January 24, 2012

"You can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture your 20 students."

"But I’ve taken the red pill, and I’ve seen Wonderland."

Strange mixed metaphor! (The red pill is supposed to get you to reality, but Wonderland is a dream.) But mixing metaphors doesn't make your idea wrong, and Sebastian Thrun is a professor of computer science, not a professor of rhetoric. He's leaving his tenured position at Stanford to found Udacity:

31 comments:

Larvell said...

If you take the blue pill, you can do more than lecture to those 20 students, if you know what I mean.

Henry said...

This is very awesome.

Long before Kahn Academy, the web had a million obscure tutorials. If you wanted to learn math or HTML or programming you could do it -- but it meant picking through a lot of dross and it was hard to find good information on advanced topics.

Kahn Academy was the game changer, first because it was a site that committed to a full spread of courses presented to anyone who cares to put in the time; second, because it attracted so much attention.

There are other rapidly evolving platforms in the same market. I've bookmarked Code Academy (http://www.codecademy.com/) for future use. Though I still google up tutorials and reference works on an as-needed basis.

ChrisF said...

I believe he was using the Matrix version, where the red pill takes you out of the "safe, expected" and the blue pill keeps you a prisoner.

bagoh20 said...

Those who think we can protect U.S. jobs through protectionism should take notice. Soon anybody with access to a computer can learn at the highest levels anywhere in the world for free. Freedom will be the only thing separating the successful nations from the not, and we aren't leading in that area anymore either. If we continue on our current path, we will soon be moving from arrogance to envy. I'm a fanatic about American Exceptionalism, but it was always fueled by freedom and optimism.

pm317 said...
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X said...

The writing is on the wall. Is our teachers learning? Either embrace the internet and technology to drive productivity or get left behind. How long do you think you can keep information behind a too expensive real world paywall? Congratulations to Mr. Thrun on realizing his potential to help more people realize theirs.

pm317 said...

It is amusing to see how he could not understand why his students were fleeing and how they preferred to watch his video. Haha.. what a way to deflate the egos of these narcissistic professors. 'What you don't appreciate being in the same room as this famous man!'

So fine, he copied/stole the idea from Khan Academy and Khan is not even some successful tenured prof at some highly expensive university. So where will Stanford be and these tenured famous professors be if Khan-like academies catch on?

EMD said...

Chris is correct.

Ann Althouse said...

"I believe he was using the Matrix version, where the red pill takes you out of the "safe, expected" and the blue pill keeps you a prisoner."

I know, that's why my link goes to the relevant clip from "The Matrix." My problem is the disconnect with "Wonderland," which is a dream.

Ann Althouse said...

"Wonderland" would be a more apt word for the life you remain in if you take the blue pill in "The Matrix."

BTW, why was a pill needed to remain where he was? That's something that makes no sense in "The Matrix."

F said...

Glenn Reynolds has been blogging about the higher education bubble for years now. That colleges and universities are pricing themselves out of the market, especially given the top-heavy nature of their administration and the quality of their output, is a subject that has interested Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder for many years now.

All of which is to say the subject of overpriced higher education is not new, yet somehow it doesn't seem to gain much traction with the so-called intelligenstia.

I guess if the folks setting the narrative for political discussion are the very ones who would most be hurt by a change in the status quo, we shouldn't expect to see the status quo change.

Now we're seeing another example (along with Khan Academy) of an educational process that dramatically transforms the educational establishment. Will American professors and college administrators embrace this? Doesn't seem likely. And in tonight's State of the Union, we're certainly going to be treated to more of the same: promises to "invest" large sums of money in an educational system that has been failing for decades and in any case is not turning out graduates that are being snapped up by American business.

I wonder, if the buggy whip industry had had a large union behind them, would we still see companies turning out thousands of buggy whips?

WV: supple. What the American academy and US politicians are not.

Ron said...

BTW, why was a pill needed to remain where he was? That's something that makes no sense in "The Matrix."

I believe the implication is that by taking one pill or the other you lock yourself into that version of the world; if you have not taken any pill...you could 'see the truth' or not, and remain potentially 'convertable'.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

BTW, why was a pill needed to remain where he was? That's something that makes no sense in "The Matrix."

Since the whole scene was virtual and symbolic, taking a pill -- one or the other -- was a symbol of making a choice. Not doing anything was indecision. They wanted an active champion, not a passive person waiting for forces to act upon him.

Crimso said...

