Udacity: Creating A More Engaging MOOC - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Software
Commentary
7/26/2013
07:51 PM
David F Carr
David F Carr
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Udacity: Creating A More Engaging MOOC

Udacity cofounder and online education pioneer David Evans sees powerful potential in platform's unique project-based approach.

I asked Evans for an interview after sampling his lessons on Udacity because I found him to be an engaging instructor and wanted to hear his thoughts about how to produce a successful MOOC. Having also attended classes on Coursera and edX, I was impressed by the presentation style of the Udacity courses. While these three online course platforms are often lumped together as purveyors of MOOCs, Udacity is playing a significantly different game by producing its own courses in its own studio.

Coursera and edX partner with universities and distribute content they create (edX is itself a partnership of MIT and Harvard). As a result, the production values are a lot more variable. You're more likely to see video of a regular classroom lecture, or extended PowerPoint presentations with voiceover. Some of the Coursera MOOCs I've attended have been excellent, and others definitely would have benefitted from some basic video editing. Coursera and edX also offer courses on a defined schedule, with modules typically released on a weekly basis and exams and homework that have set deadlines. In contrast, Udacity courses are self-paced.

Udacity's approach has its own tradeoffs. So far it has created only a few dozen courses, whereas Coursera offers hundreds through its rapidly expanding family of universities. Coursera and edX also offer courses in a wider variety of disciplines, not just technology and mathematics.

Udacity courses have a distinct polished look, usually featuring a few minutes of on-camera lecture from the instructor, followed by sketching on an electronic whiteboard to illustrate concepts, with the instructor's voice in the background. The sketches are created using Autodesk SketchPad Pro, but instead of having the drawings appear as the work of a disembodied instructor (Khan Academy style), the Udacity producers capture the instructor's hand in the act of drawing, using an overhead video camera pointed down at a tabletop touchscreen display.

As Evans recounts in a blog post about the production of his first course, one surprise was that "my hand had become magically transparent!" It turned out that his left-handed drawing style meant he often covered up one bit of content while he was drawing the next, but the editors figured out a way of merging the video from the camera with the video from the camera result to make sure students could always see important content through his semi-transparent hand.

transparent hand

The basic template for a Udacity class was set prior to the founding of the company, with the earlier AI class from Thrun and Norvig. Thrun is a Google Fellow, the creator of its famed self-driving car and currently a project leader for Google Glass, the wearable computer with the heads-up eyeglasses display. He is also a research professor at Stanford University. After years of teaching an on-campus AI course, Thrun and Norvig challenged themselves to create an online experience of comparable quality. Their videos were also shot with an overhead camera, although they did their sketching with pen and paper rather than electronically. From the beginning, they incorporated the concept of quizzing and otherwise engaging students frequently rather than simply delivering long lectures.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Previous
2 of 3
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2013 | 2:59:00 PM
re: Udacity: Creating A More Engaging MOOC
Have you taken a courses on Udacity? How do they compare, in your opinion?
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/30/2013 | 2:56:06 PM
re: Udacity: Creating A More Engaging MOOC
One of the things I see with Udacity is it really does business as a sort of Google spin-off, with many top execs coming from Google.

It is one of the MOOC platforms organized as a for profit corporation, as opposed to edX which is a nonprofit consortium of universities. Clay Shirky says that's what really worries him about MOOCs -- not that the quality isn't good but that the corporate influence will be negative.

Interesting interview here:

Clay Shirky Says #MOOCs Will Matter, but Worries About Corporate Players
http://chronicle.com/blogs/wir...
Slideshows
10 Cyberattacks on the Rise During the Pandemic
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  6/24/2020
News
IT Trade Shows Go Virtual: Your 2020 List of Events
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  5/29/2020
Commentary
Study: Cloud Migration Gaining Momentum
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author,  6/22/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
The State of IT & Cybersecurity Operations 2020
The State of IT & Cybersecurity Operations 2020
Download this report from InformationWeek, in partnership with Dark Reading, to learn more about how today's IT operations teams work with cybersecurity operations, what technologies they are using, and how they communicate and share responsibility--or create risk by failing to do so. Get it now!
Video
Current Issue
Key to Cloud Success: The Right Management
This IT Trend highlights some of the steps IT teams can take to keep their cloud environments running in a safe, efficient manner.
Slideshows
Flash Poll