by on January 25, 2012 at 7:35 am in Education, Web/Tech | Permalink

In The Coming Education Revolution I discussed Sebatian Thurn and Peter Norvig’s online AI class from Stanford that ended up enrolling 160,000 students. Felix Salmon has the remarkable update:

…there were more students in [Thrun’s] course from Lithuania alone than there are students at Stanford altogether. There were students in Afghanistan, exfiltrating war zones to grab an hour of connectivity to finish the homework assignments. There were single mothers keeping the faith and staying with the course even as their families were being hit by tragedy. 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.

So what I was expecting was an announcement from Thrun that he was helping to reinvent university education: that he was moving all his Stanford courses online, that the physical class would be a space for students to get more personalized help. No more lecturing: instead, the classes would be taken on the students’ own time, and the job of the real-world professor would be to answer questions from kids paying $30,000 for their education.

But that’s not the announcement that Thrun gave. Instead, he said, he concluded that “I can’t teach at Stanford again.” He’s given up his tenure at Stanford, and he’s started a new online university called Udacity. He wants to enroll 500,000 students for his first course, on how to build a search engine — and of course it’s all going to be free.

1 Bruce Cleaver January 25, 2012 at 7:53 am

“… he realized that he had been running “weeder” classes, designed to be tough and make students fail and make himself, the professor, look good.”

This is a nice coda to all the ‘Why do so many STEM students quit or switch majors?” stories on the net a month or two ago. Consistent with my observations as well.

2 cournot January 25, 2012 at 8:32 am

And why shouldn’t all of college be a weeder? The problem with grade inflation is that humanities courses make it easy enough so that people who can’t even do 1950s level high school work get to skate through college. The signalling role of college is valuable and students who can’t master the material of a median college grad circa 1960 shouldn’t be allowed to go to college.

So yes, I think it would be a good thing if 5% of the Ivy League flunked, half of US college students were expelled, and a C were a respectable grade again. Then college would become a strong signal once more while inability to attend college would not serve as such a damning barrier to employment at most mid level jobs.

Online courses would be a valuable adjunct to learning, but college should be a place where learning is combined with high level certification. Perhaps people are too afraid to say this but I think this is what is badly needed in the US. Most of what is bad about colleges either stems from or is abetted by widespread grade inflation and lowered standards.

3 Tummler January 25, 2012 at 9:36 am

The problem is how weeder courses go about weeding out students. The requisite skill set it takes to get through, let alone excel, at weeder courses often bears little if no resemblance to the skill set required to be a meaningful contributor in any particular industry or field.

4 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Yeah, that’s probably the real issue. Dumping tons of annoying busywork on people to make them quit doesn’t actually result in a better class of graduates, so much as a class of graduates tolerant of tons of annoying busywork.

5 doctorpat January 26, 2012 at 10:59 pm

To be fair, that IS what is required in many professions. I say this as someone who is supposed to be doing his tax return for this quarter.

6 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 10:27 am

Because what do you want? Tyler bemoans the lack of science and engineering grads (which is bullshit but whatever I’ll indulge for a moment here) – do you want more of these? What you do in School is usually WAY harder then what you do in on the job, you don’t need to put people through a bootcamp in order to get a good crop of engineers. Grade inflation is mostly a problem caused by Humanities and Commerce majors and it HURTS STEM majors who have to compete with these people for access to certain professional post-grad programs.

7 Finch January 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm

> What you do in School is usually WAY harder then what you do in on the job

I don’t think that’s true at all. The only thing hard about school is that you have to do it when you’re 19 while you are still learning decent working habits. The complexity of the problems you deal with, and the consequences of screwing up, are relatively small.

8 Finch January 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Which is not to say that I think the things that were hard in college and the things that are hard in jobs are the same things. There’s some overlap, but that’s about as far as I’ll go.

9 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I guess it depends how you look at it – I don’t mind working on projects, assignments, etc. which is more along the lines of real-world work. I can’t STAND sitting around studying for exams – memorizing stuff making sure I’ve practiced every type of problem, etc. it’s pure tedium.

10 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 10:30 am

I agree with some of what you say here but again, this is true for the HUMANITIES not really for STEM. The problem is Humanities and Business programs have really sullied the signal from education.

11 The Original D January 25, 2012 at 10:37 am

In primary and high school we tend to blame the teacher if students don’t do well. In college we tend to blame the students. I think there’s space on the continuum at both levels. There is such a thing as a shitty college professor, even in STEM classes.

12 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 10:45 am

While most of my professors were fairly good , a bad STEM prof can do a lot more damage then a bad humanities prof since the material is typically more difficult to learn well on your own.

