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Coursera Andrew Ng on Online Revolution: Education for Everyone


My report on KDD-2013 Keynote talk by Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng, on Coursera far-reaching experiment in education, which collected more educational data in one year than all the universities in the history of mankind. Andrew Ng believes that great education should not be only for the privileged but should be a fundamental human right.



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Online education is hot, and Coursera is the leader of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) movement, with over 4 million students registered.

Andrew Ng, Coursera co-founder I was very much looking forward
to meeting Stanford University professor and Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng, who was to deliver a keynote talk at KDD-2013 Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining, held Aug 11-14, 2013 in Chicago.

Alas, Andrew was not able to attend in-person, but he delivered a surprisingly effective keynote talk via GoToMeeting.

Abstract: In 2011, Stanford University offered three online courses, which anyone in the world could enroll in and take for free. Together, these three courses had enrollments of around 350,000 students, making this one of the largest experiments in online education ever performed. Since the beginning of 2012, we have transitioned this effort into a new venture, Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company whose mission is to make high-quality education accessible to everyone by allowing the best universities to offer courses to everyone around the world, for free.

In this talk, I’ll report on this far-reaching experiment in education, and why we believe this model can provide both an improved classroom experience for our on-campus students, via a flipped classroom model, as well as a meaningful learning experience for the millions of students around the world who would otherwise never have access to education of this quality.

Here are my selected (edited) @kdnuggets tweets and notes from his keynote.

  • Our study showed that student peer-graded score was closely correlated with teacher score
  • student peer-grading allowed us to expand online courses beyond sciences to humanities
  • Large scale provides a new window into human learning
  • Experiments: reminder like “the next homework is due Saturday” makes students less likely to complete a class
  • However, if combined with “good job on completing task 1, and BTW next homework is due Sat” increases engagement
  • We analyzed paths like “incorrect submission” => “incorrect submission” … ==> “final correct solution”
  • Found which forum visits and threads were most likely to cause students to correct error
  • In the first Online Machine Learning course, 2000 students submitted exactly the same wrong answer
  • We found that everyone reversed order of 2 steps and added an advice to students how to fix this error. We can find such errors and corrections automatically – which would be impossible when 2 out 100 students make the same mistake.
  • Ironically, we can give a class with 100,000 students better personalized instruction than a class with 100 students .
  • The real value of education is not content, but interaction.
  • Mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting (Plutarch).
  • by putting the lecture online, instructor can spend the lecture in more interactive activities
  • We also found that attendance, engagement, learning – all improve about 30% with active learning
  • We offer signature track verification to get certificates for a small fee, however offer financial aid to those who cannot pay for a certificate.
  • The incentives for cheating are less, since certificates only open the door to an interview. Employers will still verify the knowledge
  • We did a study on plagiarism, found that incidence of plagiarism on-line was not higher than on-campus
  • On the future of Coursera – we prefer not to charge for courses, since people in more remote part of the world may not have even $5 or a credit card to pay for it.
  • For philosophical reason – offer financial aid to people who cannot afford the small fee for
  • If a student completes one homework, then they have 42% of completing the course.
  • Coursera will soon support other languages, both on the main website and also translate course content into multiple languages (via student volunteers)
  • old education model: go to school for 20 years, then coast for 40 years
  • new model is continuous education; 80% of online students already have a BA
  • We collected more educational data in one year than all the universities in the history of mankind.

Andrew Ng: great education should not be only for the privileged but should be a fundamental human right.


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