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What my 11 year old's Stanford course taught me about online education (gametheorist.blogspot.co.uk)
108 points by pooya72 1743 days ago | hide | past | web | 41 comments | favorite

A lot of these course systems seem to overemphasize the real-time component. It strikes me that almost all of the negatives were the result of this kid trying to "catch up" to the schedule, which was of little benefit to him since he (like the vast majority of participants, I'd imagine) couldn't participate in the real-time elements. The way they're trying to encourage these rigid course schedules just seems unnecessary, anti-learning. They could create wikis with FAQs, addenda, videos of hangouts and vastly expand the impact of each course by orders of magnitude.

If anything, it looks like Coursera and edX actively bury the finished courses. I wonder what Khan Academy's impact would be if he'd gone with this approach.

Of course, this just reveals the conflict of interest - these institutions sell degrees, so they aren't necessarily excited about offering an easily accessible, thorough directory of courses.

Part of the reason for doing it like this (I think) is because it gives a huge boost, as a student, to know that a thousand other people are going through the same course as you, at the same time as you..

I know that's one of the bigger reasons I managed to make it through the AI class last semester.

Whether this benefit outweighs the negatives I do not know.

> as a student, to know that a thousand other people are going through the same course as you, at the same time as you.

I'm very independent and "lonerish" so my feeling are probably biased (I can't tell, too close) and defer to evolution having created the best mix of loners, herders, sociopaths, etc. But, still, herd mentality repulses me. I see it as a huge negative both personally and for society as a whole. That (young) people should be encouraged to be self-dependent and not follow the heard.

Whoa. Herd mentality includes looking out for each other and helping each other and communicating.

I know that for me, the time schedule is a deal breaker. I work in the oil industry on a ship. I started mitx electronics but had to go back to work for six weeks. Our Internet is frequently just enough to send email out. It would have been nice to pick up where I left off when I got home but I had already missed so many assignment due dates. I may go back and still watch the lectures but would have been nice to be able to complete the certificate.

Known deadlines help people schedule things. I've found them helpful.

This is what I always hated about school. My mind knows when it ready to take in certain kinds of information, but working on someone else's schedule leaves me trying to do just that at non-optimal times. The results end up being much poorer than when I'm able to control when learning happens.

With that said, I realize that everyone has widely different learning styles. Maybe these new digital classrooms have room for employing different techniques to personally cater to each and every individual?

Udcaity seems to have a course with deadlines and then then when that is completed the same course without deadlines.

You would just have to wait for the second run of any course to get the learn at your own pace track.

I took CS101 the first time around, which did have hard due dates. Now I'm in CS253 and the homeworks are much more flexible. They still have dates, but they are more for when the solutions are posted, and homeworks can be submitted after that. I think the actual grading will be on the final project. I like this method much better, as I have been in the same boat, falling behind because life gets in the way.

Great educational content is both intrinsically and extrinsically rewarding - it can be thoroughly stimulating and give you skills and knowledge you can use for the rest of your life. This is especially true in an age where transmission is free and where it's trivial to give the greatest professors/scholars a highly polished production that people can benefit from for years. I see time constraints doing a lot more harm than good here.

Sync deadlines help with at least two things:

- motivation (helps with procrastination)

- discussion (others are on the same stage)

This is a lesson for all online videos:

> The most important button for video lectures is not ‘play’ but ‘pause.’ Students can always choose to pause at a point and, say, absorb a slide. What that means is that when you are creating an online lecture, you can build this option in and go fast. This is something that the Khan Academy have already worked out. But that Stanford course was still in the old style.

Yes, When I did he stanford course I just skipped from slide to slide and backed up if the slide was unclear.

A lot of the OP's comments about online education should be read critically by a lot of the teachers and professors out there who are currently experimenting with a "flipped classroom".

Short version: in a flipped classroom, you do the fixed content before the "lecture" period, and then during the "lecture" you do the "homework" in the prof's presence, with feedback, comments, and interaction. (There's a lot more to it; if you're curious, go look it up.)

The problem as I see it is that a lot of the "flipped classroom" advocates see the ideal pre-class prep as just video-recorded lectures: do exactly what you used to do, except in front of a video camera. I think that the flipped classroom has a lot of merit and have incorporated some of its ideas in my own teaching, but I really feel like the people videotaping their lectures are really missing the point and need to read this blog post for some of the many reasons their approach is problematic.

A bit off topic, but something i've been wondering for a while. Imagine for a second (and it's a bit of a stretch) that a majority of the worlds population had the same tenacity as this young 11 year old. Imagine the world used these new tools for online education, and imagine the amount of people who understand & can apply advanced mathematical concepts that today is the domain of graduate students increases by several orders of magnitude.

