Udacity is a free online university with a focus on the world of technology. It was started by Stanford University-affiliated roboticists, and could quite easily be the future of online education. Their mission is to make education available to the masses for free, on a scope and reach like never before.
If you do a search for online universities, you’ll find a ton of them with little or no trouble. Every one of them promises to give you the best education possible, and most of them offer at least some information (if not actual assistance) for getting funding to attend their school. Some of these online schools are accredited and some are not, but the thing they all have in common is money. They all want money in exchange for the education they will provide. That seems fair enough, and it has always been that way, so no one thinks to really question it.
Not until recently, at least. As with nearly every other great innovation in the world, Udacity is the result of a few people putting their heads together and thinking outside the box. Sabastian Thrun, noted professor form Stanford, originally started out by putting a class online to teach Artificial Intelligence basics. It was done, it would seem, mostly as an experiment but when Thrun received more than a quarter of a million enrollments, he must have figured he was onto something big. So, on the unexpectedly successful heels of that project, Thrun brought the notion to Peter Norvig (of NASA and Google fame) and they decided that this should be pursued with all seriousness.
The system of higher education has always been something of a dilemma, from both a financial and an economic point of view. It would seem obviously beneficial to the world in general if all education, from kindergarten to university was completely free for anyone who wanted to learn something. It has been argued that such a completely free educational system would produce, over time, a utopian society of educated people all using their education, knowledge, and experiences, to build a better tomorrow. That’s all well and good, it sounds peachy, but the reality of the system has always been that educating students requires more money than can be had without a return of profit in one way or another. The fact is that books, chairs, desks, buildings, labs, equipment, all of this costs money to build a school. Then, the faculty must be hired. Why should teachers not be paid for their services? They need to make a living just as much as the rest of us do.
So, with all of that being the case, the concept of free education has pretty much been squashed over the years again and again with the big dollar sign being the major argument against. Enter: the Internet. The information superhighway has enabled people to exchange ideas and learn from each other for years now. And there are, as mentioned, online universities that basically mirror their real life counterparts, at least in the area of charging you.
So, the concept of Udacity, that Thrun and Norvig want to bring us, is one of volunteers teaching for the love of it and the love of mankind in general. They are building a place online where people can go to learn all about technology, and perhaps other things in the future. Thrun has actually given up his professorship (with tenure!) to launch Udacity, so you know there’s dedication in the project already. He believes that “education need not be expensive” and that is a clarion call to anyone who has ever had the same idea.
So far, Udacity hopes to have about 200,000 people in each class. They’ll offer courses in diverse subjects like ‘Theory of Computation’ and ‘Distributed Systems’ complete with testing and exams, with actual grades. There is no ‘college credits’ given with one of these courses so if you’re after a shiny bit of printing that says you’re smart, this isn’t the way to go. These classes will be for free, taught by and to people from all around the world, simply for the sake of education itself. Think about it: can it really hurt us, as a species or a society in general, to have more smart people among us? I really don’t thin it can. This concept could revolutionize education in general and could actually be the start of something much, much bigger.
Personally, I think this is a great idea and I plan to attend some of the classes myself. Give the site a look and maybe even enroll for something yourself. Who knows what could come from it? You may build a giant robot that attacks downtown someday. If so, you’re gonna need that education in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Until next time, my friends.
Visit Udacity here.