13 andy January 25, 2012 at 11:30 am

Remembering my days at the Uni, quite a lot of students actually did learn thing on their own… a decent book + an exam = a very high ability to learn on your own…

14 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Well you can learn it on your own, and you have to to some extent but if you’re just learning from a textbook what are all these big tuition fees for?

15 Andy January 26, 2012 at 1:43 am

No, STEM material is much easier to learn on your own. It’s very possible to get an A in a math/physics/CS class without going to lectures. But doing that in a humanities class is basically impossible.

16 Anon. January 25, 2012 at 8:08 am

If education is about signalling, weeder classes are a good thing though, no?

17 Corey January 25, 2012 at 9:11 am

Depends on what you think schools are for. Do they exist to expand opportunity to citizens or do they exist to provide barriers to entry for industry? Perhaps we should subsidize tutors instead of teachers?

18 Willitts January 25, 2012 at 9:44 am

Why is it one or the other? Why isn’t school both?

Calling them “barriers to entry” makes sense for work you can learn on the job. For jobs that require at least some level of skill or prerequisite knowledge (medicine, law, programming, accounting) it’s not a barrier.

19 Maximum Liberty January 25, 2012 at 10:29 am

As a lawyer, I have learned far more on the job than I did at law school. Further, there is nothing that I learned in law school that I could not have learned from a well-structured apprenticeship program – which law firms used to have before the American Bar Association successfully raised the standards. On the other side of the ledger, I have never used the knowledge gained from at least a third of my law school classes.


20 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 10:34 am

Yeah this is why in reality the idea that weeder courses help improve quality is crap. The connection to what you do and learn in school and what you perform on the job is pretty weak. What they usually do to weed people out in weeder courses is focus heavily on obscure theory which is largely useless in a practical sense.

21 Tummler January 25, 2012 at 11:36 am

Or reward the memorization of huge amounts of information that is quickly forgotten after the exam.

22 Cliff January 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Well, data point of one, I certainly did not have that experience. The big “weeder courses” were first year engineering fundamentals courses, which were about e.g. geometry and trigonometry, things like that. Basic and critical to all future classes.

23 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Yeah that’s true the worst courses like this are in first and second year, after that the difficulty just plateaus

24 Corey January 25, 2012 at 10:25 am

One could only accept your argument if there was a single positive correlation with barriers to entry. There isn’t.

All work can be learned on the job, even brain surgery. What is a “job” anyway? It’s just a situation in which a provider of a service is getting paid.

25 Slocum January 25, 2012 at 9:40 am

Not if they do their weeding based on irrelevant criteria. For example, virtually nobody outside a university spends much time in lectures. Why would you want to select for people who are especially adept at note-taking and remembering material delivered lecture style vs people who do better with written material or recorded lectures? A ‘weeder’ course often selects for the former, but as an employer, I’d rather have somebody who learns better independently. Also, a lecture-based weeder course selects for people who have minimal work or family obligations. But offer a little more flexibility and other students do better and the apparent superiority of people with plenty of money and uncomplicated lives disappears. Since, during their actual working lives, most employees will have many more obligations than university students, as an employer, I’d rather have somebody who excelled in university despite having a job, a kid, or both. Current weeder courses may be selecting for the wrong traits here again.

26 TheCrankyProfessor January 25, 2012 at 10:10 am

It seems to me that learning from lectures is not irrelevant to citizenship-decisions-via-television.

27 The Original D January 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

LOL. Though I’ll wager the median college graduate watches less television than the population at large.

28 Slocum January 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

You think the best way to gather information for making informed citizen decisions is…live television!? And people who prefer watching recorded material at their own convenience or reading on paper or on the web — are at a disadvantage? Really?

29 JG January 25, 2012 at 9:41 am

So, those who want a degree for its signalling value can go to a regular college and work their way through a traditional degree program. Those whose primary focus is learning and the acquisition of knowledge–for personal or professional reasons–can attend courses on Udacity, or the like.

30 Rob January 25, 2012 at 8:12 am

Alex, how about some equivalent courses in economics?

31 Tim January 25, 2012 at 8:20 am


32 Paul Johnson January 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

Another +1

33 Dave January 25, 2012 at 8:35 am

Stanford is adding a course in game theory this February to it’s free online offerings, as well as something in “model thinking”, which looks to have some touchpoints with economics. http://www.game-theory-class.org/

34 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 10:36 am

Game Theory is basically just common sense dressed up with some high-school math (unless they decide to delve in the topology-base proofs). Good thing it’s free, it’s not a subject worth paying to learn.

