/// Amid Controversy, Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun Is Relearning How to Teach

July 19, 2013  |  All Things Digital


“I don’t know why people react so extremely to what we do,” said Sebastian Thrun, the co-founder and CEO of Udacity, a company that’s trying to change the world’s preconceived notions about higher education. Oh wait, maybe that’s why. Thrun’s dismay comes after a quick-spreading article yesterday from “ Inside Higher Ed ” which said that Udacity’s much-heralded partnership to teach remedial courses at San Jose State had been “paused” due to low pass rates. That turned into reports that the program was “ suspended ” and is currently setting off another round of commentary that maybe those smartypants tech folks really don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to actually getting people to learn. Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun Here are the facts: Udacity held three San Jose State online classes for 274 students, with more than half of the students coming from outside the university — for instance, one was a remedial math class devoted to high school students who had already failed a similar class previously. Pass rates in the three classes were between 20 percent and 44 percent. That’s not good. So Udacity and San Jose State jointly agreed to hold off on the next round of classes, though they still want to resume the program in the next academic year. But some aspects of the pilot program were actually tremendously positive, from Udacity’s perspective. Eighty-three percent of the students stuck with the course till the end, and they were specifically chosen because they were “low-motivation students,” Thrun said. The student feedback on the course had been that they wanted more time to complete it — especially because many of them do not have computers at home — and so Thrun said he was eager to resume the classes on a more self-paced model. As he put it, “I am particularly surprised that certain outlets look at pass rates irrespective of student population. As if inner city high school kids are to fare as well as college students.” In fact, in a meeting at Udacity’s office in Mountain View, Calif., the day before the story broke, the first thing Thrun wanted to talk about was the San Jose State program. A completion rate of 83 percent is unheard of for a MOOC — a massive open online course, the genre that Thrun is trying to pioneer. By contrast, Udacity’s usual completion rate is three percent

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Amid Controversy, Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun Is Relearning How to Teach


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