I don't know whether to laugh or apply (for a position).

edutcher said...

The wave of the future.

Why make yourself sit in front of a tenured, hard Left liberal arts prof who'll flunk you if you don't regurgitate his Commie fantasies because you need the credit when you can just go up on the web and learn what you need?

Henry said...

This is very awesome.

Long before Kahn Academy, the web had a million obscure tutorials. If you wanted to learn math or HTML or programming you could do it -- but it meant picking through a lot of dross and it was hard to find good information on advanced topics.


I'd disagree on finding advanced info, but, yeah, this does streamline things.

chuck b. said...

This is only going to work if the instruction is GOOD. How much instruction is genuinely good? NOT MUCH.

I took the online Artificial Intelligence class last quarter. Prof. Thrun was excellent and all his video instruction was highly watchable. Otoh, his colleague Prof. Norvig was a bore and his videos were a slog. A whole course of him teaching in this format would be a flop.

MIT has had several courses online for years--and instruction in all the videos I've viewed is execellent--but Stanford took it to the next level by having quizzes, homework, and tests. I thoroughly enjoyed the AI class, moreso than the actual classes I was taking concurrently (and paying for). I was inspired to code up some of the algorithms the course covered and I added them to my online portfolio.

Triangle Man said...

@Henry

codeacademy.com is a great idea, but they are dribbling out new courses at a very slow rate.

Levi Starks said...

Red vs Blue? It was simply a devise to move the story line along. The choice between something and nothing doesn't leave you feeling satisfied, and obviously Neo had to chose the pill that moved the plot along. Now think in terms of politics, I would argue there is essentially no difference between the "red" or "blue" but in order to maintain the illusion that we live in a democracy we need to be presented with choices. The difference between real life and the matrix is that in the matrix there really were 2 distinct options, in real life our political "choice" at best will affect our rate of acceleration into the abyss.

Levi Starks said...

And... I signed up for the "how to build a search engine class" Interactive textbooks from Apple, Free online classes from elite college professors this is a paradigm shift if ever Ive seen one.
Also if you'll go back and review Obamas first state of the union address I believe you'll find him saying that to fix our educational system we need to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom, and retrain them to do something they're good at. Care to take a guess at how many teachers have been removed from classes during his first three years? with school districts in financial distress all across the nation we had a golden opportunity to "thin the herd", but instead we've spent billions upon billions making sure none of Obama's voting core... oops I mean teachers loose their job in the current economic downturn.

Ann Althouse said...

"Since the whole scene was virtual and symbolic, taking a pill -- one or the other -- was a symbol of making a choice. Not doing anything was indecision. They wanted an active champion, not a passive person waiting for forces to act upon him."

But what woke him up if not the red pill? He was always physically in that chamber, inside a dream, but somehow he was able to wake up. I guess it couldn't have been the pill, because he wasn't even in the same physical space with Morpheus. It's more like waking yourself up inside a dream, like the way — supposedly — you can get a dream to become a lucid dream if you can look at your hands in the dream. (At the point where you think, is this a dream, if you can think of looking at your hands and make yourself look at them, at that point you will have the level of awareness that makes it a lucid dream. Similarly, perhaps you could have a cue that you use when you suspect you're in a dream that is then a way of waking up, like: I'm going to pinch myself until I feel it.)

Ann Althouse said...

Of course, my point about "wonderland" and mixed metaphors remains rock solid.

Scott M said...

Of course, my point about "wonderland" and mixed metaphors remains rock solid.

When anyone begins a sentence with "Of course" it's a clue that they are talking down to you. In AA's case, I'll chalk it up to latent professoring.

Morpheus told Neo that if he took the blue bill, he basically went on with his old life (which both of them knew was miserable for Neo). He told Neo that he could take the red pill and find out just how deep the rabbit hole went.

If you want to blame someone for mixed metaphors, blame the Wachowski Brothers.

The scene was not merely virtual and symbolic. Neo's ingestion of the red pill started a trace program, manipulated within the Matrix' architecture by humans in the real world. They still had to find his physical location in the body bank, so they needed his projection to interact with the code of the red pill's program. There's more to it than symbolism.

Other "blue pills" woke themselves up, in Matrix canon, without being fed red pills. They are the most difficult to save and very rare.

Besides all of this, the Matrix films sucked after the first one. One can make a very easy argument that the choice of casting is an exercise in racism.

Popville said...

Code Acadeny is great so far. I've begun the Code Year tutorial on Javascript.

paul a'barge said...

