On Statistics and Open Education: A Brief Chat with Sebastian Thrun
Written by Jacqueline Spiegel   
Friday, 15 June 2012
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On Statistics and Open Education: A Brief Chat with Sebastian Thrun
A Computer Science Degree from Udacity?


This is the Udacity’s third semester ?

This is the third semester, that’s correct, we call them hexamesters because they last a sixth of the year (each class lasting only 7 weeks). We (Udacity) have about 100,000 active students in any point in time that do take classes and interact, and we have a very vibrant community of learners.




For statistics specifically, what prerequisites are necessary for this class ?

People will have to have a basic understanding of mathematics and do simple things like adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, for those who have not had calculus before they will not have a hard time.. High School Math (is sufficient).

Also, there are a few units that are optional where people program ... in Python, and I have set it up in such a way that people can program without any (prior) programming experience


As an aside, Udacity’s programming environment rocks - they chose to use Python which has emerged for some time as the pedagogic language du jour. Python itself is an easy learn, especially when taught by Udacity profs, not to mention the thousands of student programmers who are waiting in the wings to help out another fellow student. The best part about Python is that it has usefulness far beyond the virtual walls of Udacity, so it is money in the bank. But in the case of Stat class, I digress, because it is also completely optional.


What is the relationship between statistics and artificial intelligence /computer science?

Statistics you can think of as the entry level version of machine learning […] , you can think of it as a good step towards machine learning , it might be that machine learning is the next class I offer.


We reported recently that Udacity has partnered with Pearson VUE which will offer a secure testing environment so that, if a student chooses, they can be certified as having taken Udacity classes. What is the cost associated with a student who will want official certification?

We have been really focused, so far, on the education aspect, ( but now) we are really building up the certification side to it – for some its important to learn it, but to others they have certain skills means they like to apply it toward college credit or would like it for a job. We are partnering (with) the Pearson’s VUE 4500 testing centers. The hope is to really enable people who go to Udacity certify themselves with their identity to other people such as employers.


When will this option be available to your students?

I think it will be available the moment the class starts, June 25, 2012..


The recent Forbes Magazine’s article title on Udacity read “$100 for a masters degree” is that a reasonable estimate ?

I think principally $100 seems like a reasonable thing to attain because its fundamentally so much less expensive to produce than in-class classes– so I think the details of the cost will depend on what level of certification you want, but if you are happy with, for example, a pure online certification of your skills, then $100 is highly feasible for a masters degree.

(But to reiterate : All Udacity courses are free and will remain free, it is the certification, or level of certification which will eventually cost money)


Currently at Udacity there are wonderful course offerings, but when will that change into full tracks that will allow a student to receive a degree?

So for CS (Computer Science) we are getting close - we just launched five new classes and we are going to keep up that pace over the next hexamesters and we are also filling in the gaps.

There are unfortunately some rough edges between our fundamental class CS101 and the next class up, when this is done I believe we can get an entire computer science education completely online and free and I think this is the first time this has happened in the history of humanity.


In September of 2011 the field of Open Education had yet to emerge, now it seems almost like a battle of the Titians – what separates and defines Udacity from its competitors, Coursera and EdX ? What unique quality does Udacity possess that sets it a part?

Our mantra is : “ you can’t loose weight watching another person exercise”. Our entire content is structured around the idea of student exercise. The instructor is not there to lecture the student, the instructor is there to coach the student - just like a personal tutor would when you get stuck problem solving. 

So when you enter a Udacity class the very first thing is your being quizzed, or we have to write a piece of software. You hear about our way of doing it (only) after you have tried it yourself.


Sebastian, thank you for your time.

The Udacity class Intro to Statistics will begin June 25 – your fellow Udacian’s hope to see you there !

To learn more view Sebastian's video introducing the course:


Click on the banner to enrol now:


Author note:

Jacqueline Spiegel is a Computer Programmer, who has worked in the field of Educational Software Development and Brain Imaging for over a decade. She is the founder of the Facebook group CompScisters for Open Ed female students in CS and STEM subjects and co founder of  CompSciblings.


More Information


Intro to Statistics

To join the student Intro to Statistics Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/statistics.sebastian.thrun/?notif_t=group_r2j

If you are a woman taking this class, or any other online STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) class, consider joining CompScisters Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/compscisters/

Compsciblings https://www.facebook.com/groups/236300739774529/  the location for men and women to discuss gender with respect to STEM


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