No Student Debt vs. Student Debt?

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I have worked with a lot of independent contractors and small business owners over the years from many different fields—from HR vendors and alt-currency app developers to Americana songwriters and organic winemakers—and while the respective worlds are often seemingly very different, one objective unites them all: the goal of offsetting debt with revenue.

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Student Success: From Hackathon to Amazon

Two years ago, Julian Ozen was struggling in his Mechanical Engineering classes at Washington University in St. Louis. A friend had heard about Udacity through Hacker News and enrolled in Intro to Computer Science. Julian decided to brush up on his coding skills before the next semester, so he joined in. And over winter break, the two met daily to work on the course material together.

Julian OzenJulian explained, “I walked into my next semester feeling much more confident in my ability to code.” But the end result? Last fall, Julian and his study partner teamed up on a prize-winning web app, Review With Us, for the prestigious college hackathon, PennApps. They built the app using development technology they learned through Udacity. And for Julian, his experience with Udacity ultimately lead him to a change in major and a coveted internship with Amazon Web Services.

Udacity Just Clicked

Udacity wasn’t his first experience with programming. He had taken an introductory class at his university, enjoyed it, but only achieved moderate success with it. He had also investigated online courses through iTunes U and Coursera, but he hadn’t had any success in completing them. Udacity’s format, along with the video presentations, hit that sweet spot for Julian, making learning the material easier and more intuitive.

Udacity just clicked. “I love the format. The ability to watch the videos in chunks makes it easy to digest the information.” Despite continuing his college courses, Julian went on to study Web Development, AI, and Algorithms through Udacity’s learning platform, choosing his classes at Udacity to complement and supplement his university coursework and projects. “Udacity understands what it means to make web-native online courses. In the same way that YouTube has made it easier and more enjoyable to share media, Udacity has done the same way with teaching.”

“Things that seem tough become second nature very quickly…”

With some perspective behind him, Julian reflects, “I also love that the first courses were taught in Python. It clears away a lot of the confusion and noise present in other languages, while still teaching you enough to learn the concepts. Since then I’ve been able to move onto C++, Javascript, Objective C . . . but starting in Python helped remove a lot of the initial confusion.”

PennApps and Amazon Web Services

You can find local and regional hackathons in most urban centers these days, but when Julian and his friend applied to PennApps, the college hackathon scene hadn’t quite exploded like it has since.

The PennApps event brings together over two thousand college students from all over the U.S. They converge on Philadelphia for a weekend marathon of creating and coding innovative web apps, sponsored by industry giants like Facebook, Comcast, and Intel. Professional panelists review the submissions, and prizes are awarded for the best, most well thought-out, and solidly built applications. Julian and his friend applied on a whim, “My partner and I saw some info about it on Hacker News and saw that we could get flown out, so we decided there was no harm in applying.” And soon found themselves in Philly, steeped in intense competition with some of the brightest young programmers there.

Chegg was a main sponsor for the event that year, so Julian and his team came up with an idea to align with the company’s mission of helping students in the classroom. “The project we made was called ReviewWith.us. Essentially it was a Reddit-style community for a classroom where students could post content related to their course, and students could up-vote or down-vote relevant material.” The app made it possible for students in the same class to share and collaborate on the most relevant notes and study with each other. Julian and his partners felt confident they could churn out the app in one short weekend of work.

“I’ve been able to move onto C++, Javascript, Objective C . . . but starting in Python helped remove a lot of the initial confusion.”

They started the project using a LAMP stack. Julian contacted Amazon to use Amazon Web Services credit for the project, and came away with contact info for a company recruiter. But then the team encountered a bump in the road. “When we ran into last-minute technical difficulties, a friend and I decided to port our work over to use Python on Google App Engine because we were much more familiar with it from Udacity’s Web Dev class. The simplicity of Python, the ability to reference Udacity if we needed to, and the ease of pushing code to App Engine made the transition smooth — though stressful for 1 a.m.”

ReviewWith.Us was awarded “Best Hack That Makes Student’s Lives Better” at the end of PennApps. And with that on his resume, Julian followed up with the Amazon recruiter.

“Udacity almost directly got me a job.”

The interview and recruitment process went a lot smoother thanks to the level of Python training he received through Udacity. “I had three phone technical interviews, after which I received an offer. I was asked a series of algorithm and data structures questions, and I coded them in Python — which again, I learned from Udacity. Udacity almost directly got me a job.”

Now, Julian is a senior Computer Science major at Washington University. He’s kept active in the hackathon scene, and challenged himself with other projects, in addition to his internship at Amazon. He credits his success in networking with industry insiders and landing interviews with other companies to that level of deep commitment to his craft. And Python. “Pretty much any major project I work on is done with Python, and I owe it to Udacity for getting me started with it.”

