The Sieve Manufacture Continues at Udacity

From Udacity last week, regarding the phasing out of free certificates:

“We owe it to you, our hard working students, that we do whatever we can to ensure your certificate is as valuable as possible.”


We have now heard from many students and employers alike that they would like to see more rigor in certifying actual accomplishments.

Jonathan Rees has more on this odd phrasing about what is essentially a decision to charge students for what used to be a free education:

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this here, but I think this announcement raises profound questions about what education actually is, or perhaps simply what it’s supposed to accomplish. Is higher education a good thing because of the skills it represents or is it a good thing because you have it and others don’t?

To which I’d answer, no, you’re not reading too much into it. As I said back in November about Thrun’s sudden pivot:

There’ll likely be lots of analysis on this article and change in direction. He’s my little contribution. Thrun can’t build a bucket that doesn’t leak, so he’s going to sell sieves…Udacity dithered for a bit on whether it would be accountable for student outcomes. Failures at San Jose State put an end to that. The move now is to return to the original idea: high failure rates and dropouts are features, not bugs, because they represent a way to thin pools of applicants for potential employers. Thrun is moving to an area where he is unaccountable, because accountability is hard.

If thinning pools through creating high-failure courses is good, then thinning pools through creating high-failure courses and costly identity verification is even better. It’s MOOCs as Meritocracies, and it’s just as dumb (and culturally illiterate) an idea as it was in 2012, when the Chronicle was drooling over it.

Meritocracy is not a system, but rather a myth power tells itself. It’s openness as a privilege multiplier. It’s the antithesis of open education, which must measure its success in outputs, not inputs. You can’t claim you’ve granted people access to the top shelf of goods if you don’t provide them a stepladder.

I would disagree with one small point in Jonathan’s post, however. He indicts all MOOCs for this view. There are, I think, significant differences in the approach of both edX and Coursera to these issues. Most notably, edX has Justin Reich on board, and Justin Reich’s research is in exactly this area — how do we make sure that openness closes gaps rather than widen them. But I’ve also seen Coursera publicly grapple with this question in a way Udacity has walked away from. It’s clear to me that Coursera at the very least is *committed* to gap-closing as a principle, even if they have not yet acheived that in practice.

And that’s a difference worth noting and encouraging. There will be fundamental changes coming to Coursera’s model soon, and the question is which way will they lean. Let’s hope it’s not towards the sieve market Udacity continues to pioneer.

15 thoughts on “The Sieve Manufacture Continues at Udacity

  1. …and, about 30 minutes after I posted, I got the following email from “Amanda Sparr, Coach @Udacity”:

    Dear Michael,

    Nice work on earning a certificate for the Intro to Computer Science courseware. It speaks volumes for what you learned while completing this rigorous course. Congrats again!

    Today we upgraded this course . This brings you new opportunities, for little extra work:
    You can now practice and show off your skills, with a new hands-on project where you’ll build a social network.

    You can also earn a Verified Certificate, since this course now has a subscription option.
    Udacious Coaches like me work with you and award these Verified Certificates. We review your project code, share feedback and tips, and conduct a final video interview where we verify your identity. With these steps, employers see our Verified Certificates as an even stronger endorsement of your skills.

    To get you started here’s a 20% discount*:

  2. First off I would like to say terrific blog!
    I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t
    mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your
    mind before writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting
    my thoughts out. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes
    are usually wasted simply just trying to figure out
    how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Thanks!

  3. Firestone Building Products Company, LLC, acknowledges local Commerce City firm Douglass
    Colony Group with the esteemed 2011 Firestone Master Contractor
    Award. If your Mesa roofing contractor is insured and falls
    off your roof during the job, his insurance will cover
    the liability. Pages from business owners tell you what they believe
    is important for customers to know; business philosophy, specialties, licenses,
    qualifications, information on employees and listings of quality suppliers, and other details that
    give insight into their business ethic.

  4. DESIGN & FASHION STUDIO – логотипы компаний

    О НАС

    «KK» читается как [кей-кей] и
    это первые буквы наших имён: Костя
    и Катя. Мы создали эту студию ради искусства и культуры.
    Мы хотим познакомиться и поработать со
    всеми, кто хоть как-то причастен к направлению
    Fashion в Беларуси. Пускай многие скептически относятся к нему, но мы верим!

    Если Вы поддерживаете нашу идею, Вы
    фотограф, модель, визажист, стилист
    или даже печатное издание — пишите нам или сразу звоните.
    Давайте займемся делом!

    Заказав свой фирменный стиль
    Вы подчеркнете свою индивидуальность во всем.

    услуги стилиста

  5. We are glad to welcome you on our website rental car chiang mai, we deal in rental market under “Lanna Sky”
    brand. Since 2012 we provide high qualityservices for rent of cars with drivers or without drivers
    as well as long-term rent. Our work is based on international level of service and individual approach to each client.
    We do not stand still and improve our experience every day.
    “Lanna Skу” will always find the best solution for your convenience and comfort in cooperation with
    you. You can quickly and easily place an order for a rental car directly on our website or contact us by phone, and within a short time the car will be
    delivered to your address. Renting a car is very easy – you will need to pay car-hire service, your driving license and
    a copy of your passport. And you can start using a
    car after the conclusion of contract. You will be
    pleasantly surprised by technical condition of our cars as all our cars are in an excellent technical condition.

  6. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Many thanks, However I am having
    difficulties with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it.

    Is there anybody else getting identical RSS issues? Anyone who knows the answer will you kindly respond?

  7. The SEO Industry; of course, there’s no doubt that the editorial,”trading stocks Gutfeld said. They are available that are applicahle to higher interest due to safety, bbut the latest world news.

  8. There is definitely a maximum on the density of any
    particular key word or phrase. What we mean by diversifying in the adult online business is to choose 5 niche specific adult websites and purchase them in a package deal which you can do with a few specific website design companies online and actually do this for less than the purchase of one so-called custom adult website.
    Here is an example from a property management company that hired me to raise their search engine rankings.

  9. Today, many individuals favor workout routines that they can do at
    home. You will also notice that you’ll be able to tell when you’re nnot hungry anymore.
    There are so many people who are looking to lose some weight and bedcome healthier, but with all the different weight
    loss products onn the market, maany people want
    that quick fix that some of the products claim.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s