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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Udacity Pulls Math Course over Quality Concerns

Udacity, a start-up firm offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) taught by “world-renowned university instructors,” recently decided to cancel its Logic and Discrete Mathematics course because it didn’t live up to the quality standards set by the company.

Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity, told The Chronicle of Higher Education in an e-mail that while the entire class was recorded and edited, it didn’t meet the “quality bar” during the firm’s internal testing. Thrun did not say what that quality bar was, how many students had signed up, or whether the course would be offered in the future, but did praise the work done on the project by Jonathan D. Farley, associate professor of computing and information science, University of Maine at Orono.

“We want to make clear this disappointment is in no way a reflection on Jonathan, but on the Udacity team and the constraints we put on ourselves,” Thrun wrote.

Farley said he spent 45 hours recording the lectures and three hours of preparation for each hour recorded, but he also agreed with Udacity’s decision to pull the plug on the course.

“I blundered when recording some of the logic, and the camera was not on,” he said. “And also some of the mathematical proofs needed to be explained in a different way. It’s a totally different way of teaching because you have to figure out how you can reach 100,000 people.”

MOOCs make headlines for offering an online alternative to traditional educational programs, often free or practically no charge, but critics remain. As one commentator to the Chronicle article suggested, “Quality control is particularly important at this stage, when so many critical eyes are looking at online curricula,” so Udacity’s proactive approach could be the kind of move that may silence some detractors.

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