Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Watch out for the Udacians!

I just completed my first Udacity class. It was fantastic. I took Building A Search Engine which is an introductory class to teach programming using Python. In theory, I didn't need an introductory class, but in practice it's been years since I did any substantial programming and that wasn't with Python. It was with PL/1, Pascal, C, and IBM Series 1 assembly language. I took the class mainly to analyze the success that Udacity is having disrupting higher education, but also because I love to learn.

The Udacity class was outstanding for the following reasons:
  • It was free!
  • The professor (Dr. Dave Evans) was easy to understand, funny, brilliant, and hardworking. His example with bunnies taking over the world, which I changed to Udacians taking over the world, was delightful.
  • The class was only seven weeks, so there was no time to get bored.
  • Each video lecture was just a few minutes, so there was no time to get bored.
  • Each homework assignment focused on challenging, interesting, real-world (usually) problems, so there was no reason to get bored.
  • The class was quite advanced (you guessed it, not boring!) We learned about recursion, hashed indexes, for loops, while loops, strings, lists, dictionaries, arithmetic expressions, variables, procedures, etc.
  • The forum discourse was pleasant and helpful, with none of the snide haters or arrogant know-it-alls that you often see in online discussion groups. The senior people on the forum (not me, despite my age :-), were extremely helpful, especially with the many test cases that they provided so we could test that our code worked correctly.
Udacity grew out of the phenomenal success of the free, online Artificial Intelligence class that Stanford University unofficially offered in Fall 2011. I blogged about that class when I finished it. It was awesome but the homework was too hard. The class I just finished was better than awesome. It was udacious, mainly because the homework was hard (challenging) but not too hard. Though we never heard final numbers, literally thousands of students finished the class. Thousands of new programmers out there! Beware! We will take over the world. :-)

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