Monday, January 30, 2012

Udacity: A New Type of Education

By Sean Scarpiello

Sebastian Thrun, a former college professor, has recently resigned from his position at Stanford University to work on an online education project called Udacity. The project’s goal is to bring education to people all over the world at affordable costs. The program has already been successful as Thrun had taught an Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class. The class was completely free and comprised of 160,000 students from all over the world. Using the internet, Thrun made videos and interacted with students who took the course. He even enlisted the help of volunteers to translate the course to over 40 different languages. Approximately 23,000 students from 190 different countries graduated the class. Of this amount, 248 students graduated with a final grade of 100%, which is better than any Stanford student. Thrun also discovered that his students in Stanford dropped the traditional classroom course for the online version. They described how the online course was much more personalized and helpful. Thrun plans on offering two new courses at no cost for students in February. The courses are on building a search engine and programming a robotic car. So far Thrun’s project looks to be successful, but some educators do not think the classes will do as well as predicted.

A lot of the criticism against Thrun’s project is based on each class’s accreditation. The people teaching the classes are college professors with PhDs who have taught at respected universities like Stanford and University of Virginia. Since the professors have good reputations in the academic world, there should not be any disputes. Problems do emerge when the instructor of the course is not a leading figure in their field. As Thrun is a professor, he will not hire anyone who he thinks is not qualified to teach. Thrun also has a lot of colleagues who are college professors lining up to teach classes through Udacity. However, there are problems associated with Udacity being recognized by the academic world. Every college and university needs to go through a strict accreditation process to make sure that their academics meet high standards. This will not be easy because there are currently only a few classes that make up Udacity. Also, it will be difficult for students of the classes to receive credit for the class at other institutions and in the workplace.

If one of Thrun’s students wants find a job and use Udacity’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class as a credential, then Thrun needs a way to show that the student successfully completed the class. Also, the potential employer of the student will want to know that the class is taught by credible individuals. Thrun will have to come up with a system to show that the student deserves credit for taking a high level course. Moreover, Thrun needs to get Udacity’s name out there to everyone. If Thrun can become a well-known name in the academic community, Udacity will be successful. Udacity would need to be regarded as the Ivy League University of the internet. This is a very difficult task because very few universities became household names overnight.
Overall, Udacity has a lot of potential and has already proven to the world that an online education can be provided at a low cost and reach thousands. The problems now lie in receiving international accreditation for classes and expanding the university. Udacity has the potential to become one of the best online colleges as it is cheap and courses are taught by qualified professors.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Transitioning to iBooks 2.0

By Sean Scarpiello

Recently, Apple has introduced the updated version of their e books called iBooks 2.0. This new technology is aimed at students, educators, and just about everyone in the academic world. Apple has paired up with companies such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw Hill and Pearson to bring full textbooks to anyone who owns an iPad. As education quickly moves from the traditional classroom to cutting edge technology, some schools have already began to adopt iBooks, while some education experts remain unconvinced of iBooks' potential.

The new iBooks that Apple is offering will be completely interactive. This means the textbooks will offer add-ons like quizzes, flash cards, and more. In regular textbooks, there is often software containing interactive extras. These extras are often ignored by students because it takes too long to download the software on the computer. The iBooks will have interactive extras easily available and strategically placed into the readings so that students will not need to go out of their way to use them. Some experts believe that the extra quizzes and flash cards are not offering the correct type of interactive add-ons because they lack the ability for students to interact with other students around the world. However, when it comes to studying for tests repetition is key, not collaborating with other students. This repetition is exactly what the new iBooks offer, thus the iBooks will be successful.

The best part of these new iBooks for students is that they will be cheap. Most students pay upwards of a hundred dollars for a single textbook. In college, this may mean that students are paying around $700 for one semester. Apple has made arrangements with the textbook companies to sell the books for $14.99 or cheaper. These low prices for books are also great because it will make people buy the iPad. At first, people may be skeptical to drop $500 on an iPad and then pay for books, but since the books are cheap their investment in the iPad will quickly pay off.

Another neat aspect of iBooks 2.0 is that it comes with a program called iAuthor. This software allows people to make their own iBook. This can range from cookbooks to novels to even comic books and more. This is a really interesting function to the new iBooks. Teachers could be able make their students make iBooks and turn them in as projects. This will be especially important as iBooks will be the future of books. Eventually all textbooks will be based on today’s iBooks so it helps to learn how to make them as students.

Some schools are already making the transition to the iPad and iBooks 2.0. One such school, the University Christian School in Florida, is planning on having all of their students on new iPads in this upcoming September. Ideally, they hope to be completely off of the traditional five pound textbook in about two to three years. In the long run, the school feels that the transition will not only be more effective in teaching students, but it will also lower the cost to educate students.


Friday, January 6, 2012

The Three R's and Financial Literacy

The popular debate on education seems to focus on two areas. The first is STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The second is literacy in the traditional sense of reading, writing, and comprehension. While these areas definitely merit attention, I believe a third should be given equal weight, namely financial literacy. What good is an improved income to a STEM literate if they make nothing of it due to a lack of financial savvy?

Several college-aged nieces and friends visited a few years ago. In exchange for 24/7 access to the well stocked fridge, I asked them to complete a financial literacy questionnaire. The poor results were quite an eye opener. And I didn't ask about the effect of Federal Reserve policy on foreign exchange rates either. This was all basic stuff related to consumer credit, compounding, saving and investment vehicles, insurance, and similar.

In all fairness to my nieces and friends, no one had ever told them what they needed to know. More importantly, nothing in their lives thus far had provided the motivation to go find the information on their own.

The role motivation plays in learning shouldn't be underestimated. For example, many believe the closest they'll ever get to a million dollars is if they win the lottery. In reality, almost every working American is a millionaire of sorts. Consider that the 2010 poverty threshold for a family of four was a bit over $22,000. Bump that to $25,000 and multiply by 40 years of employment and what have you got? One million dollars. So the average American will have at least one million flowing through their fingers in their lifetime. Recognizing that you're a "millionaire" yet as unlikely to achieve financial security as anyone else provides the motivation to become financially literate.

Sadly, even the motivated are challenged by traditional materials with their textbook prose and emphasis on formulas, charts, and graphs. I have tried to remedy that with my book Someday Is Not a Plan - A Guide to Understanding Money in Plain English. The book listens in on conversations between twenty-something Larry and his retired uncle Roger as they talk about money. Larry starts out in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, with no hope for progress. But as his education proceeds, he sees that financial security is possible and not as difficult as he had imagined. Most importantly, Larry discovers that it is his thinking about money which has to change the most. By the end, Larry is transformed from misguided dreamer to master of his future. Visit for more information and to preview the book.