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Show HN: uMOOC, an online tutoring platform for Harvard's CS50 and MIT's 6.00.1 (umooc.org)
91 points by ralmidani 11 days ago | hide | past | web | 34 comments | favorite

I'm Ragheed Al-midani, one of uMOOC's two co-founders. I met my co-founder, Dwayne Kennemore, when we were both in CS50 at Harvard Extension School. uMOOC was his idea (he will probably share his inspiration here shortly), and I offered to help. The first prototype of uMOOC was built as our final project for CS50, but the scope of the project has grown tremendously since then.

If you're wondering what our stack looks like, we're using (among other things) Python 3, Django, Django-Rest-Framework, Ember-CLI, Emblem, Sass (the original, indented version), Bootstrap, CoffeeScript, and EasyRTC.

If you have any questions or concerns, technical or otherwise, please don't hesitate to ask!

This is an awesome idea! I've been toying with something similar for a while. Have you considered moving past a MOOC model to something more like an apprenticeship?

While the pricing model would be different, it might allow for a more personalized learning experience and a relationship between tutor and tutee. Either way, I love that you are making self motivated learning more accessible.

There is a startup called Springboard that is working on something like that, although I do not understand all the details. I agree - that is an awesome idea - the domain here is restricted to MOOCs because it's closed form and standardized, where tutors can be recruited for their expertise in a given course. An apprenticeship requires, I think, a much broader approach to what constitutes a "match" between both parties, and the interactions would need to be facilitated in a completely different way.

This is very cool! Have you considered implementing group sections.

That way, students can pay less and tutors can earn more. If 10 students pay $10/hr, that's $100/hr for the tutor, and the students would still benefit immensely.

Hello, I'm Dwayne Kennemore, the other founder of uMOOC.

A group section would be terrific for another reason - in academic contexts, while students DO learn from their professors, they learn from ONE ANOTHER as much or more. There are a few reasons for this, but one of them is, I think, that they're more at ease with one another and don't have to worry about looking bad - this openness helps ideas flow more freely.

Group functionality would make that dynamic possible, further replicating the network that occurs in real life, in cyberspace.

You are already anticipating v2.0.

Won't it then just become an online class? How will you differentiate?

Think of it like a breakout session of an online class rather than an online class itself. Why is that useful, you may ask... Having a group and sense of connection helps keep people motivated.

Thank you for the compliment and suggestion!

We will definitely consider group sections for a future iteration of the platform. As you said, this would be beneficial for all parties involved.

By the way, on uMOOC, tutors keep 80% of their hourly rate, from day one.


flag as spam?


This is an interesting idea: online course + tutor. The tutor is what was missing from the original formulation. Just solving at online problems and quizzes doesn't work except for very few.

A person needs another person to see his/her efforts, to appreciate, in order to maintain motivation. That's the main role of the teachers in the brave new world of MOOCs - to witness. The actual teaching and testing is automated. So the teacher would be more like a coach. He would offer guidance, boost your confidence, and push you over the limits.

Yes, that is exactly the idea. We know it is not perfect of course. We invite any input for suggested changes or additions. This project is not for our egos, but rather, to help an online community.

Can you talk a little about your experience at the Harvard Extension School? What it is, what the experience was like, what courses you took, the cost, and the job prospects post graduation.

Harvard Extension's approach is, rather than have students jump through a lot of hoops to gain admission on the front end and hope that lightning strikes their application, let students prove they can do Harvard-level work through a number of so-called admissions courses (which double as courses in their degree program), and use THOSE as the basis for admission. It is a much better method than the very noisy GPA/GRE combo, in my opinion.

Although the courses I take have a distance ed option, I fly to campus every 4 - 6 weeks and spend a week in lecture in person - it is a better way to connect with my classmates and the professors than doing pure distance work. It's great to be around so many smart, hardworking people - when I started class there I was taken aback a little because I thought: "Where do these people come from, who are involved in a dozen projects at a time and seem to work 24 hours a day." And then it hit me: Oh WAIT - that's ME!

Most people either haven't heard of the Extension School and, if they have, have no idea it has been around for a century. Oxford University runs a similar concept - it is almost a bolt for bolt replica of the Extension School, but it's in England.