35 Rahul January 25, 2012 at 11:52 am

As opposed to? What subjects are worth paying to learn?

36 IVV January 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Basic reading and arithmetic.

37 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm

There’s other subjects out there that are more difficult and hence probably worth paying someone to teach you. I took Game Theory and I was thoroughly unimpressed – this was supposed to be the big upper-level economics pffff.

38 Cliff January 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Maybe the problem is you were in Canada?

39 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 2:48 pm

That IS a problem – but for other reasons, I don’t see how it’s relevant here.

40 Peter H January 26, 2012 at 12:19 am

Keep in mind that economics is not a hard science but a social science. If you walked into an upper-level philosophy seminar and called it common sense with some obscure terminology, you’d be making a serious error.

The frame of reference and structure of how we look at incentives is nontrivial, even if it doesn’t involve difficult math.

41 Philip Crawford January 25, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Common Sense? I recommend you read a bit about hard-wired failures of the human brain with math.


Or, more recently is Kahneman

Although I have no knowledge of the content of the class, so it is possible you are correct.

42 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 7:22 pm

“so it is possible you are correct.”

Have I ever been anything but?

43 Corporate Serf January 28, 2012 at 1:11 am

You know not of what you speak

44 iamreddave January 25, 2012 at 9:11 am


45 Maximum Liberty January 25, 2012 at 10:31 am


46 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

You know Brad Delong used to put his lectures online on his blog. His Economic history lectures were pretty good.

47 NAME REDACTED January 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

I concur. I’d totally listen to some micro or medical econ courses from Alex.

48 GW January 25, 2012 at 8:27 am

Rob wrote:

“Alex, how about some equivalent courses in economics?”

There will certainly be an interesting waiting game here (indeed a game of chicken), among all of those currently in in well-paid positions teaching the “weeders” to captive paying (enrolled) students, to see who will be the first to jump into the market. We will then have an opportunity to see who actually offers am effective course and who has been riding it out on the strength of their enrollees and the prestige of their institution. I predict, however, that several top names in the Intro to Econ business will conveniently retire from these courses before the competition begins.

49 Bill January 25, 2012 at 9:13 am

There are already econ courses of high quality online from Yale, Berkeley, etc. Just go to oercommons.org or check out ITunesU.

50 Master of None January 25, 2012 at 8:37 am

How many MR readers would finance a Kickstarter campaign to finance either Tyler or Alex’s first 5 years of salary if they ditch the traditional model and join Udacity (or equivalent)? Assume a viable business model that allows it to be “free”.

I guess lots.

In terms of demand for the intro macro/micro courses, I think it would be staggering. I personally know at least 100 people that would sign up (myself included).

51 NAME REDACTED January 25, 2012 at 10:12 am

That would be excellent. As it is, I imagine a substancial portion of their income already comes from book sales.

52 Rahul January 25, 2012 at 11:53 am

What $ figure would that be, approximately?

53 Peter H January 26, 2012 at 12:25 am

Although I didn’t find their salaries hard to look up, I won’t post exact figures here out of deference to their privacy. The combined amount you’re looking for is in the neighbourhood of 1.5 million, not including any ancillary benefits (e.g. health insurance, pension, travel expenses).

54 Rahul January 26, 2012 at 1:31 am

To think MR commentators could raise that amount is a bit hard to believe.

55 Benny Lava January 25, 2012 at 8:39 am

Weeder courses were the moment when I realized that universities were not really in the business of teaching. Such a waste of money.

56 Willitts January 25, 2012 at 10:18 am

I didn’t figure that out until graduate school.

57 MIchael Foody January 25, 2012 at 8:46 am

I think this a powerful idea. Currently the state subsidizes education pretty heavily because of the externalities that education creates, but in theory it would be possible for the state to create a system of education tools that was a true public good. Currently the text book industry is a odd hybrid of public and private dominated by rent seeking behavior. It is subject to most of the downsides associated with the public sector without enjoying the upsides. If would be possible and likely desirable to create a ‘public option’ for textbooks and educational materials. Certain subjects like mathematics, grammar, chemistry, physics, english as a second language would be perfect for this. Other subjects may be too subjective or contain controversies that would make them less well suited for this treatment.

In mathematics for example it would be possible to create computer adaptive problem sets that build on one another integrating new concepts and ratcheting up complexity at a pace tailored to the ability of the student. The private sector could do this as well of course but the costs of marketing and preventing piracy and keeping the product profitable in perpetuity may very well mean inferior results compared to a freely available, open, solution.

