Monday, October 01, 2012

Andrew Ng and Coursera

Great profile of Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng. I first met Andrew a few years ago at Foo Camp. He attended a talk I gave on psychometrics, and we had several discussions afterwards. The formulation of g as a means of compressing cognitive data was not lost on him.

Little did I know at the time he was interested in technology applied to teaching.

Here are his popular lectures on machine learning. See also Whither higher education?
Chronicle of Higher Education: ... Today Mr. Ng is an innovator in an entirely different setting: online education. He is a founder of the start-up Coursera, which works with 33 colleges to help them deliver free online courses. After less than a year of operation, the company already claims more students—1.3 million—than just about any educational institution on the planet. Mr. Ng likes to say that Coursera arrived at an "inflection point" for the idea of massive open online courses, or MOOC's, which are designed so a single professor can teach tens of thousands of students at a time.

... "There's a certain way of thinking that many AI researchers have—it's the idea of automation," Mr. Ng explains, his lanky frame folded onto a couch in a conference room. He speaks in a quiet voice colored by a British accent—he was born in Britain and grew up in Hong Kong and Singapore—and his understated manner makes you forget that his teaching videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. He is sometimes recognized as a kind of celebrity on the streets near Stanford.

"A lot of AI successes have been about automating the routine things that do not call on the highest levels of human creativity," he says, noting that spam filtering and recognizing faces in photographs can now be done deftly by software.

After teaching at Stanford for several years (he's now on leave), Mr. Ng felt that grading was eating up too much of teaching time. Computers, he thought, could step in and grade complex assignments, not just multiple-choice exams.

"I actually enjoy working through problems with students," Mr. Ng says. "What I don't enjoy is grading 400 homeworks. And so our thinking was to automate some of the grading so it frees up more faculty time for the interactions."

He put his ideas into practice about five years ago, when he started Stanford Engineering Everywhere, which offered MOOC's before anyone had heard of them.

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