Friday, December 21, 2012

Udacity: Web Application Engineering

I was pretty excited when Udacity was introduced.  It seems like a really great idea for democratizing education (though they were't the first to come up with these ideas).

I decided to take the course they offered on Web Application Engineering.  I had two goals: 1) Try out the Udacity education model and 2) Gain knowledge in web apps for help with automating my house.  

Overall I was very impressed with the course.  I took the first offering of the course and even with it being the first time they had done the course it went very smoothly.  They got Steve Huffman (of Redit and Hipmunk fame) to teach the class which was pretty impressive since it's someone that has put together a successful real-world website.

The course was 7 weeks long.  Each week there was a lecture with interactive questions interspersed every few minutes to check for understanding.  The lectures were recorded so you could do them anytime they were convenient.

Each week there was also a homework which reinforced the concepts from the lecture.  For the Web Applications course used the Google App Engine for development which worked pretty well and was a good way to make web app hosting available to large numbers of students.  We also use the python version of the Google App Engine which was nice since I really like python.

They didn't enforce that the homeworks be done in the week they were given but I'd highly recommend that you do them that way since the lectures and homeworks can really pile up otherwise.  In this way, it was like a normal college engineering course.  On average each week took me about 4 hours or so.  The homeworks were actually tested in an automated fashion by having a standard web interface for each one.  This really gave incentive for getting everything to work; if they hasn't graded the homework I would have been tempted to just say "Bah, I understand, no need to do the homework...".

At the end of the course there was a final project which was a wiki style webpage from scratch.  It required integrating everything you'd learned in the course and was a really nice way to wrap everything up.

Overall the course was very well done and I would take another course on Udacity without hesitation.  This gives me hope for the future of education.

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