Monday, February 25, 2013

February Updates

Happy Year of the Snake/Lunar New Year and happy February!  For those who have been keeping track, February 20th was our 1-year anniversary of launching our first Udacity courses: Intro to Computer Science (CS101)  and Artificial Intelligence for Robotics (CS373)!  Thank you for all of your support and willingness to provide us with valuable feedback this year.  

Read more about Professor Dave Evans experience with Udacity in his blog post.  He shares a part of the story behind our first year and the Introduction to Computer Science: Building a Search Engine course.  For everyone that has loved this course, we’re adding adding 3 units to CS101 on March 11!  The additional units will further help prepare students to take on some of our intermediate CS courses.

Mark your calendars! Two new courses are launching in March – Interactive 3D Graphics brought to you by Autodesk and Functional Hardware Verification created by Cadence.  Additionally, with the launch of several of our high-tech courses, we’ve also announced several competitions: one with Google around our HTML5 Game Development course and another sponsored by NVIDIA and Amazon Web Services around our Intro to Parallel Programming course. To participate make sure you enroll and follow the promotion schedules.

To stay up to date on Udacity news, stories and updates follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  

Happy Learning!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

CS101: One Year Later

A year ago Udacity launched with its first two courses: CS101: Building a Search Engine and CS373: Programming a Robotic Car.  In this blog post, David Evans, now back at the University of Virginia after his year long sabbatical at Udacity, reminisces about his experiences with CS101.  Dave remains a valuable education advisor to us and CS101 remains Udacity’s most popular course, with over 265,000 students enrolled.  The course continues to evolve, and several new units will be released on March 11!

Two Novembers ago I received a remarkable email out of the blue:
A few emails and a skype chat later, I found myself on a plane for San Francisco to meet with Sebastian, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsky, the founders of the venture not yet known as Udacity.

At the time, the venture was a 5-person team fresh off the remarkable success of running an AI Class, operating out of Sebastian’s guest house in Los Alto Hills.  The opportunity to teach an open introductory computer science class was enthralling and eye-popping.  Although I’d spent ten years developing an introductory CS course and teaching at the University of Virginia, it quickly became clear that to reach a broader audience it would be advantageous to develop a new course on this new medium.

Over the course of several conversations during that first visit we settled on the idea of basing the course around the motivating project of building a search engine.  To convince myself and Sebastian that code for a web crawler would be simple enough in python to teach in an introductory class, I wrote a first draft of the code at the SFO airport while I was waiting for my return flight. For the next three weeks, I was on a planned trip around India with my wife, and spent much of the travel time working on the plan for CS101.

On returning to California in January, I had two big surprises. The first was that my hand had become magically transparent!  On my first visit, I’d recorded a short trial using the same setup Sebastian and Peter Norvig had used for the AI class.  Unfortunately, I’m left handed so all you could see in the video was my arm covering up the writing.  Katy Reichelt, Udacity’s intrepid video editor, had figured out a way to make my hand semi-transparent so you could see the writing underneath.  

The second big surprise was that instead of launching the course in August as planned, the course needed to be ready to launch in February!  This seemed impossible, but I had a secret weapon: Kathleen Mullaney had joined as the producer (something I never thought I’d have in all my academic teaching!), and she handled the formidable task of keeping me (and Sebastian) in line and on track with her grace and charm.

Most of CS101 was recorded using a makeshift studio in the basement of Sebastian’s guest house, between his wine cellar and liquor cabinet. Unlike Udacity’s current sound-proofed studios, one could hear the plumbing loudly in the studio so we put a “Recording in Progress – No Flushing!” sign on the bathrooms upstairs.  Kathleen stuck post-it notes around the recording set-up reminding me to smile as frowns could be heard in the recording. For the promo shots, also recorded in the basement, I stood on a stool owned by Sebastian’s son.

