Professors at Stanford College of Engineering were surprised when almost 300,000 people signed up to take one of the college’s three most popular engineering courses online for free this past fall. Although the courses — Machine Learning, Intro to Artificial Intelligence, and Intro to Databases, as well as seven others — are in English, registrants come from over 190 countries. Over 40% are from the U. S, and the second largest block of students is from India. The only major country not represented is China, due to the firewall its government erected to keep out certain information.
The three new courses consist of lectures delivered as short, interactive video clips that students can watch at their own pace. The videos include in-frame quizzes that are graded automatically. Exercises that test coding skills, as well as midterms and finals, are also graded automatically. The tests include a variety of questions, so students can take the same test several times and be confronted with new and different questions.
Instructors say students should expect to devote at least 12 hr weekly to watching the videos, studying course materials, and doing assignments, just as on-campus students should. However, online students get only limited access to professors, though online forums let off-campus students discuss topics. Unfortunately, even if online students complete the courses successfully, they earn no college credits or degrees.