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OpenClassroom: Free video courses from Stanford University (stanford.edu)
492 points by hoffmang on Oct 17, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

It seems that there is a digital divide between universities that "get it", and universities that don't. I applaud universities like MIT and Stanford for opening up education for everyone.

Other universities, like NC State and Georgia Tech, give platitudes about equal access to education for all but then fail to deliver. At the end of the day, this is because online education for them is not about equality, but rather, it is about creating a revenue stream for the institution. These institutions will charge thousands of dollars for what is effectively access to pre-recorded videos, with a Teaching Assistant that grades your work to provide that key "certification". If you just want to learn for the sake or learning, and aren't concerned with having an official credential, you're simply out of luck.

For example, I find NC State's policy simply draconian: http://engineeringonline.ncsu.edu/forms/EOL%20Course%20Downl...

"Accordingly, this policy also relates to the downloading of video lectures for Engineering Online classes. You are allowed to download a lecture and to keep it on your machine until the end of the semester you are enrolled in the class. After this time period, you must delete the downloaded files."

That's the type of contract I expect from the MPAA, not an educational institution. Contrast this with MIT OpenCourseware, which provides lecture notes, exam, and videos without any registration:


So, good job MIT and Stanford. Hopefully other institutions will follow your path.

For what it's worth, Stanford only actually half-gets it. The videos you find online are only a tiny fraction (probably less than 20% of all videos recorded). Stanford also has SCPD which is a program wherein non-students can [pay and] take classes remotely via watching the on-campus lectures on video. Since students can also access these videos, you can make it through much of college without attending class. (There's also a lot of scraping at the end of each quarter so that students can maintain their own OpenCourseware equivalent).

One reason for NC State's restricted sharing policy might be to encourage participation in class. Some students may be discouraged from participating in lectures if the content will be distributed.

This seems less likely in the NC State example though, given that the same policy seems to apply to all course material, in addition to video lecture recordings.

Yes, I love this model where you can effectively educate yourself for free, or train for a certification without paying. Then you can Suntzu it (as it were) and only pay to take exams for a course you know you'll pass.

Allow me to highlight that this works for certifications and not degrees. For an actual degree, you'll still need to pay through the nose, meet attendance requirements, and complete coursework before you may sit for the exam.

I've done home based learning at degree level with the Open University in the UK (they're a degree awarding body). It's possible to not have any contact throughout the course and just turn up and sit the exam. Tutorial sessions are not compulsory though many (possibly all, I don't know) courses have a continuous assessment element.

I wouldn't describe the fees then as 'paying through the nose', certainly not in comparison to professional IT certifications.

Depends on the uni/college but attendance may not be required, and with the move to online learning you may still have to pay through the nose, all you have to do is pass all of the assignments and you are set... so you can educate yourself ahead of time and coast through the classes once you are comfortable with them.

I'm not sure if you were being sarcastic or not, but if you know the material, does it matter how you acquired that knowledge? Many Universities do allow credit-by-examination because of this very reason.

After the first week of the AI and Machine Language class I'm truly impressed. I feel I'll be putting more effort into this than most of my classes in college simply due to the metrics and ease of UI for the in video question. Now they should add achievements like for the ML class, "3 perfect first attempt"... or stuff like that ;p

Also anyone knows of a good online video lecture on Computer graphics? Something with some accompanying material?

Same feeling here, and actually I felt frustrated with the AI class. After looking at the others the lack of a larger standalone "exercise" section was disappointing.

Yeah I like the setup for the ML class better. You can easily make 100 in the class and all that counts is learning the material which I find much better system.

And by letting you redo the assignment they get to actually see if it takes someone 1,2,10,50 tries to get them all right so they can figure out the problems.

I'll be honest, I have already put more time into the first homework assignments for AI, ML and DB than I have ever put into any of the homework assignments for when I actually went to uni. Main reason? It is actually challenging and I have to actually learn the material rather than just coast through. Separate, and mostly selfish reason, I want that certificate!

I really respect Stanford's willingness to share content for free. They seem to have let go of the elitist notion of the past wherein content is worth so much to universities. This feels like they actually want people to learn.

Bump. In the past, I've been through Stanford's IOS dev course and ML course (via iTunes). Currently, I'm doing the AI course. It is truly amazing that Stanford is giving away this content for free.