Udacity?

Good grief.

No, i'm not "dah city".

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Richard Dolan said...

"It is amusing to see how he could not understand why his students were fleeing and how they preferred to watch his video. Haha.. what a way to deflate the egos of these narcissistic professors."

A lot is gained by the use of technology allowing a professor to reach 160,000 students. It's easy to understand the utilitarian calculus that would lead someone like Thrun to prefer Udacity to Stanford, if the goal is to spread the wealth of knowledge far and wide. But it's a little strange, at least to me, that the Stanford students elected to skip the person-to-person connection -- the real one, not the virtual pretend version -- and go for the video. Thrun seems to be just the sort of fellow who would be even more impressive in person, and he's clearly dedicated to teaching.

Watching the video tributes to his teaching from students all over the globe makes you wonder whether those students would have jumped at the chance to interact personally with Thrun, in just the ways that the Stanford kids decided to throw away. What is it that led them to prefer the impersonal to the personal, the virtual rather than the real deal? Perhaps it was, in part, the ability to hit the 'replay' button when convenient, or just to sleep in and turn it on later. But that seems the least of it.

Being electronically connected is another way of staying personally disconnected. Strange world we live in.

gmk said...

From Wikipedia:

In the book The Art of the Start, author Guy Kawasaki uses the red pill as an analogue to leaders of new organizations, in that they face the same choice to either live in reality or fantasy. He adds that if they want to be successful, they have to take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.[3]
The rabbit hole is an analogy from Alice in Wonderland.


I haven't read this book, but it sounds like one of those business/tech books that become hot in certain circles, kind of like The Innovator's Dilemma a few years ago.

sleepless nights said...
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Bart DePalma said...

"But I’ve taken the red pill, and I’ve seen Wonderland."

Strange mixed metaphor! (The red pill is supposed to get you to reality, but Wonderland is a dream.)


Obama did the same thing selling Obamacare, urging folks to take the cheaper blue pill, which made it a rich metaphor for Obamacare as the Matrix.

Unknown said...

I am already enrolled in CodeAcedemy and I signed up for Udacity today too. Thank you Ann for highlighting this. I am also currently taking an MIT calculus class online and am enrolled in Steven Blank's startup class which begins next month online.

I am a lifelong learner and I have a High School Senior who is admitted to several Engineering schools. I want her to be successful so I am auditing the field so I am equipped to offer guidance.

I am also an avid amateur investor and I believe there is an opportunity in the Education field. I compare my daughter's risk/reward in tuition versus starting salary and it is much less advantageous ratio than mine back in 1980. As a college "customer/consumer" I do not care a whit about Stanford's sterling reputation. I want the best for my daughter and our pocketbook.

For the past several years I have helped my daughters do online study guides and we have used Khan Academy as well as many others. My daughter learns visually and with video better than in class.

I highly recommend the jodiecongirl videos (Economics) also on youtube; these helped my daughter get an A this past Fall.

I believe Colleges should be responsive to this trend. I have no doubt this can upend many colleges and high schools as the best professors go freelance. I would just as soon have my kids take these classes and give them the $100-200k to travel and start a business.

The investment and National Interest implications of this are mind-boggling. Scary and Exciting.

Thank you Ann for posting this!

Bob_R said...

I wish him lots of luck. People have been trying for well over a decade to do the same thing, and ... well, it's damned hard. Millions of people learn calculus every year. Same course for over a hundred years. Very easily identifiable standards of success or failure. First one to figure out how to teach it efficiently becomes a billionaire. I've seen several serious people say almost identical things to Thrun. Worked for a couple of them. Not a billionaire in the bunch.

Joe Schmoe said...

It pains me to say this but lawyers have it all over educators and anyone else trying to sell their intellectual property on the free market.

Lawyers somewhere along the line coalesced around charging for anything remotely approaching lawyerly advice. You can't talk to a lawyer about anything without incurring at least a half-hour charge, more likely an hour, which will cost you upwards of $100.

This idiot educator spends his whole life developing an area of expertise and then is happy to give it away for free. How the hell are we supposed to grow and prosper as a knowledge-based service economy if we're giving away all of our knowledge-based service?

If you have an audience of 100,000, how about if you charge them 99 cents like an iTune? This doesn't surprise me as most educators are overwhelmingly liberal and thus capitalism-phobic while shooting themselves in the foot. In a few years they'll be calling for the shutdown of the web once enough online lectures make most professors unnecessary.