Harvard Extension School (HES) is an open-enrollment school at Harvard that lets you take individual courses, as well as pursue certificates and undergraduate and graduate degrees.

My experience with HES has been very positive. I've taken 2 courses there so far: CS50 and Calculus 1. I took both as a remote student. This is nice if you're busy with other things like family and work, because you can watch the materials when you're free, alert, and most ready to learn.

I intend to pursue the Masters in Software Engineering, but I'm taking things one step at a time.

Undergrad courses in most subjects are currently $1,550, while graduate courses are $2,700. I believe only Computer Science and Digital Media courses are priced at the graduate level even if you take them for undergraduate credit.

You actually get a Harvard transcript, and if you earn a degree, you get to participate in the annual commencement in May. To get a degree, you have to complete at least one course by going in-person to Cambridge (more for some degrees).

I don't have any first-hand information on job prospects, but I would imagine the more you can make it to Cambridge, the more classmates and professors you can network with.

For more information, please check out the HES website:


> I believe only Computer Science and Digital Media courses are priced at the graduate level even if you take them for undergraduate credit.

It depends on the course. I've been very happy with HES and expect to graduate with my ALB May 2018. Besides the list of courses on the HES web site, I've taken advantage of many additional opportunities: a Teaching Fellow for the Intro Data Science class where I helped HES, regular college and grad students, and Head TF for Advanced Data Science class this Spring (CS109b).

With a certain GPA and number of credits, you can get Special Student status opening up virtually the entire Grad level course space for HES credit. This past Spring I took CS280, a grad level AI class, where I was one of two non traditional students in a class of 20 consisting of mostly CompSci Phd candidates.

HES opens up many opportunities. Like anything, it is what you make of it that counts.

I dunno if this is any good honestly.

All this monetization of learning is the wrong approach.

In a world where software is moving towards FOSS it's depressing to see people still trying to sell education instead of trying to teach it.

Education is a journey, teaching is a joy, and if it's not, no amount of money can make you want to teach anyone anything.

I think that's why institutes with great researchers have great teachers and students, it's an environment feeding itself in a positive feedback loop.

It's depressing to see this here.

I think we need to distinguish between charging people money for access to knowledge and charging them for personalized guidance in seeking that knowledge.

I personally believe all textbooks and courses should be free. But if a tutor is going to dedicate an hour of her time to sit down with me and help me learn, it is not unreasonable for her to demand compensation.

Universities, of course, are only able to release MOOCs for free because they make money from tuition, alumni donations, endowments, etc.

I don't imagine tutors are going to teach for free, but I do think the cost of education has generally spiraled out of control beyond what anyone could consider sustainable or reasonable.

In my dad's generation, you picked one profession, stuck with it for life, and had one or - if you were adventurous - two, employers. Retooling (and therefore continuing education) just wasn't required. You learned what you needed to learn in high school and perhaps college, and then you were done with that part of your life and moved on.

In this economy, people find themselves having a few different careers over their lifetime, and to facilitate that they need to revisit the academy a few times. But when you bundle together the cost of providing the education, the cost of supporting a large research organization (if at a research university) and the cost of a large physical plant, it gets super-expensive.

And then there are additional market frictions - I adore MIT as an institution, but even if qualified and admitted to their supply chain management program, there are a certain number of candidates who are going to say they can't afford the opportunity costs to NOT work for a year plus the out-of-pocket costs to attend. So, the benefit of such a candidate's intelligence and what they would contribute to the class, is lost in these frictions.

On the supply side, the high cost of resources dictates a high tuition price and an ever-present supply constraint: seats are limited. So, institutions limit the number of applicants who can get in and admissions committees do their best to select those from the applicant pool who will make THE most of the resources provided. But they're not perfect - they admit some people they wish they hadn't, and they reject others they live to regret not admitting. (Warren Buffett was famously rejected from Harvard - needless to say, the university now wishes they'd welcomed him with open arms...)

MOOCs remove this constraint - and scale infinitely - hence the cost can be very low indeed. But they remove the human component and no one knows yet whether LEARNING scales in this fashion.

uMOOC is trying to correct this flaw - to, quite literally, put the 'u' back in the MOOC.

So, HaoZeke, yes, money is made by tutors and the site, but it creates an environment where students who otherwise might get frustrated and quit, instead succeed and can move forward. That has to be worth something to society, no?