As an academic, it makes me wondering how education will change over the next 10 years. If a prof gives a fantastic lecture in the Fall of 2010, does he need to repeat himself in 2011? I had the experience of lecturing an undergrad course in Programming Languages many years ago. Honestly, the content didn't change much (I was teaching Scheme, ML and Prolog). I did get a bit better answering and anticipating student questions. I'll admit that in some cases, content must be updated fairly frequently. For instance, Prof. Ousterhaut's web app course on the site seems to be covering Rails 2.x.x. Teaching it today, perhaps 3.x or 3.1 would be used.

However, when I look at how well the community can improve the quality of a lecture, it blows my mind. In the Stanford AI class, for instance, the lecturer made a slight error where he defined the admissibility criteria of the h function (estimated cost) in A* search as less than the true cost rather than less than or equal to the true cost. Well ... this was quickly spotted by students and a correction was promptly issued. This blows my mind!

This also has the potential of making things worse on the supply side of education. In the last decade, it has undoubtedly gotten harder to get a faculty position in Computer Science. Will the advent of online education make that situation worse? As someone who has been an educator in the past, my personal opinion is that education should be available for free. But, I worry that it might not be sustainable.

> I worry that it might not be sustainable.

The rise of Wikipedia with the concomitant decline of commercial, paper encyclopedias offers some insight into the future of education. In the future, there will be more education available and it will be very cheap.

What will not be sustainable anymore is a career in education where one gives essentially the same lecture for 30 years but gets paid as if he has created an entirely new lecture every year.

>What will not be sustainable anymore is a career in education where one gives essentially the same lecture for 30 years but gets paid as if he has created an entirely new lecture every year. //

It will be interesting to see how this affects the development of subjects like mathematics. Without the income from teaching students how will the capitalist system maintain academics in research? Who will pay if education effectively becomes free?

Don't get me wrong. It's fantastic that a brilliant lecturer can now lecture to as many people who choose to watch the video - that's not quite educating them but almost. I see that an institution then can train millions of people using a single good lecturer and a system of auxiliaries, admin staff and what-have-you. But then what of those who were doing [not directly/immediately commercial] research supported by their lecture positions.

Math is probably the subject least at risk. Every prospective engineer or scientist needs to learn a lot of math, and a significant fraction of those students will be unable to master the subject by simply watching videos. That means that there will always be a significant demand for real, live math teachers.

I'm not sure about that. Certainly the need to learn math will remain reasonably constant, but I think you underestimate the ability of technology. Once we get high quality explanations that remove most bugs before they form, and practice questions that expose problems quickly (it wouldn't be too difficult to design a program to choose which problems each student should be given), and some sort of weak siri-level AI that can watch the student working to discover what they understand ... when all that happens, the demand for maths teachers/tutors will be very low. I suspect that a single qualified teacher could service 400 students.

EDIT to add: the problem with human tutors is that they are inconvenient. It takes time to schedule a tutor, and you can only get help at certain times (that is, during the tutoring session). Human tutors have many advantages, but a program that is merely passable will nevertheless be immensely popular simply because it is convenient.

>Every prospective engineer or scientist needs to learn a lot of math, and a significant fraction of those students will be unable to master the subject by simply watching videos. //

One ordinarily learns the maths appropriate to ones course in that department which runs the course.

Agreed. 1-on-1 teaching seems to be very useful to many students especially for math. $20/hr. math tutors fill the tables at my local public library.

>$20/hr. math tutors fill the tables at my local public library. //

Do you mean your libraries have classrooms for private tuition? I'm not familiar with this sort of thing. In my country private tuition happens at the tutor or students house.

Nope, we have tables that fill the open spaces. These are first come, first served are available for tutors, project works or studying, or just general reading space.

>What will not be sustainable anymore is a career in education where one gives essentially the same lecture for 30 years but gets paid as if he has created an entirely new lecture every year.

If a musician gets a royalty every time his song is played on the radio, why can't a professor get a royalty every time his video is watched?

  "Will the advent of online education make that situation worse?"
My guess is that we will still need teachers, but their role will change. They will spend more time tutoring students or helping them make progress on individual projects.

I'm taking the ML class and Dr. Ng occasionally mentions in the videos how he talks to Silicon Valley start-ups to helped them implement algorithms. What if the future professor not only make his money from teaching at a university but by consulting with businesses? She would just be using her expertise to teach in a different area. There's often a disconnect between academia and business that doesn't make a lot of sense.

+1 to what everyone else is saying in this thread about the Stanford classes, I'm loving the ML one so far.

