Friday, December 23, 2011

Learning Algorithms online

No, this is not about online algorithms, nor about learning theory.

I have signed up for Tim Roughgarden's online course on Algorithms,

One might wonder why I need to learn about divide-and-conquer, searching, quicksort and shortest paths. In fact, I'll be teaching Algorithms myself at the same time. What's wrong with me? Do I plan to steal Tim's lectures and repeat them verbatim to my students, thus sparing myself the need to understand the material? Have I been secretly incompetent during all the years during which I pretended to teach the material, and is this a remedial course to finally patch my ignorance in my alleged area of expertise? Am I so stingy that I can't refuse something that is offered for free? Or have I so bought into the school system of grades and diplomas that I can't pass on the chance for an easy way to get one more certificate? In a few months I will be able to add it to my vita, and perhaps it'll help me get a raise. Or do I enjoy criticizing other people so much that I'm going be watching those videos of Tim and snickering, and then posting on my blog nasty comments about every slip that might occur? Am I secretly in love with Tim, or do I secretly bear a grudge against him?

None of those reasons. I am curious to see someone else teach the same material that I teach. I look forward to the ability of fast-forwarding the parts I have down pat, and paying careful attention to the material which I have trouble conveying to my students. Perhaps I can use some of it to improve my own teaching.

Additionally, I am curious to see how the Stanford online courses work in practice, with the thought, in the back of my mind, that perhaps I will also engage in online teaching in the future, if the technology is user-friendly enough. The idea of higher education freely available to all in that manner is fascinating, and experiencing how it plays out on a familiar subject might help me understand the strong points and the weaknesses of the approach.


  1. The biggest benefit of online teaching: it will improve teaching in the real world.

  2. After you watch Tim teaching algorithms, you will fall in love with him.

  3. Anonymous 1:54: for those of us who have access to high quality university level education, that's probably true. But beyond that, there are others: the AI course offered this fall at Stanford was taken by some soldiers deployed in Iraq and even by someone in Tibet. There's something truly amazing about that.

    Anonymous 2:18: that would be dreadfully inconvenient and will be avoided at all costs. Thanks for the warning!

  4. Claire, did you manage to interview Andy Yao?

  5. No, not really.
    I asked him what research area Brown should hire in.
    I asked him what research areas they were going to grow, and how they were planning to go about it.
    I asked him what it's like to move back to one's country of origin after living in the US for many years, and if readjusting had been difficult for them.
    I asked him about being director of an institute rather than focusing on doing research. Why did he make that choice, and didn't he miss doing research?

    But for all the more professional questions, he gave diplomatic, uncontroversial answers, that did not contain nuggets that blog readers could hatch on. And for the other questions, it was more like a personal conversation, not something to broadcast to the whole world. (Not that there was anything objectionable or that should be hidden, but it still seemed to me to belong to the private sphere, not to the blogosphere.)


    What would you have asked him in my place?

  6. I feel strongly learning the topic, however I need to learn more on this topic. Carry on your updates..!!

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  7. Hi, I’ve been a lurker around your blog for a few months. I love this article and your entire site! Looking forward to reading more!

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  8. And traditional education can learn something from online schooling as well.


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