How does the world change? Will we simply speed up the process by which we maximize value in all known sectors? Or does something new happen?

Is no one else awed by the fact that an 11 year old kid was able to partially understand a college level course on game theory? Is he an especially gifted child, or am I underestimating the capabilities of kids?

Probably a bit of both. It was only after observing my cousin's son for a bit and hearing about what he liked that people began to remind me how tenacious I was, and really many others in the family. I'm pretty convinced that if I had only been introduced to calculus before becoming a teenager I wouldn't have given up on mathematics so easily. Kids are capable of a lot more than we're willing to admit– I say it's part insecurity, part genuine fear of being 'wrong', expecting too much, etc. thereby helping your kid fail.

The intuition of game theory is instinctive part of human nature and primates in general. It only gets hard when you do sophisticated calculations. Kids learn how to ride bikes too, but the physics of gyroscopic motion is hard.

It wasn't until 11th grade phyiscs that anyone bothered to explain what derivatives and integrals are, let alone how to calculate them or what they might be good for. Let me reiterate: it took until high school physics, twelve years into my math education, before someone showed me that calculus is the best/only tool for answering questions about nature, and that all the algebra crap matters because you can't do calculus without it.

Fourth-grade me had intuitively latched onto the idea that a curve's slope must itself have a slope. Limits (at least 11th-grade precalculus level limits) would have been well within my grasp in elementary school. In "helping" my dad with a basement remodel, I had actually wanted the area of a shape bound by a curve, but had no idea how to proceed. I developed an elementary understanding of recursion in my PHP and Python-hacking days (elementary and middle school - no time for that now) and had no trouble with time-complexity, object orientation, or introductory functional programming. NONE of that was so much as hinted at in school until sophomore year.

I don't know why we treat these ideas like dangerous weapons whose existence can only be hinted at until one comes of age.

I am a much better thinker than computer. Because my experience with "math" was years of drilling arithmetic, doing long-form multiplication and division without a calculator (WTF?), converting between forms for lines and parabolas, finding the x- and y- intercepts, plugging and chugging the quadratic formula, simplifying/solving nasty algebra, etc, I hated it. Nobody bothered to show me the point, I got sloppy, and now I'm sitting here with A-es and B+es throughout high school math, 660 on the SAT math section, 26 on the ACT math section (not outrageously difficult conceptually but a high-pressure speed trial), and no shot at any decent university's computer science program.

I think society loses a lot by making elementary/middle-level education about drilling exercises instead of engaging students with ideas to think about with the mechanics treated as secondary. Especially at the elementary level when kids are still naturally curious and have time and energy left over after school/homework to think and process. If I'm exceptional, my grades and test scores don't show it - I think a lot of kids could have handled substantially more on the ideas front.

Also: Shortly after learning to read in kindergarten, I was reading well above "grade level." Either I was innately gifted or "grade level" is pathetically low. I don't mean to disrespect the education experts, but it seems I've been helped orders of magnitude more, even at 8 years old, by the ambient presence of public radio, reading "grown-up" books and news I found interesting, and participating on internet forums than by identifying subjects and predicates or regurgitating plots onto tests. (Forced practice of composition is good - I've seen it help good writers get better, but I've never seen a bad writer improve through schooling).

It's interesting that none of these criticisms apply to the Udacity offerings. I feel like that team has a more original approach than the university professors who are transplanting their lectures to the Internet.

It looks like Coursera is trying to scale rapidly. If you look at the potential course offerings, Coursera has much more. The problem is it's harder to control quality. The Machine Learning course is great, but the Computer Vision is much less engaging.

On the other hand, Udacity seems more focused on a couple of core offerings.

Isn't it great that at the beginning the coursera ML course was better than the Udacity AI. And now it seems like the tables have turned. We all are learning about this and the quality of the classes should go up.

It amazes me that your 9 year old could distinguish between the ideas and the presentation. :) It's a skill I'm stil trying to make-innate (can't find the word for that).


Every time I see that word it makes me cringe. It sounds like a disgusting bodily function. I wish we could all decide to let this "word" die in peace.

I feel the sake way about "bochs".


I'm not the author of the article, I just copied his title.


> After all, this is what they were getting in class but could now pick and choose where and when to attend. They would see the liberation. But for an 11 year old, there was a more demanding standard and, on many levels, a standard worth respecting.

This is, in my opinion, the most important point of this entire era of information, accessibility, and everything else. While everyone else is getting grumpy about how the kids are taking all this relatively new stuff for granted, we're ignoring the fact that these are literally the people who will build "the future". People are motivated by what they take for granted– it's the baseline, it's what everyone deserves, and it's what we're responsible for making better all the time.

