It's a (another?) free online university. So far it's offering just a handful of technical classes--computer science, physics, maths. But, it's founded by people with the Google pedigree, and like so many things that fall from the google goodies tree, it provides huge user value and high quality at zero user cost.
Here's Udacity's self-description from their "About" page:
We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we've connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students in almost every country on Earth. Udacity was founded by three roboticists who believed much of the educational value of their university classes could be offered online for very low cost. A few weeks later, over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled in our first class, "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence." The class was twice profiled by the New York Times and also by other news media. Now we're a growing team of educators and engineers, on a mission to change the future of education.
So far, I'm about a week into Udacity's Computer Science 101. For me as a 1980s Princeton University trained computer scientist it's partly a walk down memory lane, but it's also partly a chance to see how things that didn't even exist when I was a lad are now taught. The whole course is built around the project of writing the code (software) for a web search engine that really works (about as well as the earliest versions of Google). There weren't any search engines when I was at university. In fact, there wasn't even an internet!
What I'm most interested in is finding out what a gifted 10 year old at a small rural school who lacks outlets for his intellect can do with it. Since I happen to have one at my disposal, we started him on the course today. So far, so good, although I have some concern that the university-level language, tone and pacing are a bit foreign to him, even though I think he can actually comprehend the technical material. It remains to be seen whether an American university introductory level course really "speaks" to a 10 year old. Either way, as I discussed with his teacher this morning, it's a little bet we (and he) can afford to take.
While I haven't actually dived in and enrolled on a course, I have heard a fair bit about Udacity (mainly through podcasts, and videos like this one). And if you do a search on Udacity you get a good overview of some of the learning resources that have been uploaded. More importantly, though, from the podcasts I have listened to students have said how much they have learned from other learners from around the world while studying on the courses...nothing new there, but I wonder if the Google brand and many of the associated opinions around what they 'stand for' will affect how people interact within the courses (compared with, for example, the Open University for example)?
I was very enthusiastic to hear about the 10 year old gifted student that has enrolled on the introductory course. It was interesting to hear about how he is wrestling with the language, tone and pacing...and has really got me thinking. It would be great to hear how he does going forward, and if what he experiences and learns in spite of the challenges - and how or if the rest of the students studying on the programme offer support. Please keep us posted :-)