The future is wide open for Julian now. He hopes to return to Amazon Web Services, but also sees himself getting involved in the startup community. While Udacity may have set him down this particular career path, Julian doesn’t necessarily believe his achievements make him a special case. When asked what advice he could offer to those interested in getting started in web development, he replied, “Once you get over a certain threshold, it’s extremely easy to run with it. Things that seem tough become second nature very quickly, and the internet has a vast library of content to help you build whatever you want. I feel like I’ve grown a lot since taking my first CS course. My only regret is that I never started earlier.”

Sebastian Thrun: Update on our SJSU Plus Summer Pilot

We have some exciting news to share on our SJSU Plus Pilot. To remind everyone, with the encouragement of California Governor Brown, Udacity teamed up with SJSU to deliver for-credit college classes online. A key objective for this partnership has been to bring college education to students who are presently under-served and left out of higher education.

This summer, we ran the second instance of our pilot. While in the Spring, we actively sought out underserved high schools from low-income areas in California, this time we simply opened up enrollment to anyone. As predicted, with 2,091 students who enrolled, we mainly reached students who would not ordinarily attend college. Only 11% of the summer students who took the for-credit courses from SJSU were matriculated students in one of the California State Universities. 71% of our students came from out of state or foreign countries. And while the total number of high school students went up, their proportion in the total student body went down.

Hot off the press, here are the latest results for the summer pilot. For comparison, we also provide rates of students who received a C or better for the Spring and Summer pilots, and the comparable rates for on-campus classes at SJSU averaged over the past six semesters.

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In short, pass rates are up and match more closely those in SJSU on-campus classes.

We did change a number of things. A good fraction of the content was re-done between spring and summer. We used data from the spring to understand what parts of our content worked, and what needed to be improved. We added hints for challenging exercises, and we added more course support staff to assist with online discussions and communications. We also changed the pacing methodology, informing students earlier and as part of their course experience when they were falling behind. And reaping the benefits of all the hard work in the spring when they were busy preparing all the content, SJSU’s professors spent much more time over the summer interacting with students. Undoubtedly, these changes had an impact on the student experience and success rate.

Another way to achieve high pass rates is to be highly selective in the student admissions process. Elite private institutions are masters at picking the very best students, and consequently their graduation rates are amazing. We wanted this program to be the opposite.

One key difference between Spring and Summer was that we opened our Summer session to everyone. This led to a substantial difference in student body. Among the student body, 53% reported that they already hold a post-secondary degree (5% Associate, 28% Bachelor’s, 16% Master’s, and 4% Doctorate). Only 12% of the students had a high school graduate diploma or equivalent, and 15% were active high school students. This is very different from the Spring Pilot, in which approximately 50% of the student body were active high school students, and the other 50% were matriculated SJSU students.

And interestingly, college credit was not the leading motivation for students to take these courses for credit. With love of learning, career advancement, and lack of options all part of the equation, we found we were serving a broader need:

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Yet with these new results, we still aren’t there. There remains so much more that needs to be improved. The summer pilot was the second iteration of a new approach. To all those people who declared our experiment a failure, you have to understand how innovation works. Few ideas work on the first try. Iteration is key to innovation. We are seeing significant improvement in learning outcomes and student engagement. And we know from our data that there is much more to be done.

We know that students learn at different speeds. This is particularly the case in the mathematical sciences, where it just takes a while to really understand certain concepts. Rushing students through a timed curriculum with a pre-defined pace cannot be the best way to achieve lasting success. In our remedial math class, we only gave students a single chance to pass various exams. If they even failed the first midterm, they failed the class. On campus, multiple chances are offered. There are clear opportunities to rethink assessment as a whole, especially as we open up new pacing options.

It is important to acknowledge that we are entering uncharted territory. I have been fortunate to work with some of the very best innovators in the world. I have learned that innovation requires a clear vision, many iterations, and a willingness to learn and improve. I believe we are on a path where we can break down many of the barriers to access in higher education. But this is just the beginning of this path. I am excited to see where the next round will take us.

UPDATE November 15, 2013: About our experimental methodology, specifically with regards to our Spring Pilot — To clarify, student participation was voluntary, and the experiment was performed with IRB approval and in accordance with IRB guidelines. Thanks to a generous gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, participation was free of charge for all students. We involved the National Science Foundation, WASC, UC Berkeley, and SJSU’s own IRB in setting up and evaluating our experiments, and we had faculty from Stanford’s School of Education on our team to guide us with pedagogical choices. Udacity did not receive any public money for this work.

Show Off Your Achievements in an Online Portfolio

At Udacity, we love to hear from students who have caught the “programming bug” from our courses, and who take extra steps to showcase their new skills to the world! Whether you’re broadcasting your new expertise to get into your career in tech or to get into college, consider creating an online portfolio for your accomplishments.

Today we’d like to introduce David Lipowicz, a 17-year-old Udacian hailing from the UK who made his own website, borntostudycomputerscience.com, to share his personal projects – websites, music, games, design – work experience, and Udacity courses.

