Udacity Visit

Yesterday I took a day trip to Palo Alto to visit Udacity where I’m getting ready to teach a course on software testing. The goal was to become familiar with the recording setup, hash out any infrastructure issues, and try to refine my course content–which right now is just a collection of rough notes. Originally I had wanted to teach a class mainly about random testing, a topic I feel very strongly about. However, as I started getting the material together it became clear that “regular” testing was going to eat up probably half of the course slots–there is simply a giant amount of material to cover. So far I have deliberately avoided looking at anyone else’s course material, but probably I’ll need to start looking around since there are almost certainly gaps in my material that want to be filled.

My motivation for working with Udacity is that I’ve been disenchanted with traditional lecture courses for some time and have been nosing around for alternatives. The Udacity format–an hour or so of lecture material per week, broken into bite-sized pieces punctuated by little quizzes–seems like a good alternative. Certainly it’s a good match for my own very short attention span, and I’ve been enjoying the “applied cryptography” and “programming a robotic car” lectures, having somehow completely dodged both crypto and AI back when I was in school.

One thing that I really like about Udacity’s setup is that the course content is released under the Creative Commons license. This means that, for example, in the future I’ll be able to teach a software testing class at Utah where students watch the Udacity lecture material online, and we spend class time doing something more productive than listening to me talk. This is an idea I’m pretty excited about and that I’ve toyed with for a couple of years.

On arriving at Udacity I chatted with Dave Evans for a little while and then spent maybe half an hour watching Steve Huffman record content for his Web Application Engineering course. Steve is one of the guys behind Reddit and Hipmunk. He answered a few questions I had and it was super useful watching him record–there’s a lot of editing that happens between recording and distribution of these lectures and it wasn’t at all intuitive to me what impact this has on delivery style. For example, it’s perfectly OK to stop talking in order to focus on drawing a diagram on the tablet. A cute trick: if you take a bathroom break, it’s helpful to draw a little icon or note on the tablet screen indicating you’re gone so that an editor can rapidly and easily identify and discard the resulting useless segment of video.

We also talked about how to run the backend part of my testing course. The details aren’t all worked out yet, but what I hope we are able to do is have students implement a specification and also write a collection of test cases; then, we’ll not only rank students’ solutions by their level of correctness, but we’ll also be able to rank students’ ability to create test cases that break other students’ code.

Finally, I spent about an hour in the recording room. This was humbling: I found it very hard to draw and talk at the same time–it is going to take some practice to get that right. Embarrassingly, during the 10 years I’ve been teaching I’ve never once used a chalkboard or whiteboard, so this style is new to me. The other part that will take some getting used to is interleaving lots of quizzes with the lecture content; yesterday I tried to create a quiz on the fly and the results were not good, clearly these will have to be prepped ahead of time.

Anyway, I’ll post more details and impressions as they arrive.

8 Replies to “Udacity Visit”

  1. Are you going to devote any time to commercial-style app testing? Speaking only from my own experience leaving academia, it’s been a drastic departure from C device driver level testing. But there are tons of bugs and the tooling suuuuuucks.

  2. This is going to be awesome. I’ve been watching a lot of classes by Peter Norvig, whom I admire.

    Now I’ll be adding you to the list of classes to watch for. Can’t wait.

  3. Great!! I`m attending Web Application Engineering, and fortunately will attend your course. Seems interesting!

  4. I was at Udacity on Friday, doing essentially the same thing – I’m thinking about teaching a class, and wanted to take the tablet and recording studio for a spin. It was VERY difficult at first since I’m so used to writing and talking at the same time — it’s not at all like lecturing in front of a live class. I started to get the hang of it after a while but I can see it will be difficult to unlearn some of my bad habits…

  5. “Embarrassingly, during the 10 years I’ve been teaching I’ve never once used a chalkboard or whiteboard”: No wonder you’ve grown disenchanted with lecturing.

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