This endeavor could offer significant cost savings over the current model. Ultimately open access education materials are a public good (zero marginal cost, difficult to exclude) with positives externalities.

58 Willitts January 25, 2012 at 9:47 am

Education doesn’t create much external benefits beyond high school.

59 Dan Hanson January 25, 2012 at 11:19 am

In that case, I have a modest proposal: Any course that ends in ‘studies’ should be taxed because of the negative externalities it creates.

60 Corporate Serf January 28, 2012 at 1:13 am

it would be possible to create computer adaptive problem sets that build on one another integrating new concepts and ratcheting up complexity at a pace tailored to the ability of the student.


61 Hamilton January 25, 2012 at 9:03 am

As someone who just wants to spend his days teaching students, I see this as the guarantee that my hoped-for job will vanish in my lifetime. I have no doubt that this will be a boon to millions who would otherwise not acquire such knowledge, but I can’t help being sad that I am the soon-to-be structurally unemployed…

62 Bill January 25, 2012 at 9:17 am

Agreed, but there will be jobs for tutors ala Mr. Chips. I can envision brushing up o some very high level math classes online, and receiving some help from a $10/hour tutor in India via skype. Anyone aware of online third world tutors.

63 Flore February 1, 2012 at 11:23 am

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66 Willitts January 25, 2012 at 10:16 am

You won’t be half as sad as fighter pilots who will see unmanned aircraft replace them, and perform manoeuvers that no human being could do or withstand. The biggest limitation to fighter performance is the water balloon in the cockpit that mustn’t break during flight.

I just heard that GM retook the world lead in automobile production with 31,000 fewer employees than they had before. Most of them probably weren’t essential at the start of the recession – expensive paychecks with no productivity.

The relevant question is what we will do when most labour is obsolete. Will development involve everyone doing what machines cannot or what one person can do to replace many? The correct answer is that people must find new ways to be productive, but will they?

Professors freed from teaching can go back to what they really get paid for – research. I never saw an effective course on how to do research; mentorship and mimicry are essential.

67 hamilton January 25, 2012 at 10:47 am

“Professors freed from teaching can go back to what they really get paid for – research.”

I see between very little and absolutely no value in social science research, and certainly my own research is completely worthless. I can assure you that, while research what professors certainly think they’re getting paid for–and what many large private and public institutions actually compensate them for–what the state legislators who pay those salaries at state schools are really paying for is teaching undergraduates so they can get good jobs. And so when that goes away, I too shall go away. While this is certainly a boon to many, many people, and I wouldn’t try to use chicanery to stop it, it makes me sad that I’ve just finished training for a third of my life for a profession that I probably won’t have for very long at all.

68 mulp January 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm

With the vehicle market down 40% when GM retook the lead with less than a 40% reduction in workers, GM actually increased its workforce. And a big reason GM was able to regain the lead was its good fortune in having Honda, Toyota, and Nissan be forced by mother earth to increase its payroll to recover from earth quakes. GM has started new factories, and partnered with new firms, to manufacture new components, and that has required increased employment of people who are considered unproductive by most economists – R&D workers.

69 londenio January 25, 2012 at 10:19 am

@Hamilton. This is also an opportunity for teachers. You can now teach thousands, not merely hundreds or students a year. In fact, it raises the market value of those who invest in teaching ability. Admittedly, it also turns the system into a winner-take-it-all one. But the opportunity is still there. You can take it all …

70 Really Curious January 25, 2012 at 9:20 am

The Udacity of Hope

71 Yancey Ward January 25, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Bravo! Simply, bravo!

72 Dangerman January 25, 2012 at 9:30 am

What about the fact that many of those online students only signed up because the “Stanford” name was attached?

73 The Original D January 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

In the near term, legacy brands matter, but quality is what matters over the long term. Once upon a time Amazon was probably scared to death of Borders and Barnes & Noble.

74 the Commentariette January 25, 2012 at 9:31 am

I think it’s important to remember that the online version of the Stanford AI class was only a fairly small subset of the class that the on-campus students took.

All of the homework, quizzes, and exam questions had to be things that could be graded automatically (e.g. fill-in-the-blank), and the students couldn’t receive any individual feedback on their work. The online class didn’t include the projects and free response elements that the on-campus class did and that’s really essential for being able to apply advanced material in a professional context. Quizzes and exercises are great for ensuring strong basis of master of facts and methods and as Khan Academy (for example) has shown, computer-based techniques can be extremely effective for this, but it’s not sufficient .