This is what Carnegie Mellon is already doing - contrary to other university's I've seen/attended, CMU has three classes of professors, instead of two.

1) Tenured Professors - traditional tenure track. 2) Untenured Instructors - traditional instructors. 3) Research Professors - essentially freelance entrepreneurs in the research space under the CMU umbrella. They seek their own funding, hire students, advise, but don't teach.

Andrew Ng (along with Sebastian Thrun) are both working for Google (on driverless cars).

The driverless car project is bloody brilliant. I absolutely love the videos that have come out from people that got to sit in the passenger seat while it drove itself!

I think the Stanford AI and ML classes demonstrate what can be done with lower division and introductory classes of technical nature (physics, chemistry, CS, etc.). However, this model doesn't work as well with liberal arts classes (where assignments tend to be in the form of papers and essays, not easy to grade/standardize) and upper division tech classes (where the material is too complex for a 'stock' lecture).

As such, I doubt this will lead to any major shifts in the employment situation of academics.

It's definitely a positive trend, but I don't think there's been much of a change in mindset. Have these schools ever taken pleasure in limiting access to their teaching? No one's going to stop you from walking into the AI class tomorrow and seeing lectures in person, and I presume that's always been the case for large classes.

The real innovation in the AI, ML and DB classes is making automated grading of creative work available to everyone for free. It's a very altruistic thing to do, but other than the effort needed to build and maintain the systems, I don't see the downsides for the school. Fancy schools are for letting other people know you're smart enough to get into a fancy school, meeting other smart people, and having access to people who are doing cutting-edge research. The content isn't the distinguishing factor.

I think there is a certain amount of strategy behind this policy. By giving away top class lectures for free you destroy the market for 99% of the universities that aren't MIT/Stanford/CM etc.

You still have more people that want come to you and pay your fees than you can accept - but in the future they might not have a cheaper tier university as an alternative.

It's like Oxford publishing the OED. Even if you didn't make money from the book - whats it worth to your selling other courses overseas?

This is incredible, all of this makes me think higher of Stanford as an institution. The fact they're both giving all of this away for free and that they're putting so much of it up. I was impressed after the first two but now they're adding more and making finding the courses more structured.

Khanacademy showed alternative education methods, Stanford didn't try and discredit services like this, instead they put many of their courses online too. I'll be going through these courses later.

There are tens of thousands of students taking these courses. There's probably a business opportunity here. How could a startup make money by hiring, say, one hundred of the best Machine Learning graduates?

the Machine Learning class (at least for the Stanford students) also has a project component, so I'm sure a startup could see some use even from just having the graduates work on their problems for a research project, if nothing else! personally, I ended up doing two projects last year with data from my previous internship, and I think it's a great way to both have interesting problems and useful results.

I'm somewhat sad that the ML course project isn't an option available to the online students. I know there's no way something like that could scale, but I'd still like to have more validation that I know what I'm talking about than 'yes, you can answer ?'s and do programming assignments.'

When he found out I'm taking this course (he's a Stanford alum from the 90's), the CEO of ThisOrThat, the startup I work for, was really excited. He said I could use production data for a project if necessary, and gave me some ideas for possible ML applications that would be really helpful to have on the site (fraud detection, a reputation system, etc). I'm looking forward to this more than anything I did in college or grad school, and I actually feel like I'm on the young side of 25 again.

Even so, I'd really like having someone who groks ML giving me pointers after the fact. 3 months just doesn't seem like enough time to do a thorough dive into the material for me to say with confidence "I understand the background and problems in the field of ML".

I definitely agree with your last point - part of the reason why I decided to take a machine learning class again from Prof. Ng was because I still had a sense of unease that I wasn't quite getting the topics that would really be important when I'd implement machine learning algorithms (whatever they end up being).

Mostly though, I'm just hoping I can find a place to work with plenty of ML people to learn from :)

I'm actually taking the Applied Machine Learning class at Stanford, and I'll be honest - I'm a little disappointed that most of the content is delivered through video instead of lectures. I find it difficult to actually watch through the videos, mostly because there's no easy way for me to skim or jump around the content. I've actually ended up using the notes from the class I took last year (http://cs229.stanford.edu/materials.html) if I need to refresh my memory on the finer points.

Prof. Ng did remark that they decided to switch to videos because they saw dropping attendance rates in the past as students begin to utilize our remote learning solution later in the quarter (i.e. get lazy to go to class), but I wish that there was also a transcribed version of the videos that could be made available for people who prefer learning that way.

