see the education landscape continuing to evolve? 

DS: "I think of education being broken down into 4 categories: Content, Community, Network, and Signaling. Content is where we've made the most progress thanks to MOOCs and other forms of open content. Signaling is where we have the furthest to go.  There is a lot of exciting growth around communities and networks, but a lot of opportunity as well. As far as signaling, I see promise in apprenticeships and portfolios, as I mentioned. Ultimately, we are heading towards a world where people are free to make choices about educating themselves without facing judgment or negative consequences."

We certainly have enjoyed getting to know Dale and look forward to staying in touch with him.  If you want to read more about what Dale has to say, he’s got a book coming out in March and has lots of good stuff posted at UnCollege.org. Thanks, Dale, for helping us reflect on the variety of learning options out there, and all the different reasons (and ways) people learn new things!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Brief Look at the Interactive Rendering Course

If you missed our announcement last week our Interactive Rendering course with Eric Haines will be available on March 11, 2013.  Here’s a quick taste of the technology and a program in the course.  

This post originally posted on the Real-Time Rendering blog about the Interactive Rendering class. 

New Year’s Teapot

I’ve been beavering away on my part of the Interactive Rendering course for Udacity and Autodesk. It’s a free MOOC – massive open online course – and I’ll talk more about what I learned from doing it when the course nears completion. For now, the main takeaway I have is “WebGL plus three.js is a pretty good combination for teaching graphics on the web.” The fact that WebGL is built into most browsers (sad slow head-shake to Microsoft Internet Explorer at this point) means you can point a student to an URL and they can immediately see and play with an interactive demo. Three.js is a scene graph library which simplifies for the student the mass of initialization and whatnot that WebGL requires, while also not hiding a lot of functionality from the programmer (like some scene graphs do). Bonus bit is that the Chrome browser has a JavaScript debugger built in (just hit F12 or ctrl-shift-I to toggle it on), so students can always look at the underlying code.

So, here’s my New Year’s thingy for you to try out:
The Teapot

[Mac/Safari users: follow these simple instructions to enable WebGL on your machine. Other users: if stuck, try this site.]

Nothing deep, as it’s meant for teaching about Gouraud vs. Phong shading: the mouse changes the view (left: trackball, right: pan, middle: zoom), there are a few keyboard controls to switch from vertex to pixel shading and change the tessellation, a GUI for messing with the model and scene, and a little FPS counter in the corner. If the mouse or GUI doesn’t work the first time, hit refresh (and if anyone knows a fix for this glitch, speak!). If you see the FPS counter consistently below 60 FPS for your machine, please let me know your hardware configuration.

The heresies I commit in this program:

  • You can add a bottom to the teapot (SJ Baker’s excellent page considers this a major sin).
  • You can expand the lid 7.7% horizontally to give a solid seal between the teapot and the lid (this gap looks goofy to unbelievers).
  • You can scale the model up by 30% so it actually looks more like the real teapot (read the end of this section for one explanation of why the model was changed – short version: Blinn hack to adjust for non-square pixels).