Also, in the online class, there was no provision against cheating: Since there was nothing to gain from cheating, there was simply no need to do anything to prevent it. If students can actually gain a meaningful credential from such a class, it will be necessary – and probably not cheap – to prevent falsification.

75 Michael Foody January 25, 2012 at 10:21 am

Our current model of education includes things like non-participatory lectures, reading assignments, and problem sets with zero marginal cost. It also includes lots of other elements with a non-zero marginal cost. We have some ability to effectively substitute the items with a high marginal cost but that isn’t unlimited. That doesn’t mean that we can’t substitute these with fairly low costs alternatives. In fact universities mostly do this today by having low paid teaching assistants handle a lot of the one on one interaction. In a world where classes like this are standard we could probably do something similar where sub-experts offer instruction on a more individual level at lower cost either in person at teaching centers or remotely via video conferencing with screen sharing.

Provisions against cheating do cost money but they are incredibly cheap relative to the status quo. Standardized tests like the LSAT, GRE, SAT are very profitable at a 1 to 2 hundred dollars a person and this includes the cost of actually creating the test and robust reporting systems. The US gvt offers certain exams like the foreign service exam that may serve as a model for compartmentalized credentialing systems that exist parallel to open education tools.

76 KLO January 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm

The LSAT, GRE and SAT do not have strong security measures to combat cheating. All rely on largely untrained proctors who get paid small sums to administer the tests to hundreds of students at once. The security, such as it is, consists of the proctor checking an easily falsifiable photo ID against the name printed on the admission ticket. Any person determined to cheat can, largely with impunity.

The extent of the cheating is unknown, because the test manufacturers have little incentive to find out. If they looked hard and discovered that cheating was rampant, they would have to impose greater security regimes the cost of which could not easily be recaptured from higher fees. Instead, the test makes work hard to give convince people that the tests are secure, without actually providing any significant security at all. This is far cheaper than real security.

77 mulp January 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I love how a large segment of people think: assume people are cheating. Voters are cheating. Students are cheaters, Politicians are cheaters. Borrowers are cheaters.

Of course, CEOs and bankers aren’t cheaters because cheating is a moral issue and in business, profit is the only metric and business practice is totally amoral.

Students who cheat are cheating themselves. One might argue that someone who can “pass the test” to solve the problem of getting into a job where he is able to deliver the goods by being extremely innovative in overcoming the obstacles to solving problems is only a cheat in the eyes of those who can’t be as successful. If someone cheats his way into being way over his head and becomes a huge failure, who is the victim of the cheating? Maybe the MBA who thinks employees are a commodity that is picked based on degrees and certificates instead of personal experience with the employee demonstrating high competence, but the MBA is supposedly a master of business and in failing to understand what makes a good employee, he has cheated to get his MBA – he is not a master of business.

78 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm

What the fuck are you talking about?

79 Doug January 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm

CBBB, that is your best comment ever.

80 Michael Foody January 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Under the status quo people people’s credentials are significantly allocated both on performance on actual standardized tests and by their performance on University exams with even less security than standardized tests and on assignments that have potentially greater opportunities for cheating.

Your pointing out that motivated parties can game the systems currently in place does not provide much of a counterpoint to the idea that online education is not likely to be cost effective because of the costs of credentialing.

81 The Original Frank January 25, 2012 at 9:40 am

As Michael said upthread, MC = 0. But somebody has to pay the fixed cost. For the moment, we can safely say it’s coming out of endowment. Why? What do Stanford and MIT expect of this? A gain in prestige? Future surplus from charging students for a credential? –MITx sounds a lot like MIT lite.

82 The Original D January 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

Donations from former students who get rich creating these technologies. 😉

83 Nicoli January 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I could see MIT or Stanford making a ton if they could create basic certifications that were internationally recognized or at the least, known. I could also see others making a ton on creating ways to cheat those certification systems.

84 Willitts January 25, 2012 at 10:01 am

For thirty years the US military has had correspondence courses and blended learning as part of their training curriculum. In some cases the self-taught course was more difficult because it had exams while the resident course did not, e.g. the Command and General Staff College. Now they have gone from correspondence courses to computer based training.

Nevertheless the resident courses were and are still considered superior. Merely being selected for the resident course is prestigious. There is some degree of signalling and some degree of learning. Ultimately it is a filter for advancement.

(These are courses on leadership, strategy, budgeting, administration, etc, not specifically how to kill people and blow things up)

85 TT January 25, 2012 at 10:36 am

Seems like a great idea, not just for reaching out to prospective students, but professors who love teaching, which R1 universities tend to disregard. Took a look at the career opportunities and the stringent criteria to become an instructor (5+ years experience teaching at a top-tier university, PhD/JD/MD required) bodes well for the quality of the courses.