Original Studio
Original Studio
By mid-January, things were making good progress, but we had one serious problem: our venture still had no name!  After rejecting many candidates (“Moon Shot” - we might leave our Moon Lane headquarters one day, “University 21” - legal trademark issues, “7 weeks university” - we might want to run longer/shorter courses some day, etc.), things were getting down to the wire.  It was getting late and we needed a name by the next day.  We were getting desperate enough to even contemplate hiring a “naming consultant.”   

Kathleen had the brilliant idea of going through Latinate words in the dictionary and seeing if there were any we liked.  It went something like this,

Kathleen: "anxiety" Group: hmm...probably not so good Kathleen: "audacity" Me: "Udacity!" Group: “nah, why would we want to be a city, uda sounds like something a cow would have, etc." Kathleen: "auspicious" Me: "Uspicious!" Kathleen: "Maybe Udacity wasn't so bad after all..."
My best decision in building CS101 was to recruit Peter Chapman as Assistant Instructor.  Peter has been a terrific assistant coach for my introductory computing course the previous semester, as well as a superstar in my research group, and had fortunately finished all his degree coursework a semester early to be able to devote his full and considerable energies to CS101. Peter took on the daunting task of writing grading scripts for CS101 and keeping our first group of 94,000 students happy.  Peter’s world domination plan notwithstanding, he still proudly owns the Udacity record for the highest in-video retention rate for any video.

The day before launch, no one had seen anything resembling a working site, and I was dealing with the realization that we would probably need to delay the launch. The engineering team, Mike, Irvin, Alvin, and Matt, were working furiously to get a site up and ready.  Miraculously, things came together on the last day and everything worked although not flawlessly, but certainly better than anyone expected.  It was thrilling to see the site traffic ramping up and people posting anticipatory messages waiting for the classes to start, and more than a little terrifying to wonder what students would think of the class.

Udacity Launch Party
In those early weeks, I got more than a few messages from students with earnest tales of woe asking for extensions on the assignments. It helped that my mom was also a student in that first class, so I could respond honestly that my own mother was in the class and wanted an extension, but I wasn’t able to give her one either. [Note: this was in the first iteration of our course offerings when we had deadlines; since April last year, we’ve moved to having open, completely asynchronous courses to allow students to learn at their own pace. You no longer “miss out” on starting courses, but can truly take courses any time, anywhere, at your own pace.]
Many things happened in the last year, including our newest and youngest Udacian (Dave’s daughter): here preparing for her "Building a Quantum Holodeck" course
During my time at Udacity, I had an opportunity to work, play, and fence with a host of extraordinary teachers, as well as to meet with governors, cabinet secretaries, billionaire CEOs, university presidents, and legendary technologists.  But, by far the most gratifying has been the chance to meet with students from CS101 who have dropped by our office, or I’ve run into in cafes and airports, and to see the momentous efforts and mellifluous contributions students have put into the class.  It has been (and continues to be) an amazing experience and I’m deeply grateful to the Udacity team for the opportunity and the dedication and effort they put into this. A lot has happened in the year since CS101 launched, but we’re only just at the beginning of seeing what open education can do and learning how to use the on-line medium most effectively for teaching and learning.

- Dave Evans

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It’s Coming: Functional Hardware Verification Course to Launch on March 12, 2013

It has been awesome to work with Axel Scherer and Hannes Fröhlich from Cadence on the Functional Verification Course, which we're excited to announce will launch on March 12, 2013! Check out this post from Axel about the course and upcoming launch, originally posted here.

By Axel Scherer on February 19, 2013

On October 18, 2012 Google, NVIDIA, Microsoft, Autodesk, Cadence and Wolfram announced their collaboration with Udacity. Working with Udacity, each of the companies listed above is developing new massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The Cadence contribution is CS348 Functional Hardware Verification.

You can enroll in this course by clicking on "Add to my Courses" on this page.

Today, we are happy to announce that our course will launch on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. The full course consists of 9 units and will include industry cameos from several distinguished engineers from different companies around the world. These engineers provide additional perspective to the topics of the particular units in the course.

