To go along with my DS106 exploration I signed up to Udacity “Web Development CS253”. This is one of 22 courses that I counted on the course catalogue. I had a browse around, watched a few short videos interspersed with a short quizzes. The video content (actually “pencasts”) were available in a text form on the course Wiki. (As an aside – Reghr (2012) describes the time consuming process of creating these.)
A progress indicator shows me how far I had journeyed through the 7 units. Each unit finishes with an activity (eg: install Google App Engine and get it to say “Hello Udacity”. If I get stuck I can visit the forums where there are a range of student submitted questions and answers (of varying tone).
The forum topics are tagged by unit and lesson. This one made me chuckle and gives an indication that it is not all a walk in the park:
There was no start date for this course – it appeared to be running all the time – so I could pitch in immediately. Although there is no sense of moving with a cohort from week to week, it’s clear from the dates in the forums that you could probably find active users at each point of the course.
Talbert’s (2010) blog post on Udacity course CS101 (before open enrollment) speaks of camaraderie on the forum:
“I regularly learn as much from interacting on the boards as I do from the class itself, and the esprit de corps is fun”
This is a very structured, procedural course (cognitivist), which builds knowledge through a carefully structured set of steps. Activities, like the one above, can be marked and graded automatically.
My student profile information can include my LinkedIn Profile – and I can opt to make this searchable by employers, hinting at one of the revenue generating ideas available.
From the About Us section I can see:
Udacity was born out of a Stanford University experiment in which Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online to anyone, for free. Over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled and not much later, Udacity was born.
I had no problem with the approach taken here, and have no doubt that I would learn much from completing these courses. The way knowledge is built does not seem to be much different to the way Birmingham University taught software development in 1983 – i.e. here’s a new idea, here’s an exercise, now go do it. At the end I can download certificates of completion. Curiously, I suspect this may have greater currency than a 1986 Software Engineering Degree!