Statistically Speaking – A Bangladeshi Teen Reviews His First Udacity MOOC
I left high school last August to study from home, and I have tutors who help me with high school standardized tests. Meanwhile I use my free time to explore online learning opportunities like Khan Academy and Codecademy.
But the story of my online learning begins last summer when I discovered MOOCs for the first time. Udacity, Coursera and MITx caught my eye (EdX came a little later), and I was very interested in trying out one of the classes just to understand what these new types of classrooms offered and why this is being called an “education revolution.”
One day, I received a newsletter about the new Udacity MOOC courses being launched. Fortunately, it was school vacation for me and I did not have any tests coming up, so I decided to enroll in one of the classes to utilize my free time well, ultimately choosing Introduction to Statistics taught by Sebastian Thrun.
The reason I chose ST101 over the other Udacity MOOCs being offered was, firstly, because it was introductory, requiring no skills other than basic arithmetic and little bits of algebra. Professor Thrun was also a reason, because I became a huge fan of his after reading his history and about his work at Google and Stanford. This was my chance to learn from a legend, something I never anticipated to happen in my whole life.
In Bangladesh where I live, the scope of learning from the best teachers is very limited. Every year, only a few hundred students, the best in the country, get the chance to join the government universities to get taught by the best. There are also private universities with good teachers, but the tuition is sky high for families such as mine. So, in a way, Udacity gave me the opportunity to learn from a world class teacher, which otherwise would have been impossible in my country.
I was studying high school statistics at the time, so this course would help my academics as well. The class videos and environment looked brilliant and the weekly schedule fit for me, so I saw nothing preventing me from attending it. The class started on June 25, and I was very excited since I had never attended an online class before, and I had been hearing good things about Udacity. And it was true, I really liked the classes!
The format of a Udacity MOOC
Each week, a unit was released that covered a specific topic. A unit usually has dozens of parts, each part containing a video with a new concept, followed by a quiz asking questions about that video. Then a follow-up video solved the quiz question in detail so that even the student who didn’t get the answers right after several attempts will be able to understand.
Professor Thrun was excellent. His explanations and pedagogical approach was understandable, something that is very hard to find in schools and colleges here in Bangladesh. He always tried to explain every concept inside-out, most of the time with examples and analogies that really helped bring out a solid understanding. Also, many times, such as when we were learning to use weird formulas and equations, he would use several videos to apply the formula in different scenarios, and it was all made interactive using the quizzes that popped up after every video. This method was working fine for me. It was helping me learn. Kudos to Udacity for that!
Not just statistics
One more thing I loved about the course was that every week included lessons on how to program with statistics. They were teaching to program using Python, and the first few weeks contained very simple but useful programs. The programs taught things like how to calculate the mean value of a given data, how to draw graphs using that data and how to further manipulate the results. These programming skills were a great addition to the course, since programming is such a valuable skill to possess in our age.
I had no prior programming experience before this, and I was totally blown from the very first lesson onward. [pullquote position=”right”]I had never imagined computers can be used to process real-world data like this. The fact that those lines of code can be applied onto any data set struck me with awe.[/pullquote] And I am glad that happened to me, because now I am learning lots of coding, and it all started from Introduction to Statistics.
Let’s talk a little about my routine. I had to attend coaching classes in the afternoon and evening. Also, I share a family computer with my dad and sister who use it a few hours each, so taking the lesson at day was a difficulty since I required long uninterrupted sessions to learn them well.
So I had to shift my online classes to midnight. I did face resistance from my parents about the nocturnal hours. They doubted if I was actually learning from those lessons or if they were better than traditional classrooms. [pullquote position=”right”]My mom begged me to go to sleep. To her, the course seemed ridiculous. She and dad said, “How on earth can a person get educated by clicking on the computer for hours in a row, with painful headphones on?” It took me weeks to persuade them, but I did fight through it. [/pullquote]Unfortunately, they are still not that interested in MOOCs, because they are believers in the lame education system.
Facebook groups and forums were very active and helpful in ST101. Loads of amicable peers were always supporting each other. I did make a lot of online friends who I am still in touch with. And the amazing thing is, I interacted with the professor himself via the Facebook group, which was a huge achievement for me. Also, I feel proud to say that I took part in the Udacity High School Challenge and my units contributed to Gerardo’s team, which became one of the seven winning teams.
After seven weeks the course ended. There was a final exam. (Not very hard though.) I passed and received a beautiful and precious certificate.
It has been almost one year now since I took Introduction to Statistics from Udacity. Reflecting on how the class benefited me, it did help me get a better understanding of statistics at school and in the real world. I did receive good grades in my A-level (International British Curriculum) statistics units. I have not applied the skills that I achieved to real-world problems yet, but I really hope to. I already told you about how ST101 got me really interested in coding too, so that was a real plus of the course.
To sum it all up, the course was a great experience: awesome lessons, awesome teachers, awesome learning and, most of all, really enjoyable. I am really glad ST101 was my first MOOC ever and I can proudly say I started my life-long learning adventure through Udacity’s Intro to Statistics.