To give you a little taste of the course, we are releasing the first clip of the first unit today.

As you watch the video, you will notice this is going to be different.

One key aspect that is not shown in the first clip is the high level of student engagement and interaction. Besides micro-lectures, the course will contain lots of interactive quizzes and many online coding exercises to ensure the concepts are well understood and can be put into practice immediately.

We will preview some of the interactive capabilities in the next weeks.

This is the list of units:

  1. Introduction to Hardware Verification
  2. Basic stimulus modeling and generation
  3. Interfacing to the Hardware Model
  4. Monitoring and Functional Coverage
  5. Checking
  6. Aspect Oriented Programming
  7. Reuse Methodology
  8. Debugging
  9. Conclusion and Exam

The course will be completely self-paced, which means you can take it at your own pace and leisure.

Finally, the course will close with a final exam and Udacity certificate to show your performance.

Get ready to verify and check for course news on Facebook and Twitter!

Axel Scherer
Incisive Product Expert Team
Twitter, @axelscherer

Friday, February 15, 2013

HTML5 Game Development News

We’re pumped to have launched our HTML5 Game Development course and hope you’re enjoying it (if you’re not taking it, go sign up now)! We had a great time talking about it yesterday on Google Developers Live -- if you missed it, you can check out the conversation here.

This course focuses on building a game in Javascript, the programming language recognized in every modern web browser.

We'll discuss how to draw and animate your game, how to do player interaction, and more. By the end, you'll be familiar with a lot of the tricks and standard practices that game developers use, and be ready to apply them in building your own games!

In addition to that, we’ll be running some exciting projects alongside the course!

First, we’re excited to announce a contest focused around the course! The goal of this contest is to build your own game using the knowledge and skills you've gained from the course. To enter the contest you should check out summary and link to the official rules here. That’ll give you the full rundown on how to enter, who is eligible (and who isn’t), rules for submission and other details. If you enter, you’re agreeing to those rules, so you should seriously read them ;).  Contest submissions must be posted by April 8, 2013 to be eligible for the contest.

We'll be selecting winners in the following categories with the listed prizes:

  • Best Overall Game will win the Grand Prize: airfare, hotel accommodation, and travel to Mountain View, CA for guest participation in a Udacity course and a single attendee pass (non-transferable) to the Google I/O 2013 event.
  • Most Innovative Game: One Chromebook (or comparable item)
  • Best Style Game: One Chromebook (or comparable item)
  • Most Impressive Performance Game: One Chromebook (or comparable item)
  • Most Fun Game: One Nexus 7 tablet (or comparable item)
  • Most Educational Game: One Nexus 7 tablet (or comparable item)
  • Best Use of Physics: One Nexus 7 tablet (or comparable item)

We’re also really excited to announce a study group for the first eight weeks of the course. The study group will be hosted at Google’s San Francisco office, and we’ll be there to answer any questions you might have and help you out with the course. Space is limited, but if you are interested in attending, fill out this form.

If you don’t live around San Francisco, or can’t make it for whatever reason, don’t worry, because we’ll be livestreaming the study group as well. See this post in our wiki for links to the livestream (and archives).

We'd love to see you there, whether in person or over the intertubes!

Colt McAnlis (
Peter Lubbers
Sean Bennett

Monday, February 11, 2013

New Udacity Certificates

We have new certificates!  Certificates are a great way to demonstrate your knowledge and skills on a given topic, whether it's in our How to Build a Startup Class, Intro to Computer Science, Introduction to Physics, or any of our other classes!

Certificates can be used in a variety of ways. You can share them with potential employers, your school, and even your peers via your social networks (#UdacityCert). You might also print them out to hang on a wall at home.

To download your certificate once you’ve successfully completed your course, go to your My Courses page.  

Your My Courses page displays all the classes you are currently taking.  

To download the certificate for a particular course find the course you’ve just completed and click on the details dropdown button, which will give you an overview of the course. 

