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California to Give Web Courses a Big Trial

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Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun

Sebastian Thrun, chief executive officer of Udacity, at San Jose State University. Udacity, which offers online classes, will offer low-cost courses in a deal with the university.

Credit: The New York Times

Online education startup Udacity has unveiled a partnership with San Jose State University to offer remedial and college-level algebra and introductory statistics courses, in a deal that is the first of its kind to involve classroom instructors in a massively open online course (MOOC). Students will watch videos and receive help from mentors online, but also physically come into the classroom to work with a professor.

Udacity's offerings address a problem facing the California State University System as more than half of entering students fail to meet basic requirements. To discourage dropouts, the course will offer support such as regular mentoring checkpoints, assistance for students encountering difficulty, and automated encouraging email messages.

Open online courses face a major challenge with dropout rates at a staggering 90 percent. "The students sign up and are highly motivated — and MOOCs will only succeed if they make normally motivated students successful," says Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun, a renowned Stanford University artificial intelligence (AI) researcher. Thrun helped kickstart tremendous growth in open online courses in 2011 when he teamed with Google research director Peter Norvig to offer an online AI course, for which more than 160,000 students initially registered.

From The New York Times 
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