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Harvard Statistics 110: Introduction to Probability, on iTunes (itunes.apple.com)
154 points by DanielRibeiro on Jan 16, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments

This is a really great addition to iTunes U. Skipping through the videos, the course appears to give a thorough treatment to the theoretical background of probability. I haven't seen too many intro probability courses explore topics such as Beta Distributions and Markov Chains with this much rigor. I hope Harvard does the same for Stat 111 and Stat 171.

Edit: I just skimmed through some of the assignments and tests, and thought they are really good! If its been a few years since you took probability/statistics and feel you may be rusty when it comes to the integration and manipulations, give them a try! Homework 9 and 10, especially.

Harvard, don't lock in your content! Other courses in many formats are available on http://www.extension.harvard.edu/open-learning-initiative Why should this one be iTunes only?

This storm in a teacup fear mongering stuff has to stop. It's silly to suggest this is locking in content, or even bad for anyone, and it's obvious why they use this distribution method over hosting the content themselves.

1. It's not in a proprietary format, the documents are PDF, the videos are AAC/H264. (I give up the h264 debate for today). Having to run iTunes to access the store is hardly "lock in". You might as well suggest turning on your computer is lock in.

2. This is on a CDN managed externally, Harvard don't need to invest in data centers.

3. Harvard don't have to pay for hosting/transmission/upkeep costs.

4. It enables harvard to provide something for free when normally they'd need to allocate budget. (And with that possibly charge for it.)

5. It's part of iTunes U, which is praised by universities across the globe for being an excellent enabler of education.


As posted in my other comment - I'm currently at the airport with my android, and no way to get this content. If it's not locked in, how do I access the data?

When I get home I'll have to install itunes. Which will add the apple updater + bonjour to my system as well.


I agree completely with your arguments regarding the benefits to Harvard. You're saying the same thing in three different ways though, Harvard has no costs hosting this content, which is true


The big enablers of education that have entered my field of view are MIT opencourseware, khan academy and the recent stanford courses. Perhaps iTunesU is among them, but I haven't seen this praise in my feeds.

Your definition of lock-in needs a reality check.

If my pocket calculator can't access the internet, it doesn't make the internet 'lock-in'.

Pocket calculator designers can implement internet support. Android developers cannot legally implement an iTunes store (I hastily assume).

There's software for desktop Linux that lets you access iTunes U, so I don't think there is anything stopping Android from being able to as well apart from developers' motivations.

Podcasting distribution and aggregation is a problem that is already solved really well in the OSS space; there doesn't seem to be a compelling need to adopt proprietary solutions. Harvard isn't a strappy startup with no funds available to it. I'm pretty sure they have oodles of bandwidth and compute power at their disposal.

I don't think they shouldn't use iTunes U, that's fine, but I wish they made it available through alternate channels as well.

Well for people using non-Windows and non-mac operating systems it is pretty much locked.

EDIT: Just found out this tool for accessing iTunes University on GNU/Linux: http://tunesviewer.sourceforge.net/

If you step back and think about this for a minute, you're getting free access to educational material from a world class university, and the the only prerequisite is that you install iTunes. That's a pretty good trade off.

Unless, of course, Apple refuses to support your platform. And if Apple does refuse--and they do--, your only hope would be reverse-engineering: you can't just port the program itself because it isn't open source.

Imagine the cry if it was Windows only.

We don't have to imagine. Refer to Feynman classes that MS put online and only worked with Silverlight.

So now we just wait for someone generous enough to upload to Youtube/Mediafire for the 'masses'.

Silverlight is cross platform.

Is there any way to watch this without iTunes? I don't use it and have no desire to join Apple's 'ecosystem'.

It is unfortunate that the content isn't available outside of iTunes.

Thought, if you're interested there are some other pretty good intro probability courses online:

Math and Probability for Life Sciences (UCLA): http://www.academicearth.org/courses/math-and-proability-for... The course doesn't cover as much material, but is still fairly detailed.

CS 798 Mathematical Foundations of Computer Networking, Fall 2008, University of Waterloo: http://blizzard.cs.uwaterloo.ca/keshav/mediawiki-1.4.7/index... This is a really great course that covers a broad set of topics, and is some what similar in structure to the Stat 110 course. Beyond the basics of probability, you also can learn a good deal about statistical inference and stochastic processes.

If you are using GNU/Linux then there is an alternative http://tunesviewer.sourceforge.net/

This works on Ubuntu 11.10. There is a lot of quality content on ITunes and using Ubuntu as my main OS meant I couldn't access it. But this is awesome! I can finally download those lecture videos. Thank you!

FWIW, it appears the project also provides an Android application: http://sourceforge.net/projects/tunesviewer/files/Android/

I tried it on my HTC Desire (Cyanogedmod 7.1.0) and the search function in the app turned up the Harvard statistics class immediately.

I hope those accounts below who lamented that they were on their Android tablets see this link.

Thank you! After several attempts to download these with iTunes, I'm actually having rather more luck with this software.

The videos play fine under Totem movie player on current release of Linux Mint.

I don't believe there is, but you are missing out on some good content in iTunes U.

  * in progresss *
itunes fetch the whole playlist as m4v so it must be possible to send audio when fetching's over.

edit :

  Format                           : MPEG-4
  Format profile                   : Base Media / Version 2
  File size                        : 402 MiB
  Duration                         : 46mn 28s
  Overall bit rate                 : 1 209 Kbps

  Format                           : AAC
  Format profile                   : LC
  Stream size                      : 62.6 MiB (16%)
  Duration                         : 46mn 28s
  Bit rate                         : 192 Kbps
full codec info >>> http://pastebin.com/dCHEmtVg

A great college textbook I had for intermediate probability theory is "A First Course in Probability" by Sheldon Ross, highly recommend it: http://www.amazon.com/First-Course-Probability-Sheldon-Ross/...