If you've met the requirements to earn a course certificate, you'll see a link titled 'Download Udacity Certificate.' Click on that link to download the certificate.

Here's what the certificate looks like. 

Udacity Certificate - How to Build a Startup

Once you’ve downloaded the certificate, you’re done with the course.  If you  no longer want the class to display in your current courses click the link thats says “Leave Class”.  

By clicking this your class will move to the Past classes section.  Moving a class to past classes does not affect your progress or your ability to review any of the course material at a future date. 
If you’ve earned a certificate already, congratulations!  If you’re still working on a class or want to start a class, we want to encourage you to keep on learning and we’re confident that you’ll earn a certificate soon.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Intro to Parallel Programming Promotion: Sponsored by NVIDIA and Amazon Web Services

We were really excited to launch our Intro to Parallel Programming course today! A big thanks to the instructors John Owens, David Luebke and Cheng-Han Lee who have dedicated their time to make this course a great learning experience!  

In addition to announcing the course launch, we wanted to let you know that Amazon Web Services and NVIDIA are sponsoring two promotions that students in Intro to Parallel Programing should be really excited about.

Amazon Web Services is generously supporting students by providing up to 30 hours of credit for on-demand access access to GPU compute instances on Amazon EC2 to qualifying students. While not necessary to take the course, these instances will allow you to experiment further with parallel and distributed programming.  To take advantage of this, you simply have to: 

  • Be one of the first 5,000 students to complete Unit 1, including the Unit 1 problem set
  • Be one of the first 1,000 students to complete all units and problem sets through Unit 7

This is only for a limited time -- the promotion runs from February 4, 2013 - May 30, 2013 (or till the credit run out) and the credits will be valid for two years. Please refer to the promotion page and the terms for AWS for more details.  Those documents specify the conditions you must meet to be eligible (e.g., you must set up an AWS account with a credit card to claim your credit hours).

Additionally, NVIDIA is sponsoring four separate contests for opportunities to win a Kepler GPU. The winners of each contest will be selected based on performance on problem sets within the course.  Here’s a little more detail:


  • Who is eligible: Students who complete Units 1-2 by Feb. 18
  • Who Wins: Top 6 performers on Unit 2 Problem Set
  • Prizes: Kepler GPU (6 total, 1 per winner)


  • Who is eligible: Students who complete Units 1-4 by March 4
  • Who Wins: Top 8 performers on Unit 4 Problem Set
  • Prizes: Kepler GPU (8 total)


  • Who is eligible: Students who complete Units 1-6 by March 18
  • Who Wins: Top 10 performers on Unit 6  Problem Set
  • Prizes: Kepler GPU (10 total)

  • Who is eligible: Students who complete Units 1-7 by March 25
  • Who Wins: Top 12 performers on Unit 7 Problem Set
  • Prizes: Kepler GPU Card (12 total)

There are some restrictions, for example, you need to be at least 18 years old, you can only win once, and other terms and conditions apply -- see the NVIDIA rules for Red, Green, Blue, Alpha and additional details. You can also refer to the promotion page for more details.

The main thing to remember is, these are really awesome opportunities that AWS and NVIDIA are providing, which will allow you to extend and practice what you’ll learn in Intro to Parallel Programing.  So
enroll today if you haven’t already, start taking the class, and make sure you stick with it so you can make the most of these promotions (and learn lots in the process)! Class has started, what are you waiting for?

Udacity's Statistics Course to Offer Insights Into Online Learning

Last week we launched three classes in conjunction with San Jose State University; Visualizing Algebra, College Algebra, and Statistics. The 300 students that are a part of the pilot will earn college credit upon completion of the courses. Outside of the pilot, these courses are also open to anyone that wants to take them. 

Katie Kormanik, the Course Developer for the statistics class shares some insights from developing the class with SJSU professors, Sean Laraway and Ron Rogers.  Here's Katie’s article on EdSource, where she talks about some of the advantages of learning statistics on an online platform.  

