Week of Big Announcements and Milestones for Online Courses

Udacity, the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offering started by three roboticists, including Google fellow and Udacity instructor Sebastian Thrun, is finishing its first month of free computer science instruction this week. During that time, Udacity has announced four more courses — "Design of Computer Programs," "Web Application Engineering," "Programming Languages," and "Applied Cryptography," in addition to their two ongoing courses — "Building a Search Engine" and "Programming a Robotic Car," slated to begin April 16.

Since it opened on Jan. 23, more than 90,000 students have been participating in the "Building a Search Engine" course. Three of the courses (excluding Applied Cryptography), require Udacity’s 101 course as a prerequisite.

But Udacity isn’t the only online education provider with big news this week. MITx‘s "6.002x Circuits and Electronics" course is just finishing its first week covering circuit elements and analysis. Also, Khan Academy launched its free iPad application at the beginning of the same week, offering 2,700 videos of course lectures, while in another corner, TED announced the upcoming launch of a new site, TED-Ed, set for April and promising to feature inspiring, "curiosity-inviting" animated videos that touch on biochemistry, evolution, history, linguistics, and engineering.

Other online courseware ventures that have started to pop up include Georgia Tech’s Change 11 on instructional technology, online course catalogue Udemy, and the Javascript instructional website Codeacademy.

The development of online courses is escalating, though usually in the math or science fields. However, with the results of such courses have yet to be fully recognized. The New York Times reported last week about the issues that come with the search for an acceptable form of alternative certification for the recognition of employers. And Udacity and MITx are currently based on an honor system. This means that while grading is stringent, Jennifer Widom — the chairwoman of the computer science department at Stanford University — told the New York Times, students were opening additional accounts to get the problems from an assignment and then working through them for higher scores by taking the exam from a separate profile. In other words, students of these new online courses can cheat the system.

To combat this, Udacity plans to offer a global network of in-person testing centers, and MITx is considering monitored testing sites, but currently each is emphasizing the "beta" status of the online courses, both in proctoring and in design.

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