New Coursera Core CS Specialization
Wednesday, 23 March 2016

What Coursera used to offer as free courses it now offers as a paid for Specialization. The latest across our radar is Data Structures and Algorithms and the first course in the series has just started. 


The Data Structures and Algorithms Specialization, which is at Intermediate level so you need some programming experience before you join it, comes from UC San Diego and Higher School of Economics (HSE), one of Russia's top research universities and has Yandex and Computer Science Center as its industry partners. 

Its blurb states that it:

covers algorithmic techniques for solving problems arising in computer science applications. It is a mix of theory and practice: you will not only design algorithms and estimate their complexity, but you will get a deeper understanding of algorithms by implementing them in the programming language of your choice.

The specialization comprises five courses and has the unique feature that its students will have a choice of two Capstone projects. In one, the Shortest Paths Capstone, they will be asked to deal with road network analysis and social network analysis to compute the fastest route between New York and Mountain View thousands of times faster than classic algorithms and close to those used in Google Maps. In the other, the Bioinformatics Capstone,they will learn how to assemble genomes from millions of short pieces and how algorithms fuel recent developments in personalized medicine. 

Prior to this come five courses, the first of which, Algorithmic Toolbox, started its second presentation on March 21st and enrollments for it close on March 26. This is a 5-week course requiring 4-8 hours per week and covers basic algorithmic techniques and ideas for computational problems arising frequently in practical applications: sorting and searching, divide and conquer, greedy algorithms, dynamic programming.

Its blurb states:

We will learn a lot of theory: how to sort data and how it helps for searching; how to break a large problem into pieces and solve them recursively; when it makes sense to proceed greedily; how dynamic programming is used in genomic studies. You will practice solving computational problems, designing new algorithms, and implementing solutions efficiently (so that they run in less than a second).

The course already has reviews and students are very positive about it. For example, giving it a 5-star rating a student who is finding the difficulty level hard wrote:

One of the best Computer Science algorithm courses (and hopefully, entire specialization) on Coursera's new platform. Here's why:

- The course supports programming assignments in multiple languages: C, C++, Python, Java. You can implement your algorithms in all 4 languages and learn all of them. They have automatic grader for all 4 languages.

- Your algorithms need to be optimized to pass the assignments, not just creating output correctly. The grader was designed to test you on 3 criteria: Correct Answer, Time Limit and Memory Limit. This course really forces learners to implement the best algorithms possible, not just a working algorithm.

- The materials presented are very well-designed. You can tell that tons of efforts have been put into developing the videos, the slides, the assignments. 

Another reviewer wrote:

The coding assignments, which are the meat of the course are challenging and evaluated by a rigorous test engine. All the material is top notch.For the coding assignments, you are provided with starter code and a pdf with detailed problem description. This is an exceptionally well-made course and highly recommended

Coding assignments are not available to those who only audit the course for free.

The remaining four courses for the Specialization have not yet started. They are:

Data Structures - starts April 4

Algorithms on Graphs and Trees - starts June 2016

Algorithms on Strings  - starts July 2016

Advanced Algorithms and Complexity - starts August 2016



One or more courses on algorithms form part of any Bachelor's degree in Computer Science so this new offering is far from being the first on offer from Coursera. That honor must go to Design and Analysis of Algorithms I, the first of Tim Roughgarden's two-part Stanford-originated course that was among the first to be offered by the newly-launched Coursera in Spring 2013. At a similar level to the new Specialization, and requiring the ability to program in at least one programming language (like C, Java, or Python)  this was a 6-week course, its remit was to cover:

fundamental principles of algorithm design. You'll learn the divide-and-conquer design paradigm, with applications to fast sorting, searching, and multiplication. You'll learn several blazingly fast primitives for computing on graphs, such as how to compute connectivity information and shortest paths.

This free course was repeated at regular intervals and according to Online Course Report 548,631 students enrolled in it giving it position 20 in the Top 50 Most popular MOOCs of all time. It was also highly rated by student reviews, with more than 4 stars.

A similar rating was awarded to its follow on Design and Analysis of Algorithms II, which went on to:

fundamental principles of advanced algorithm design: greedy algorithms and applications; dynamic programming and applications; NP-completeness and what it means for the algorithm designer; the design and analysis of heuristics; and more.

There are no future dates for either of these standalone courses so are they about to be assigned to the scrap heap?

Coursera's latest courses, the majority of which are within Specializations, are on its new platform. Older courser on its original platform are not being automatically migrated and this means that some of them will never be presented again. In future llearners on any course that has graded assignments and issues a certificate of completion will have to pay or apply for financial aid.

The other well-established Coursera MOOCs on this topic from Princeton University and taught by Kevin Wayne and Robert Sedgewick, Algorithms I and Algorithms II (currently in session) are only available free and clearly state that no certificate or statement of accomplishment is awarded. Algorithms II states that its site will remain open until May 30. Does this mean that after that date it will cease to be?

We have reached out to Coursera for answers to these questions.


More Information

Data Structures and Algorithms Specialization

Algorithmic Toolbox 

Related Articles

Top CS MOOCs By the Numbers

Coursera Offers CS Specialization Certificates



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Last Updated ( Monday, 13 June 2016 )