You may have heard of a new development in higher education: MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are challenging traditional notions of higher education. Allowing students to work at any time, any place, and any pace, MOOCs are free and are open to anyone. This is why they’re massive, often enrolling tens of thousands of students. This revolutionary medium of higher education may shift the entire paradigm underlying how education is delivered.

So far MOOCs have been an exploration of unknown territory, pushing the frontiers of how we teach and learn. A new pilot program between San José State University (SJSU) and Udacity, one of the leading MOOC providers, aims to determine the effectiveness of three specially designed MOOCs compared to the university’s traditional classes. Anyone may enroll for free, but only 100 students may take the MOOCs for credit for this initial round. This number includes SJSU students as well as non-matriculated students – with priority for the non-matriculated enrollment slots given to high school students, wait-listed community college students and veterans.

The format of MOOCs makes them especially effective for teaching statistics. I have been working closely with SJSU professors Ron Rogers and Sean Laraway, who determine and supervise course content, to develop Udacity’s statistics class. This experience has made me acutely aware of ways in which an online statistics class can be superior to a traditional one, and we are taking advantage of these differences in teaching the course:
  • Interesting data can easily be shared online for students to analyze in spreadsheets. (Use of basic analysis software such as spreadsheets is not only essential in today’s world, but also promotes algebraic thinking.) If data were presented in a traditional textbook, students would have to manually input each value onto their computer or graphing utility. This would be tedious with real-life data, which often have hundreds of values. The ultimate goal is for students to have a strong foundation in statistical thinking and to be able to conduct basic statistics-based research. The best way to do this is by analyzing real data.
  • Simulations and applets can help visualize complex statistical concepts, making it easier for students to understand them. These are readily accessed online.
  • Polls given to students throughout the course can allow students to analyze their own data. Since each MOOC has thousands of students, the sample size is massive. We use Google Forms to administer these polls, and results automatically appear in shared spreadsheets as soon as students input their responses. This is instant data on anything, any time, anywhere, which students can view in real time.
  • MOOC lessons are prerecorded so students can go over a lesson as many times as necessary to understand the concepts – especially important for statistics, a subject many people find intimidating. And unlike in a traditional class, MOOC instructors need not worry about spending time repeating or reviewing concepts since students can replay previous videos at their leisure.
Many people still doubt that online education can equip students with skills and knowledge as well as or better than traditional in-person schooling, especially in the absence of direct student-instructor interaction. However, “interaction” takes many forms. MOOCs provide constant quizzes, which keep students thinking; instant feedback, so students know immediately if they understand the material; dynamic visuals, keeping students engaged; guest lecturers (via video); and the ability to collaborate online with thousands of peers, some of whom may choose to meet in person to learn the material. Students can ask questions about the coursework on Udacity’s online forum, and popular questions will be answered in supplemental videos. SJSU students taking the course for credit also have direct contact with the SJSU professors and myself, as well as Udacity staff who are available 24/7.

In general, for-credit MOOCs bring a whole new level of flexibility into education, especially for students who can’t fit an in-person class into their schedule; who do not have the necessary background knowledge to take a class required for their degree; or who failed the intro course and, without the online option, would be forced to wait a year to retake it.

The SJSU-Udacity pilot statistics course began last week with more than 3,000 students registered. In regular MOOCs, around 5 to 10 percent complete the courses (this still equates to tens of thousands of students earning certificates for completing popular MOOCs like Udacity’s Computer Science 101, but this percentage does not include the additional tens of thousands who benefited from pieces of the course and who were not intent on completing the whole thing).

With this pilot program, we hope that completion rates will be equal to or better than those of the in-person versions of these courses. We will also analyze and compare student performance on the exams, which are identical to those taken by traditional in-class students. We are continuously improving the courses as we receive feedback, but we still have a long way to go before we can judge their effectiveness with certainty. This will be a powerful learning experience for everyone involved.