86 EM DC Economist January 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

Inspirational. This will do more to lower global inequity than any of the grand multilateral/philanthropic interventions. Technology has been blamed for rising inequity (Tom Friedman’s column today is the latest example). While this is certainly true, people fail to point out how technology *can* actually be used to break down barriers to entry and learning. The Khan academy, MIT’s OCW , Thurn and several others will change the nature of education at *all* levels and help create a more level playing field.

There was always the potential – I am so glad that it is becoming a reality.

87 JD January 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I don’t trust anything Tom Friedman says, even when I agree with it.

88 JC January 25, 2012 at 10:49 am

We don’t need more science and engineering nerds. We need self-starters with business acumen and strong social skills. Science and engineering is valuable only in so far as it serves the latter.

Only one recent example of success without a STEM education:

89 Rahul January 25, 2012 at 11:56 am

And what will this army of glib businessmen sell?

90 Nicoli January 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Self-help books on how to become a successful businessman.

91 mulp January 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm

How to lobby Congress for more H1B visas and better tax advantages to contract with Asian contract design and manufacturers while blaming US governments for failing to provide the educated workforce, infrastructure, and subsidies to R&D that are found in Asia and Europe.

I noted with irony the example Obama used of the “public-private” partnership to train a US worker – the firm was one of the failed European socialist corporation which is controlled by unions and subject to all sorts of EU social engineering with managers training in the European socialist corporate-society contract that is US economist teach is a violation of the sole responsibility of managers: profits without morality. Of course Siemens would work together with government to train the workers it needs because it must do that in its home, Germany

92 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

While I agree there’s no need for more STEM people – there’s a huge surplus already, we definitely don’t need more self-serving “business”men. Most of the people you describe end up as nothing more then parasites sucking value from those whole do work. Think “consultants” or recruiters, stock traders, etc. When it comes to starting successful businesses most of that is routed in people who can design a product or service and often have some solid technical know-how. These “self-starters” with “strong social skills” tend to wind up as snake oil salesmen.

93 The Original D January 26, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I saw Rubenstein speak at Aspen a couple years ago. He spoke for more an hour without notes about the history of the Emancipation Proclamation, which he purchased at auction a few years before and loaned to the White House. Extremely bright guy.

94 athEIst January 25, 2012 at 11:14 am

I had a friend a year ahead of me. He went to Yale majoring in Chemistry. Two years in, he realized he spent every waking moment on his chemistry courses AND they pulled his GPA down. Evenutally he gave in. He now has a PhD in eighteenth century diplomatic history from Yale. He’s lucky, he teaches at UW at Madison. How many experts in 18th century diplomatic history do we need….

95 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm

If you go to Yale you can get away with majoring in something like that. Chemistry is also a REALLY useless degree unless he was going to get his PhD in it – and it doesn’t sound like he was.

96 Unsympathetic January 25, 2012 at 11:23 am

JC is 100% wrong.

We don’t need any more self-righteous, ignorant business majors running around attempting to “define” how engineers and scientists step through the day-to-day hard work of the research and innovation which are the backbone of our economy. Efficient manufacturing plants require engineers to maintain and improve the production lines.

Business majors are only valuable when they serve the scientists. Business majors accomplish zip on their own.

If you think the above is incorrect, why is the FIRE sector under 10% in a healthy economy? If business majors did something useful, that’s where the driving force of an economy would be.

97 TT January 25, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Indeed. So saw Thorstein Veblen.

98 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Shrug. Business majors would argue engineers accomplish zip on their own, and are only useful when they serve the business majors.

99 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Yeah that’s what JC said

100 Unsympathetic January 25, 2012 at 6:19 pm

JC was proven wrong above, and unless you can answer his comments, you’re wrong also.

Let’s see those business-major smarts!

101 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Oh, you “proved” him wrong? Okay.

You have a great engineering idea. Now, make it profitable.

First, you need a cost accountant to figure out how much it’s costing you to make it. Next you need some sales guys to sell your product. And you’re going to need someone who can, you know, run a business

Engineers add value, sometimes enormous value, but they’re just one piece.

102 JC January 25, 2012 at 7:16 pm

I’m only partially wrong. Technology is useless unless it is brought to market. Businessmen (or STEM people who are working as businessmen) bring products to market. Yes, efficient manufacturing plants require engineers to maintain and improve the production lines. But that’s all to serve a company run by managers who can efficiently distribute the final product. Engineering skills are worth nothing unless they can serve the interests of a business-savvy individual who can translate their ideas into sales.