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As you can see from his website, David has used his knowledge of computer science to explore several side projects. David also makes it easy for the reader to see he’s taken Intro to Computer Science, Intro to Theoretical Computer Science, Intro to Statistics, and Programming Languages, and he’s shared his course completion certificates for each of these courses.Screen-Shot-2013-07-08-at-3.18.14-PM

David recently graduated from high school and intends on continuing his studies in computer science at the University College London. David notes that Udacity courses were “really useful in the university application process, as well as being really interesting,” and we are totally impressed with his website. Can’t wait to see what you do next, David!

Udacity, what courses have you completed and how do you share your certificates with others?

Connecting Internationally on Udacity Global Meetup Day

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The best part of Udacity — the magic ingredient that makes us truly Udacious — is our student community. We are beyond excited to connect with our students around the world on Saturday, July 20th for our Second Annual Udacity Global Meetup Day. Our Global Meetup Day will be a time for Udacians to advance their job readiness for careers in tech, and a time to celebrate our rockin’ community.

To this end, we are going to connect with the top ten largest international communities during the Global Meetup! On Monday, July 15th, at 12pm PDT, we will check the Meetup.com RSVPs (don’t forget to RSVP and let all your friends know about it!) and get in touch with the Meetup organizers for the ten largest international Global Meetup events. We’ll schedule a time for a live video call from our Udacity team to chat with your Meetup crew during your Global Meetup!

Currently, London is leading the international meetups, with Delhi and Bangalore close behind. You can still catch up — don’t forget to download your Global Meetup Organizer Kit for tips and resources in organizing your local meetup! We’re looking forward to connecting with international Udacians during the Global Meetup, so start organizing today!

Jose: A Magical Thing Called Programming

Jose
Jose

At Udacity, we love hearing from students who have been touched by our mission to broaden access to education. Today, we’d like to introduce Jose, a Udacian who tenaciously followed his passion for technology and programming, in spite of access setbacks along the way.

Jose’s family is originally from Costa Rica, and moved to the United States when Jose was 15 years old. His family bought a computer when he was 16 years old, and when it was his turn to use the computer, he loved reading technology blogs. Jose puts it, “I discovered this thing called ‘programming.’ For me, it was all magic — I didn’t know there was anything behind the computer interface.”

Inspired, Jose tried to teach himself programming out of a textbook, and signed up for his school’s computer science class — however, unfortunately, both the textbook and the class were a bad fit. Demoralized, Jose started to think that computer science was only for geniuses and for people whose parents could teach them.

In college, Jose studied electrical engineering, but saw an announcement for Sebastian Thrun’s MOOC AI course and when Udacity’s CS101 course was released, made time every night to study. Working his way through Intro to Computer Science, Web Development and Programming Languages, Jose felt more and more at home with programming.

Since starting his programming journey, Jose has taken two co-ops, or extended internships, with Intel and IBM, focusing on software development and electrical engineering. After graduation, he has job offers lined up and is also interested in pursuing his online masters degree in computer science with Udacity.

Jose is proud of his accomplishments and has a personal mission similar to Udacity’s: as the oldest of ten siblings, Jose is dedicated to nurturing passion for technology among his family. He teaches programming to his younger siblings and their friends, sometimes modifying assignments from the Intro to Computer Science and Intro to Programming in Java courses for them. He is happy to report that his eight-year-old brother writes Python! Huge thanks to Jose for sharing his story!

If you’re interested in pursuing your own passion in programming, head on over to our Course Catalog to get started today. Happy learning!

Francisco: From CS101 to Masters Program in Computer Science

Udacity is a great place to learn because of our amazing student community, which is constantly buzzing with inspirational stories. We especially love hearing from Udacians who have discovered worlds previously unknown to them, such as programming!

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Francisco

Today, we’d like you to meet Francisco, who took a first look at programming in Python with our CS101 course and today is working towards a masters degree in Computer Science with an emphasis in Information Assurance at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Francisco, who graduated in 2011 from Santa Clara University with a degree in Economics, knew that he wanted to return to school to advance his career, but he wasn’t sure what path he wanted to take. In 2012, he heard about internships available in the STEM fields at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Francisco was accepted to an internship in operations research work, which required Python. One of Francisco’s professors recommended Udacity’s Introduction to Computer Science course as a gateway to programming in Python, and the rest is history. Francisco says, “Programming wasn’t on my radar — it wasn’t part of the world I knew,” but he loved the feeling of building something and seeing it run.

After the internship, Francisco pursued his new passion by applying for a scholarship at the Naval Postgraduate School’s masters program in Computer Science with an emphasis in Information Assurance. When Francisco graduates, he will work for a federal or state agency in cyber security. He also plans to continue his education at Udacity and is taking Web Development and Introduction to Programming in Java.

If you’re inspired to jump start your journey in programming, check out our Course Catalog and get started today! Stay Udacious, and happy learning!