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Professor Departs Stanford U., Hoping to Teach 500,000 Students at Online Start-Up


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The Chronicle of Higher Ed:

Nick DeSantis
1/23/12

The Stanford University professor who taught an online artificial intelligence course to more than 160,000 students has abandoned his position to aim for an even bigger audience.

Sebastian Thrun, a research professor of computer science at Stanford, revealed today that he has departed the institution to found Udacity, a start-up offering low-cost online classes. He made the surprising announcement during a presentation at the Digital – Life – Design conference in Munich, Germany. The development was first reported earlier today by Reuters.

During his talk, Mr. Thrun explored the origins of his popular online course at Stanford, which initially featured videos produced with nothing more than “a camera, a pen and a napkin.” Despite the low production quality, many of the 200 Stanford students taking the course in the classroom flocked to the videos because they could absorb the lectures at their own pace. Eventually, the 200 students taking the course in person dwindled to a group of 30. Meanwhile, the course’s popularity exploded online, drawing students from around the world. The experience taught the professor that he could craft a course with the interactive tools of the Web that recreated the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring, he said.

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