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Stanford Free Classes

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I recently read an article by a Stanford student, Ben Rudolph, in a Machine Learning class that uses a “flipped classroom” model: the students watch lectures at home and then go into class to talk to the professor about the homework. This is an interesting model that’s been gaining some attention lately, and I have some experience with it. I mostly agree with what the article says, and I have a few additional points.

Rudolph complains that the online questions are too easy. As reported in another article,

Mr. Rudolph took particular exception to the programming exercises, in which the computer automatically informed students whether or not they got 100 percent on the task. “It’s so black and white,” he tells Wired Campus. “They have to make it easy enough so everyone can get 100 percent, basically. In the past I’ve turned in programming assignments, and only the really smart kids got stellar scores, because they went above and beyond. This model kind of discourages that.”

Those are some poorly constructed programming assignments. A computer can still grade a difficult programming assignment, because a computer program can—by definition—run on a computer, and the computer can check if it gives the correct output. For example, TopCoder offers a series of programming challenges that could take anywhere from five minutes to a few hours, and all of them are graded by computer. The computer grades not only on accuracy, but also on speed, memory efficiency, and code concision.

The main problem with this is that if you’re stuck, there’s not much you can do by yourself to figure out the next step. I suggest that students work on sophisticated problems like those at TopCoder, and the students who are struggling can talk to a professor about how to get the program a little closer to where it needs to be.