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What are the differences between Stanford classes taught on Coursera before they were...

Posted in 'Hot Topics from Quora' started by Quora Feeds, Feb 10, 2016.

  1. Quora Feeds

    Quora Feeds Member

    Elliot Babchick

    I took CS145, Introduction to Databases, in 2010, and TA'd the class the following year while, in parallel, it served as an online pilot course for what would become Coursera. I can speak to that experience, but keep in mind that every class is different.

    The video content was identical for the online and Stanford versions, but the real difference in difficulty lied in the homework. The online version of the class consisted of a subset of the work given to the Stanford students, most of which were multiple choice quizzes. Online students also had an interactive SQL workbench to try their hand at some actual query writing, but that's basically where the workload ended for the public, unless you wanted to fiddle with some optional, ungraded/uncollected exercises. Stanford students were assigned a handful of significantly more difficult exercises in addition to what the public saw, including a software project that required non-trivial use of Stanford's Unix clusters to build a small web site in PHP backed by a database.

    So, the Stanford version course was marginally more difficult in this particular instance, but I'm not sure if this is true today -- this was before it was officially branded as Coursera and operating at scale. I know for a fact that the online version of the machine learning class had a separate course number at Stanford, 229A, that paralleled the material online, but the gap in difficulty between it and the original Stanford course, CS229, was not seen as rigorous enough to have it count where 229 was expected, if it appeared on your program sheet (the set of classes you must take for a particular 'track' in CS at Stanford).

    As far as the rumor that going to class being not as great goes, I believe that it is actually turning out to be a fulfilling success for most instructors, although more work than they expect when first signing up, and a refreshing change of pace for the students as well. Reason being that, at least for the Stanford CS professors, attendance was pretty low in classes that were being televised by SCPD (Stanford's online program for people in industry to take courses), where any student in the class, regardless of them being a virtual SCPD student or actual Stanford student, could watch any lecture on demand after it was recorded. Let's be honest, a pause button and a 1.5x button go a long way to help learning with the attention span most of us have developed, and I believe that kind of thinking was prevalent amongst CS students in particular. It wouldn't be uncommon for a class to have 30 or 40 people in it and only 5-10 show up live on any given day. This proportion held true for most larger classes as well.

    With the new format of the class when I TA'd it, though, which essentially was watch at home, come to class for (some mandatory) bonus materials (ie. guest lecturers, research presentations, group problem-solving activities, etc.), there was always fresh variety of content that raised the class to a new level of engagement and active learning for anyone physically enrolled in the course at Stanford. Of the people who attended consistently, even on optional days, I think that they got a ton of help on exactly the material they struggled with, and really got to grow in a way they never could before in a class that requires so much rigorous focus just to internalize and conceptually understand the material. The digesting of material happened online, so that the real reinforcement could happen offline.

    Again, this is just a single data point and this is before Coursera officially got off the ground, so the best answer to this question if you're thinking about enrolling is, well... it depends on the class.

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