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Faculty Summit 2012: Online Education Panel

August 20, 2012

On July 26th, Google's 2012 Faculty Summit hosted computer science professors from around the world for a chance to talk and hear about some of the work done by Google and by our faculty partners. One of the sessions was a panel on Online Education. Daphne Koller's presentation on "Education at Scale" describes how a talk about YouTube at the 2009 Google Faculty Summit was an early inspiration for her, as she was formulating her approach that led to the founding of Coursera. Koller started with the goal of allowing Stanford professors to have more time for meaningful interaction with their students, rather than just lecturing, and ended up with a model based on the flipped classroom, where students watch videos out of class, and then come together to discuss what they have learned. She then refined the flipped classroom to work when there is no classroom, when the interactions occur in online discussion forums rather than in person. She described some fascinating experiments that allow for more flexible types of questions (beyond multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank) by using peer grading of exercises.

In my talk, I describe how I arrived at a similar approach but starting with a different motivation: I wanted a textbook that was more interactive and engaging than a static paper-based book, so I too incorporated short videos and frequent interactions for the Intro to AI class I taught with Sebastian Thrun.

Finally, Bradley Horowitz, Vice President of Product Management for Google+ gave a talk describing the goals of Google+. It is not to build the largest social network; rather it is to understand our users better, so that we can serve them better, while respecting their privacy, and keeping each of their conversations within the appropriate circle of friends. This allows people to have more meaningful conversations, within a limited context, and turns out to be very appropriate to education.

By bringing people together at events like the Faculty Summit, we hope to spark the conversations and ideas that will lead to the next breakthroughs, perhaps in online education, or perhaps in other fields. We'll find out a few years from now what ideas took root at this year's Summit.