Udacity: Democratizing Education

Human intelligence is democratic regardless of class status.  However, an educated mind is a powerful mind.  It questions, invents and discovers limitless solutions.  Unfortunately, many people’s intellectual development is blocked because they cannot afford the cost of a college education.  Brilliant academicians like ProvostJohnEtchemendyStanfordCollege, Prof. Sebastian Thrun, also of StanfordUniversity, Prof. David Evans of the Universityof Virginia, Prof. George Siemens of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Prof. Peter Norvig of Google Inc. are strong proponents and pioneers of free universities online, known as Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs.

Prof. Thrun is a dedicated advocate of Udacity, which he founded out of Stanford University’s free online courses that were offered in 2011.  Udacity functions under the principles of MOOCs.  It is centered in the belief that the computer can provide an egalitarian and excellent form of higher education.

Like every new concept, Udacity is still in the experimental stages, but enrollment has exceeded 100,000 students since it opened in January 2012.  According to a March 12, 2012 article written by Tamar Lewin in the New York Times, Prof. Thrun said that it would be difficult for him to go back teaching in a physical classroom environment because of the enormous scope of students he can teach online at Udacity who are passionate about learning.

The students of Udacity are eager to learn.  In fact, more than 160,000 people from every continent enrolled for free in one of his first classes.  It was Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.  Completion certificates were issued by Stanford University to students who completed and passed the eight week course.

Prof. Thrun believes that Udacity will be able to solve the escalating problem of financing higher education for the majority.  The outcome will be good for society as a whole.  In another article written by Mike Abrams on June 17, 2012 in USA Today, the Prof. said, “It’s not necessarily about educating, but discovering.  We can reach and then develop talent that most universities cannot.”

Imagine what will happen if learning is free and accessible to every person who wants it, especially to poor people.  There will be a 21st century renaissance.  Developments and inventions in medical and technological devices will surge.  There will be new concepts that will help to preserve the environment.  There will be more social innovations as understanding expands.  Think of what society will gain from teaching poor but dedicated and intelligent students in the United States and around the world.

Prof. Thrun made an extremely accurate observation in the same USA Today article.  “Less than one percent of U.S. college students attend Ivy League schools and these students don’t necessarily reflect the world’s brightest and most capable thought leaders, but rather the people who’ve been afforded the most opportunities to succeed.”

Udacity recently informed students and applicants through email that the school is going to conduct a curriculum in Computer Science.  After the course, students can have the option of receiving official certification.  Udacity and other MOOCs are not non-profits, but they can afford to offer free (and low cost) degrees by attracting advertisers.  With the success of Facebook, the idea is certainly doable.

Udacity wants to profit by monetizing its students and graduates.  Prof. Thrun worries how it can guarantee that the students are top notch in order to draw employers who would hire Udacity students and pay a fee on a contractual basis.  This would be similar to the way employment agencies operate.  Potential employers must be confident of ability of Udacity’s students.  This is crucial for the school’s reputation, especially if it (and other MOOCs) wants to confer certificates, degrees and be profitable.  Actually, his concern can be solved by simply by using existing computer hardware like camera, audio and speaker to test the students on a consistent basis in real time.  Outside the academic world, there are countries that use this method to renew visas.  By using the same utilities, Udacity can also hold seminars and continuing education for a small fee.

The Future of Udacity and MOOCs

Advocates of Udacity and MOOCs are determined to make a success of online education.  They are aware that the concept is new and unconventional.  But the time has come.  The obstacles are not insurmountable.

Undoubtedly, there will always be a need for traditional colleges and universities, particularly for courses that require internship, laboratory and field work.  MOOCs, on the other hand, can offer classes and degrees in Communications, Journalism, Accounting, Business, Computers, Banking, Languages, English Literature, Math, Economics, etc.  If Udacity and other MOOCs follow high standards for teaching and testing, they can easily attain accreditation like respected colleges and universities.

Among Udacity’s current classes are Artificial Intelligence, Design of Computer Programs, Web Application Engineering, Applied Cryptography, Software Testing, Programming Languages, Programming a Robotic Car, Statistics, Algorithms and Foundation of Computing, Building a Search Engine and Intro to Physics.

Other educational institutions like Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Virginia are also offering MOOCs that are similar to the classes offered by Udacity.

Given the enthusiasm and dedication of the founders, professors and students, the long term success of MOOCs is guaranteed.  The founders and professors know that they need to set and keep high standards to make their new remarkable venture profitable.  There are some traditional institutions that will treat MOOCs as a threat to the survival of their establishment as more and more students enroll at Udacity.  MOOCs are not a threat, on the contrary, they are a force for the good because their success will generate and invigorate the economy.  Graduates of Udacity will create the continual need for traditional universities to teach medicine, aerospace, dentistry, architecture, radiology, chemistry, etc. because these graduates will invigorate the society and economy by creating businesses, contributing good ideas, and spending money from their earnings. Their children will more likely attend traditional schools which the graduates themselves could not afford.

In the future, other countries will also open their own form MOOCs.  The question is not the profitability of schools like Udacity or whether MOOCs are a threat to the continual existence of traditional schools, the question is when will universities like Harvard,Columbia, Yale andPrinceton start competing with Udacity online?

 Byline

This article was written by Karl Stockton for the team at kendall.edu. For those interested in college in Chicago, contact Kendall for more information on college in Chicago.

 

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Praveen Rajarao is an Entrepreneur and in his spare time blogs on his website –http://www.dailymorningcoffee.com and http://www.pbgeeks.com. His topics range from blogging to technology to affiliate programs and making money online and how-to guides. Daily Morning Coffee is also accepting Guest Posts from Professional Bloggers at this time, take a look at “Write For DMC” page for more details on the same.

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