Stanford AI Professor Thrun Leaves University to Start Udacity, an Online Learning Startup

Jan 24, 2012
Commentary by Stephen Downes

All over the edublogosphere today is the news that Sebastian Thrun is leaving Stanford to form a new open online leanring venture. "The Artificial Intelligence class was run by Know Labs in partnership with the university. Know Labs has now rebranded to Udacity, and this will be site where Thrun will offer his online CS courses, separate from the Stanford University umbrella." There's more on this from Inside Higher Ed. This article acknowledges that there were some other things done prior to the Stanford course and correctly picks out Thrun and Norvig's major addition to the form, an automated assignment grading system: "The option of submitting coursework that will be acknowledged by the professors -- rather than just reading a syllabus and watching lectures -- 'forces you to exercise.'" There's more from the Chronicle as well.

What's more interesting to me - and apparently also to George Siemens - was the impact on the instructors. Siemens writes, "Perhaps Thrun’s move shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve interacted with many learners in the open courses we’ve done, and I frequently hear the experience described as 'transformative' or 'life changing'. When the education system is synchronized with the interests and passions of learners, the process is invigorating and tremendously motivating. However, when learners and educators have to fight the existing education system in order to learn and teach, it’s time for dramatic change. Thrun has recognized that tomorrow’s education system will be a function of large-scale teaching and personalized, social, participative learning. Even then, it’s still surprising to hear him state that 'I can’t teach at Stanford again.'"
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