I’m not sure your claim about the FIRE sector is correct. The services sector tends to be larger in advanced economies, while developing economies tend to have larger manufacturing sectors.

I think the better argument is that individuals can make a transition from STEM to business (and often do so with success) much more easily than the opposite. By having more STEM educated people, we will also have better managers and entrepreneurs.

103 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 9:09 pm

What an odd remark Why would you think Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate are even a majority of where business majors end up?

104 Silas Barta January 25, 2012 at 11:24 am

There were students in Afghanistan, exfiltrating war zones to grab an hour of connectivity to finish the homework assignments.

I would ~love~ to see the proof of that, if it actually exists.

105 Manolis January 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm

You do understand it probably refers to NATO/ISAF troops and not to locals, right?

106 Silas Barta January 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Yes, as and I mentioned as much in my comment on Felix_Salmon’s blog. There’s still a big difference between, “NATO troops in Afghanistan did the course in their free time” vs. what his blog hyperbolically claims, which is that people within a war zone “exfiltrated” to “grab an hour” of connectivity just to complete their assignments. That’s positing an extremely unrealistic way for it to have happened, and is written to make it sound like it’s poor Afghanis who squeezed this in between shellings.

To the extent that NATO troops were taking the course, they most likely had well-defined off-hours and didn’t have to leave any war zone for a mere “hour of connectivity” in which to complete this.

This is synecdoche at its absolute worst. Bad writer! No cookie!

107 Jon January 25, 2012 at 11:25 am

“The signalling role of college is valuable and students who can’t master the material of a median college grad circa 1960 shouldn’t be allowed to go to college.”

Why 1960? Regress it to, say, 1860, and I very much doubt whether 99.999% of current students would get in, as they wouldn’t be able to do the Latin and Greek translations required.

Time change. For example, when my father did chemistry in the UK in the 1950s he needed to know German, because most of the best textbooks were as-then untranslated. But insisting on that now would be daft.

108 Rahul January 25, 2012 at 12:01 pm

A problem in American universities is that the same person teaches and evaluates. This always seemed bizarre to me; but people don’t seem to mind much. Puzzles me. At least in core undergrad courses shouldn’t there be enough consensus about what needs to be taught and tested to make teaching and testing separate functions?

109 jimi January 25, 2012 at 2:02 pm


110 mulp January 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Can anyone point to any successful online chemistry, physics, medical, machining, welding, HVAC programs that even provide a two year associates degree or certificate?

When you listen to CEOs complain about not finding the workers they need in the US, they are often talking about geologists (mining), welders and machinists, biochemists, specialists in physics (material science), physics and chemistry (product engineers). Not many complain they can’t find MBAs or lawyers or economists or teachers or social workers which seem to be big in online education.

Is the idea that by slashing the costs of the liberal arts teaching, the public spending on education can be diverted to much higher funding for STEM education?

111 Unsympathetic January 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm

The idea is that they can’t “find” skilled workers willing to work for the slave-labor wages they want to pay. It’s code for decreasing the salaries of the middle class, expanding the “H1 visa” program – aka indentured servitude – or some combination of the two.

There’s plenty of skilled workers, they’ve just decided in their own minds that they shouldn’t have to pay for those skills.. because they want to pay themselves a gazillion dollars for the genius idea of ripping off their workers.

112 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm

this is the reality, there’s tonnes of skilled people out there but employers want to be able to get these people to work for them for next to nothing. Funny enough though these guys have no problem showering MBAs and Lawyers with excessive pay.

113 torris187 January 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I have never looked for one, but I have never found an online law school or an online economics program (a program that actually requires calculas and statistics). Also, I don’t think getting an online degree in Economics would be worth anything.

I agree with you on the MBA online programs, there is a surplus of online MBA grads, however their is a shortage of Economics Masters.

When I went to grad school for Economics, we had 29 Economics Masters Students 70 Finance Masters Students, 80 Accounting Masters Students, most all of them had jobs straight out of graduating.

On the flipside, we had around 400+ MBA students at our school, many of which did not get a promotion or job hire with their new degree.

114 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Shortage of Economics Masters? To do what? Propagandize for big business?

115 torris187 January 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

To price, forecast, report. I view Economics as a technical degree, same as engineering. I know there are Economists who sit around and theorize about how the world should be. But as for me and everbody on my team who holds an Economics degree, we do math and price goods and forecast sales.