How are you supposed to keep the joy of teaching flowing if you are doing everything for free ? I'm genuinely curious what is your solution to this ? Assume that the teacher has a family and a limited time.

It is more depressing to see people advocating working for free without giving a solution to real life problems that a teacher usually has, like say putting food on the table or paying for health insurance.

What is your profession going to be or is? Are you going to do that for free?

A MOOC is a massive online course, so why calling your service uMOOC if it provides 1:1 tutoring? It is not a class, it focus on a single learner and it is not free (which is expected as well from MOOC, otherwise it is traditional remote education) so it seems very far from the spirit of MOOC.

The idea behind the name is that rather than just tutoring generally (which is provided by sites like wyzant), these tutors are specially selected for their competence with certain MOOCs - they've taken these courses before, typically as a student in a university. The "u" represents the learner - while MOOCs are a depersonalized learning medium, this service puts "u" back into it. We don't offer MOOCs, but a service used parallel to taking a MOOC to enhance the student's likelihood of success.

I think you misunderstand - it's designed for use alongside a MOOC, for people who want to pay for personalised help in completing the MOOC. It's not a MOOC platform itself.

You need to change the signup process as at present it's needlessly complicated. Until you add more courses remove the search, institutions and subject and just let people click on the currently available choices. Try and build a community on those two courses, then expand to other computer science courses, then branch out. You only have two options, offer them and only them.

Great observation and suggestions. Thank you!

We initially wanted to list courses involving many subjects and institutions (basically the entire edX catalog). Later, we decided to offer two initial courses, so we could focus our tutor recruitment efforts.

We will definitely put your suggested change on our short-term agenda.

Hi Barry,

I'd like to get more detail on your view of how you think the signup process would work, optimally - we are all for making this as simple as possible for people.

Thanks! Dwayne

Plenty of students are more than willing and able to help other people, free of charge. I personally think it would be a better use of time cultivating that and structuring it to be of maximum benefit to the tutor and the reader/person receiving knowledge.


For a given topic, "Topic A", there may be subtopics, "Subtopic A", "Subtopic B" and "Subtopic C." One possibility may be allowing different students to explain, in their own words, the varying subtopics. People can vote on which one was the most helpful/clear as well as help correct people who may have misunderstood.

As a result of this, "Topic A" may have a personalized, "user perfected" version consisting of the crowd's own vetted explanations.

Paying tutors only helps the elite, who wouldn't need this to begin with. People falsely believe that help should come at a cost. Plenty of people post comments and give advice on this very site for free. As soon as you introduce money you're going to change the incentives to maximize money, not benefit to the person receiving the help. This is not bad, but it runs counter to the ideals most people think of when they think of "education" (or maybe not, who knows).

The name reads like micro-MOOC to me, which a) is kind of funny (micro-massive-open...) and b) reminds me of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micromoog

How is it supposed to be read? you-mooc?

Yes, you-mooc sounds right; we're putting "u" back in the MOOC, by connecting you with tutors who can help you on an individualized basis.

MOOCs are great; I personally have completed 5 of them, and plan to complete many more. But not all learners enjoy or are able to learn in solitude--many want someone to point them in the right direction and give them feedback, like you would get when taking an actual college/university course. That's the gap we're trying to fill.

What differentiates you from other similar platforms that offer tutoring (e.g. Pluralsight or codementor.io to name two random ones)?

tl;dr uMOOC tutors are qualified to immediately and directly help you in a specific MOOC.

In the case of CS courses (which is what we are focusing on for our initial launch), it's not enough for someone who wants to be a tutor to know C or Python. They must have taken the course on-campus, or a very similar one, or completed the MOOC itself. In the case where a tutor is not familiar with the material in a specific course, we gently push him/her to enroll in the MOOC's current run.

To take things a step further, one of our tutors completed the CS50 MOOC back in 2013 or 2014, when the second half of the course was taught with PHP. He said he was going to enroll in the MOOC again and do the later assignments, which now involve Python and Flask.


From the title I thought this was something like 'self service hosted mooc platform', which I was also really excited about.

You might want to check out these two projects:



I'm not associated with either, I just heard about them recently and was similarly excited by the potential.

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