Udacity, the online learning startup that spun out of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence MOOC last year, is wrapping up its first courses, with final exams due this week and grades soon to follow. After 7 weeks in “CS101: Building a Search Engine,” I received the end-of-term email from Udacity: “Congratulations to those who finished CS101!”

Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I didn’t finish the class. I tried keeping up with the videos and exercises, but I gave up on completing the homework weeks ago. Initially I thought I’d skip the homework and just take the final. (There were two options for completing the class: a grade based 50% on homework and 50% on the final, or a grade based entirely on the final exam.) But as I fell behind in the watching the videos, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do well on the final. So I gave up. I “dropped out.”

That’s becoming a fairly standard occurrence for me with my attempts to learn to program through these sorts of online classes. I get the weekly emails from Codecademy too, for example, reminding me that I left off on “Code Year” around Week 4 (in other words, around January 30).

My inability to complete these classes does make me look closely at my motivations for signing up in the first place. Sure, it’s all under the guise of “learning to program,” but what exactly does that mean to me? What do I want to learn? What do I want out of these classes? What do I need to get out of these classes to do the sorts of coding that I’d do for my job? How is that different from the sorts of knowledge I’m interested in simply for the sake of having a better understanding of computer science? And finally, even if I’m a highly motivated student (wait, am I?), what works and what doesn’t work for me in these informal online learning environments?

There were a lot of things I really liked about Udacity, and frankly when the course opens for sign-ups again, I’ll probably re-enroll. But I’m also signed up for the CS101 course that Coursera (the other startup that spun out of Stanford’s MOOC experiments) is offering. And so we’ll see what sticks – what I like in terms of the instructor, the course design, and the platform via which the class is delivered.

Read the rest of the story, including a list of what I liked and didn't like about Udacity's CS101, on Inside Higher Ed

Audrey Watters


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