Sebastian Thrun leaving Stanford to focus on Education Start-up

Posted on by Gerd Kortuem

Sebastian Thrun, one of the Stanford professors who recently taught the online Artificial Intelligence course with over 100000 students, has decided to leave his tenured job at Stanford to focus on his education startup Udacity.

On his web site he states: 

"One of the most amazing things I've ever done in my life is to teach a class to 160,000 students. Volunteer students translated some of our classes into over 40 languages; and in the end we graduated over 23,000 students from 190 countries. In fact, Peter and I taught more students AI, than all AI professors in the world combined. This one class had more educational impact than my entire career."

"Now that I have seen the true power of education, there is no turning back. It's like a drug. I've just peeked through a window into an entire new world, and I am determined to help bring education to everyone out there." 

Incidentally, one of the first courses offered by Udacity uses exactly the approach I have long been pushing at the Universities I have worked, teaching computer science and software development holistically and building courses around ambitious real world challenges: 

Udacity's CS 101 course is described as follows:

"CS 101: BUILDING A SEARCH ENGINE: Learn programming in seven weeks. We'll teach you enough about computer science that you can build a web search engine like Google or Yahoo!"  

Felix Salomon from Reuters has a few more interesting observations to add about Thrun's AI course at Stanford:
"Just a couple of datapoints from Thrun’s talk: there were more students in his course from Lithuania alone than there are students at Stanford altogether. [...] And when it finished, thousands of students around the world were educated and inspired. Some 248 of them, in total, got a perfect score: they never got a single question wrong, over the entire course of the class. All 248 took the course online; not one was enrolled at Stanford.
Thrun was eloquent on the subject of how he realized that he had been running “weeder” classes, designed to be tough and make students fail and make himself, the professor, look good. Going forwards, he said, he wanted to learn from Khan Academy and build courses designed to make as many students as possible succeed — by revisiting classes and tests as many times as necessary until they really master the material.
And I loved as well his story of the physical class at Stanford, which dwindled from 200 students to 30 students because the online course was more intimate and better at teaching than the real-world course on which it was based."

 (P.S. Thrun remains a non-tenured research professor at Stanford and appears to keep his job at Google)