By Steve Kolowich
In a new magazine profile of Sebastian Thrun, the Udacity founder calls his company’s massive open online courses a “lousy product” to use for educating underprepared college students. That assertion has prompted a chorus of I-told-you-sos from his critics in academe.
In interviews for the Fast Company profile, Mr. Thrun reflected on the discouraging results of an experiment at San Jose State University in which instructors used Udacity’s online platform to teach mathematics. Some of the students were enrolled at the university, and some at a local high school.
“We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product,” Mr. Thrun told the reporter, Max Chafkin. “It was a painful moment.”
For critics of MOOCs and the hype surrounding them, that admission was perhaps the reddest meat in a lengthy profile that cast Mr. Thrun as a fierce competitor who came to online education only recently—after watching Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, give a TED Talk about his popular online tutorials.
But academics who have studied online education for longer than a few years were not surprised by the Udacity founder’s humbling.
“Well, there it is folks,” wrote George Siemens, a researcher and strategist at Athabasca University’s Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute, on his blog. “After two years of hype, breathless proclamations about how Udacity will transform higher education, Silicon Valley blindness to existing learning research, and numerous articles/interviews featuring Sebastian Thrun, Udacity has failed.”
[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/academics-to-udacity-founder-told-ya/48667 ]