Personally I don't see the video format being a huge drawback, although having the in-video quizzes in HTML5 would be fantastic for tablets. It makes it convenient to learn the content and there is always the ff/rewind buttons. You can take notes.

These remote learning classes from Standford are somewhat new and there is some experimentation taking place, I would rather not see these classes be canceled due to lack of attendance.

All-in-all a great experience, I hope more universities follow suit in this open style of teaching.

I find the ability to run the videos at 1.2 or 1.5x helps a lot.

I think these Stanford courses are even superior to the MIT OpenCourseWare ones. The quality of these videos along with the feeling that the teacher is directly speaking to YOU is just impressive.

I also have to say, that I absolutely love the "khan"-Style presentations

This is truly incredible. I have been trying to learn how to code, but am having a hard time, mostly because I'm used to the university lecture style. The Stanford Courses are amazing - the provide lectures, handouts, homework assignments, reading assignments. It's just like being in class, and I'm loving it. I have mad respect for Stanford and all the other colleges who are being progressive and opening up their education to everyone.

I'd take a good book over this any day.

Luckily it's not either/or!

This is not a comprehensive list of Stanford free course offerings. For example, it misses the Stanford EE Computer Systems Colloquium (EE380), http://ee380.stanford.edu. The website has archive of videos going back to Fall 1996.

EE380 is a colloquium not a course, but many of the videos will be of interest to HN readers. In addition to the archived talks, which can be viewed on-demand, it's possible to watch the current (W4:15-5:30 Pacific) in a real time webcast or attend live in person. A significant number of “not students” attend live because there’s always something that the camera misses and because you can ask questions.

The talk this week (Oct 19, 2011) is Professor John P. Weyant, MS&E, Stanford speaking on Integrated Assessment of Climate Change: dealing with massive Complexity and Uncertainty.

HN now has serious go to links for anyone posting on here asking where to start in any of these subjects. This is extremely helpful, and I'm extremely excited to start. The web applications is the most comprehensive course I've seen.

Every release of new free classes from Stanford or MIT just makes me giddy and jealous of everyone that goes there. A lot of extra work goes into these classes and I think it says tons about the awesome ideals that these institution holds, which is very different from the ideals that the education system I have been fighting for over half a year holds.

Jackpot. Love all of these open learning programs, especially when supported by universities. Definitely helping me learn RoR!

truly amazing!

about the stanford ML course (i'm not taking any others) -- i especially like the fact that i can always rewind, re-watch, pause-take notes-play, answer questions during the "lecture" without the embarrassment of getting it wrong the first time, unlike in real lectures. the forums are there in case of questions/problems. the content is presented in a clear and concise manner. and the length of each "lecture" is 10-15 minutes, no need to focus heavily for an hour straight.

for people who have not seen the ted talk by salman khan http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/salman_khan_let_s_use_vide... which, along with increasing number of online courses from prominent universities, suggests that the educational system is changing.

people who are behind this, i salute you.

Seems to be down temporarily: Fedora Core Test Page This page is used to test the proper operation of the Apache HTTP server after it has been installed. If you can read this page, it means that the web server installed at this site is working properly, but has not yet been configured.

Any idea if the database videos can be downloaded, just like the computer science lectures

yes , they can be. There is a tab on the upper right corner if you are signed on for the course.

Does anyone know if these videos will be available after the courses are over? I'm in the ai class and I'd like to do the others too but I don't have the time to do all of them.

All of the videos for the AI class are available on YouTube.


thanks mate! I will try it out

Too bad videos dont work in iPad

I'm actually taking Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction Design with Prof. Klemmer and Design and Analysis of Algorithms with Prof. Roughgarden. Interesting to see the videos of them teaching the exact courses from last year.

The content seems to have been removed, as it's now a 404 link. Does anyone knows if the content has been place somewhere else, or simply removed (temporary?). I checked it earlier, it seems to have some nice topics through.

In order to learn from Ivy leagues, you need not get into one. OCW started by MIT early 2000 is a really good initiative, and I see that Universities which are not open are not good like open source.

403 Forbidden

It's down? I hope it will be back soon.

Great for open content, hope all universities adopt this kind of approach.

Fantastic! This is how education needs to be: open and free.

University of Washington (Computer Science and Engineering): http://www.cs.washington.edu/education/course-webs.html

Some of the video lecture series:

CSE 421: Introduction to Algorithms:


CSE P 501 Compiler Construction:


Just wow

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