I enjoyed taking the 11-year-old's perspective of university style lecturing because it really does force an examination of the established video-ed paradigm. I'm currently taking an online developer's course at Udemy and finding it sorely lacking in some key respects as well. They aren't the same issues as those with videotaped lectures, but in the end it shows that people have a long way to go before the new online medium is properly exploited. You have recorded lectures, structureless YouTube style videos, and 'gamification' of learning all vying to find that sweet spot of applied individual education. I just wish it was figured out already so I could learn development more efficiently...

The new crop of online courses is awesome, but what's even more awesome is imagining how much they can (and will) improve in the next few years.

Coursera's current production quality, style, and platform leaves much to be desired. Andrew and Daphne should realize that flipping the classroom is not enough. The whole point of flipping the classroom is that most learning happens _outside_ the lecture hall. In an online context, this means that the emphasis must be on creating engaging and useful exercises and a vibrant online community. It also means that lectures have to be _far better_ than those delivered in the classroom. Taking your old powerpoints and inking over them while running screen-capture software just doesn't cut it. Ask Vi Hart.

In addition, Coursera classes are run mostly within the framework designed for a university course -- complete with rigid schedules and limits on collaboration (dictated by honor code). If my goal is simply to "learn some subset of X", not "learn all of X in a given time frame and get tested on it", this is all unnecessary baggage.

When Udacity completely separated itself from Stanford a few months back, I thought it was a risky move putting them at a disadvantage. Right now, Udacity is producing better content. When we come to a point that it is the quality of education that matters and not the branding, they might be significantly ahead.

Is it possible that this is simply a personal difference? I love Daphne's lectures. They're short enough to be to the point while still making concepts understandable. I'm currently going through the "preview" of her PGM class. I, of course, don't have access to assignments or any assessments, but I still find it quite engaging.

In fact, the thing I like least of school is the repetitive homework, so this works well...for me. And perhaps that's the most important thing here.

The kids feelings reflect my own. After the high standards I got used to thanks to Khan, I expected more of the same and was sorely disappointed. Most of the stuff on Coursera is not better than reading a book unassisted. In most cases, it's worse. Udacity fares much better, they've taken tips from the Khan book and tried to fit the medium instead of pointlessly replicating the university experience online.

> But then if you think about it for two seconds you have to wonder why we want a good signal of these students’ ability. This is not assessment for accreditation so who cares about getting such incentives right? What one surely wants are problem sets that signal to the student whether they had mastered the material or not

First, I think their business model (talent discovery and job placement) depends on good assessment of students' ability. At least, this is Udacity's business model[1].

Second, I think that the OP's assumption that this is not for accreditation is wrong. I think they do want Coursera's statement of accomplishment to be valuable on it's own (even if "Stanford" is not mentioned in it). For instance, if I were an employer, I'd hire anyone with Coursera's statement of accomplishment in a challenging class as the Probabilistic Graphical Models class [2]. Of course, the only problem is, as the OP mentions:

> For online courses, no one has cracked how to verify whether an identified student is the same person as the one doing the assessment.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3859253

[2] The class started with 44000 students [3]; by the 4th week there were about ~2000 left [4]; my guess is there are around 1000 left after the crazy 5th assignment... Though, One may argue that these statistics in part are due to rough edges and cryptic instructions in some of the programming assignments and quizzes.

[3] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-03-01/daphne-kolle...

[4] according to the published class' 4th week quiz statistics.

My favorite part is the kid using what he learns:

For school, the kid goes on the streets of Toronto to raise money for cancer research. He notes that a homeless man has likely already found the most attractive location to raise money (near the subway). Then, he uses backwards induction to infer that the homeless man will leave if he begins collecting for a more worthy charitable cause in the same location.

How is that backwards induction?

Side note: small gray text on a white background... I hope my fellow bloggers know better than to do this.

Totally not relevant... I read this as "what my 11 year old Stanford curse taught me..." and had to click to see what a Stanford curse could be.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming, my apologies for this station mis-identification.

It is not simply the case that the elite institutions will be able to take their existing courses and pop them online. More will need to be done and lectures will have to be rethought

I really liked what he said about online education design. The potential exposure of a university course to hundreds of thousands more students than before means that their quality will be under more intense scrutiny. Ultimately, I think that's great and hopefully viewership can pressure professors to construct more engaging lecture videos.

It actually has a couple of very good points. I know that faculties are actively considering introducing on-line courses. It's a good moment to cast in opinions and shape it. Does anybody else have comments on good/bad sides of on-line education?

My note would be that there seems to be a clear difference between the courses which are lecture-based and the ones which are exercise-bases (later being the lest frequent ones)

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