Another good book is "Mathematical statistics with applications" by Wackerly et al. It's focus is more on the application of the toolkit from probability, but about half the book focuses on the background of probability theory. What's great is that by the end of the book you will have a great introductory perspective of both frequentist and bayesian statistics. There are some gaps in the book, but it's a great reference nevertheless.


reviews look pretty bad. any defense/pro arguments for this?

I don't suppose someone could be so awesome as to host the first lecture(s) as an mp3 somewhere?

I'm at the airport and would love to hear this, but only have my android tablet with me :(

I really wished to have this class. But iTunes only? seriously? Get some inspiration from Stanford or MIT.


First of, no one here is bashing anyone. We're talking about how to get people access to the content. Second, you're attempting to take this even more off topic with your meta rant.

I think it is great that Harvard and Stanford open their course material on the internet but can someone explain to me why they would do it? I mean, what is in it for them - a bit of PR and friendly headlines aside? Their name and status alone is enough to stay "in business".

Harvard and Stanford (and other big name universities) are in the business of "selling" diplomas, not content. You cannot put on your resume that you "aced" a Harvard iTunes course, but only that you graduated from Harvard. I applaud these institutions for realizing it and allowing others to benefit from the content. Think of it as the public library model -- you can certainly pick up Tocqueville or Newton writing and read it, but it offers no guarantee of your mastery of the material. The diploma (supposedly) gives you that badge.

Yes, I understand that but the question then still is... why would they spend time, money and resources to give you all that material for free? Other institutions in the "diploma business" will surely peek and try to keep up and I do not see or understand the benefit for Harvard, Stanford et al. if we are not talking altruistic purposes.

Don't get me wrong, I think it is fantastic they do it and I applaud them - it is just really surprising and I am wondering about their motives, just my own (economic) curiosity.

I believe that it is about being adopters to new technology. Some of these things will be incorporated into the future of learning.

No Ivy League school is suffering from profits and, as was posted, the degree from the school holds the most value. It also would help future potential students be aware of what is demanded of them in these academic institutions and potentially give them a chance to learn more should they choose to do so.

I think the prestige of a university is tied more to the quality of their research, their legacy as an institution and the reputation of instructors they attract (which need not have anything to do with actual ability to instruct) than the quality of the content or instruction. I don't think the other institutions in the "diploma business" can replicate that as easily.

And these are all good points why it does not HURT them to do that.

But my question was... why DID they do it?

In one word: reputation. These schools want to be seen as social-responsibility leaders, etc. I don't want to sound so negative about it, but there's some element of publicity these institutions are seeking.

Think of this: how many people criticized Steve Jobs for not getting involved in charity, although he had billions in the bank? Do you think it looks good for Harvard University, with over $15bn in endowment to not do any good will project?

Lastly, some of these schools already offer remote learning via video. Putting the videos on iTunes is a sunk cost.

Disclosure: I went to one of those "big name" institutions as an undergrad, grad student, and I also worked there. Few are the projects that are TRULY out of the goodness of somebody's heart

You said "Other institutions in the 'diploma business' will surely peek and try to keep up and I do not see or understand the benefit for Harvard, Stanford et al. if we are not talking altruistic purposes."

My response was on the point of whether other institutions in the "diploma business" would peek to keep up. I was merely stating why Harvard, Stanford, MIT and the like have nothing to fear by opening their courseware. My intentions were merely to diffuse the notion that replicating instruction would suffice to compete with Harvard.

As to why they do it, I think other comments have covered that.

I used to work in academia, including a pretty well known university. As much as I like to be cynical at times, I sincerely believe there are lot of good professors at these institutions who sincerely believe that education should be free. Take for example MIT's push to have all their publications made open access, this was driven (in it's early stages) largely by Hal Abelson and a few other dedicated faculty/staff.

Top professors at top universities have a lot of clout, and despite the many issues there are with the current system of higher ed, I do believe that a lot of this work is sincerely driven by the ideals of good professors. Look at the interviews with Sebastian Thrun regarding the AI course, he clearly believes in finding a models of maximizing the quality to cost ratio for education.

Culturally I think places like Stanford, Harvard and MIT know well that many times you don't find your business model until you experiment, and if you want to be in charge of the future you have to be the one doing the experimenting. I think the angle that sells this to admins is that if you're a leading university you want to be pushing these boundaries, and if you want to be a head of the curve you need to be.

In a way, I think that Harvard (and probably Standford, MIT, etc.) have done this all along. It's just getting publicity now.

I am class of '08 at Harvard and actually took this course (taught be a different professor--excellent when I took it). There were a handful of Boston and Cambridge locals who sat in and took the course with me. No one ever said a word to them. When I took a course on the history of Hollywood Cinema--where we watched 2 movies a week on the big screen--there were probably 30 or so locals who sat in on the lectures. No one ever said anything to them.

So Harvard has been a part of the community for some time now .. it's just more public now that you can disseminate lectures on iTunes and the internet instead of actually sitting in the lecture hall.

This being on itunes, i bet it's a pilot to a paid version later, differently from mit, Stanford, et al.

Showing off.

Showing off their tutors, jesus people.

Here is a crazy theory that I don't necessarily subscribe to, but perhaps it is what you are looking for: They are doing this to crush the smallest players in the education business.

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