116 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 2:58 pm

So then hire some kind of stats, math or physics person. I mean you need a masters in economics JUST to get to sort of the base level of what an undergraduate in math would teach you

117 torris187 January 25, 2012 at 3:05 pm

I don’t know what business you are in, but you can’t just have a pure “math” person. You still have to have a very sound understanding of how the business and economics work. You have to make the pricing, forecasting and reporting, but you still have to know the business part of it.

We hired a person on our team with a masters in Engineering, the person did the reporting very well, but did poorly in the business advising of the role and the understanding of accounting purposes. As of right now, 11/12 people on our team hold MA’s in Finance or Economics.

Economics is a very desirable degree, I don’t know where you have a job or are trying to get one. But as for Coporate fortune 500 companies, an Economics degree is very good when it comes to being any type of analyst or advisor.

118 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I don’t see how an economics degree teaches you about “the business” – that’s specific to the actual business, not something you’re going to learn in a university program

119 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Interesting, thanks for sharing.

The MBA doesn’t surprise me, really. I think of that more as a job-hopping, “get a better next job” degree.

120 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm

As someone who took the course, I thought it was a great way to learn. The little videos were very helpful. I only wish the timing was better, I was working 70+ hrs during the official coursework period.

As has been noted all over, we need more STEM, there are not enough people learning these skills.

121 CBBB January 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm

No there’s more then enough STEM people, the fault lies on the employer side. And you know what? I bet if one of those people who got perfect in that class brought that up in an interview they’d be laughed out of the room by the humanities educated HR rep who makes the decisions.

122 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Every salary survey says they need STEM. Marketable skills are in demand.

Hell, even trainable people are in demand. We hired a girl out of college who barely knew what SAP was. She’ll probably leave for a six-figure job somewhere else in a year or two. Win-win.

123 Me, Myself and AI January 25, 2012 at 11:47 pm

As one of those 248 students with a perfect score, I doubt anyone would react negatively if I brought it up – when you’re smart and well educated people tend to not laugh at you over something that’s an expected consequence of you being smart and well educated.

124 TallDave January 26, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Nicely done! I hope they leave that class open, when I get through a couple projects I hope to revisit it.

125 Silas Barta January 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm

I thought the AI one sucked and was unnecessarily tedious. Since I was concurrently taking the ML class, I just dropped the AI one and focused on ML.

If I had known Thrun was using it as a way to find smart people to hire, I would have acted differently.

(I hate people who classify my actions as “not wanting to work now for a future benefit” — as I saw it, that future benefit did not exist!)

126 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I like AI, though I have no career plans in that direction. YMMV.

127 Unsympathetic January 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm

As has been noted all over, you’re wrong, TallDave.

128 JD January 25, 2012 at 6:40 pm

“Politicians and educators have been wringing their hands for years over test scores showing American students falling behind their counterparts in Slovenia and Singapore. How will the United States stack up against global rivals in innovation? The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.” “’We’re losing an alarming proportion of our nation’s science talent once the students get to college,’ says Mitchell J. Chang, an education professor at U.C.L.A. who has studied the matter. ‘It’s not just a K-12 preparation issue.’”

129 Unsympathetic January 26, 2012 at 11:38 am

The NYT article is gratuitous corporate schlock. Engineering isn’t “hard” – it’s stupid to get that degree when jobs are going overseas, or to H1visas that pay 2/3 of what other majors pay. If American politicians eliminated the H1 visa and increased the starting salary for engineers in America — like the 1960’s when graduate engineers made MORE than mba’s — you’d see plenty of good engineers. Right now you don’t “see” those jobs because companies don’t hire American, they wait to get an H1Visa so they can have an indentured servant.

130 Dan Weber January 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm

> If American politicians . . . increased the starting salary for engineers in America


131 TallDave January 26, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Nonsense, every salary survey says otherwise. Engineers can easily make six figure incomes, and some become billionaires.

Also, those H-1s don’t stay cheap long. I work with a dozen immigrants who all make six figures. Some have a poor grasp of English.

The problem is we cannot find qualified Americans for these jobs.

132 Bill January 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Given the success of the Stanford AI class, I wonder how long it will be before someone awardiding college scholarships based on online college summer courses taken by high school juniors

133 TallDave January 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Yeah, I’d like to teach my kids 3 languages before high school.

134 Bernie Richter January 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm

People are talking about the way HUM classes inflate grades…. Well, I can tell you as a teacher of those courses that the driving force behind that inflation were not HUM majors but science and math majors who didn’t take writing, argumentation, and critical thinking skills seriously. Plus, people who major in BIO, MATH, ECON, they certainly have the edge in the job market and not for no good reason.

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