Indian Computer Science (CS) & Information Technology (IT) Academic Reform Activism Consolidated Blog Document

Online Programming Courses: Use MIT's OCW or IIT's NPTEL or Stanford's SEE

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Online Programming Courses: Use MIT's OCW or IIT's NPTEL or Stanford's SEE

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Mail exchange (slightly edited) with friend on MIT's OCW (& IIT's NPTEL) vs. Stanford's SEE. This exchange is related to the post: CS & IT Academia: Use Stanford Engineering Everywhere to Teach Programming.

Friend wrote: Why is this (Stanford's SEE) a boon in particular? MIT's Open Course Ware ( has been around for a really, really long time. And they have had similar courses too.

Eklavya Sai wrote: As I wrote in the post, MIT's course is more like IIT approach - teach algorithms & problem solving - leave the language to the student. I find Stanford's course to be a lot more suitable for non-elite CS/IT departments.

Friend wrote: 

I have to disagree:

does NOT talk even a little bit about algorithms - it teaches programming with Python.

Eklavya Sai wrote: This is a 3 week short course and not a regular course. In fact, like I mentioned in the post, they have a short course on C++ too, 4 weeks this time instead of 3.

It is almost like, hey, you don't really need to be taught a language - you should learn it on your own. But in case you can't do it, here is a short-term course for you. And, I think that may be perfect for the smart kids that MIT & IITs attract.

But the majority of students studying in CS & IT depts in India cannot handle that. I mean, having a language independent Intro to CS & Prog. course and then teaching C++ in 4 weeks will be just not acceptable to most students. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe it will be acceptable. However changing the programming course system from language dependent to language independent is a HUGE EFFORT. I mean, you need to experience how much EFFORT is required to change such things in the system, then only you know.

The Stanford course content seems to fit in far more to most Indian CS & IT dept. needs and current language dependent programming courses system.

Friend wrote:

But yes, I personally still find value in teaching programming as against programming in a specific language. Teaching programming will help him learn ANY language. Teaching a specific language will make it difficult for him to program in a different syntax even if underlying concepts are the same. And this is the approach an alternative MIT course takes:

That is one classic book that teaches one to think about programs rather than programming.

Eklavya Sai responded: That is your personal choice and that's wonderful. You can handle it. Good for you.

But that may not be the choice of most other CS & IT students in India.

Friend wrote: MIT is catering to both requirements.

Eklavya Sai responded: I have already given some comments on this earlier. In short, my take is that MIT primarily caters to elite students and the Stanford programming courses are more suitable to non-elite Indian CS & IT students. So, I guess we will have to agree to disagree here.

Please note I am talking only about programming courses and not courses like Machine Learning or Image Processing.

Friend wrote: Stanford is only just getting started in this game, and are doing a ton of recent propaganda - not saying that SEE is bad, just new.

If the universities were interested, they could have as well used those (and quite a few do so; in fact, a few people in (a CS department) use these lectures to enhance/advance their classes).

Eklavya Sai responded: I do not know of anybody (in non-elite Indian CS & IT departments) using NPTEL or MIT's stuff for the basic programming courses (C/C++/Java) - Don't know whether anybody has used it for Introductory Data Structures and Algorithms. BTW my initial focus is on teaching programming.

Friend wrote: 

Also, our very own IITs (which are more likely to offer something that Indian students may more easily follow) have their own project on the lines of OCW:

Eklavya Sai responded: Did you see IIT's Intro. to CS & Problem solving course?? I find Stanford's course content to be far more appropriate for non-elite CS depts.

Friend wrote: 

Sorry, but I find that SEE being a new novelty that the University system will (as opposed to could) benefit from is not interesting to me at all

Eklavya Sai responded: That's OK. We agree to disagree :)

Friend wrote: If the University system did not benefit from course material from places like OCW that have existed so long, I find it difficult to believe that they will, on their own volition, suddenly wake up to SEE. As long as they wake up, that should be good.

Eklavya Sai responded: I feel, for the first few programming courses, Stanford's offering is better suited to Indian needs and so may be more acceptable than OCW or NPTEL. Let's see what happens.

Friend wrote: And, again, I am not disputing the benefit of SEE or suggesting that it is in anyway inferior to MIT's OCW; just that it is not a new novelty. Infact, I respect it quite a lot. And, whats different here is this: with SEE, some courses are actually evaluated. for example, for example, These are courses that are currently offered by the profs at Stanford. They give assignments, tests, quizes and grades. For non-stanford students, will be sending out letters of completion from the professors (one of who is Peter Norvig, the Director of Engg. at Google!!). All for FREE!

Eklavya Sai responded: I had gone through the ai-class one earlier as (a friend) has also enrolled for it. I did find it to be very well organized as an online course offering (far better than MIT or NPTEL). (The friend) said a huge number of students had enrolled. I have asked him to give me feedback after he completes the course.

My interest in this is from an Internet Based Education example point of view. I am not interested in ai or machine learning.

And yes, I noted the top notch professional-professors teaching the course. I went through the intro. video. I mean, the whole thing is very well organized like a commercial offering - but it is FREE. Amazing!! Noted that the same venture capitalist company ( that was an important funding source for Google is involved in SEE too. Maybe that's the reason it looks so professional as compared to MIT & NPTEL.

Friend wrote: One way a live class in India could use this is: if syllabus is similar, tests and quizzes could be the result of the evaluation of the online exams only!

Eklavya Sai responded: If I were a teacher of ai/machine learning I would just jump at the possibility of running my course on these videos, and using the tests, quizzes and exams. But then perhaps my boss may question me why do I need you? I feel the teacher is still needed to adapt the material to local needs, and to answer doubts & queries of students. And this way students will learn more effectively.

But I come from an industry teaching background (besides industry development experience) and the game is very different in AICTE/UGC governed academic teaching environments (for teaching programming).

Friend wrote: And (friend's wife) is currently enrolled with It may not be as much benefit as a live class, but better than just listening to the lectures offline since these are evaluated!

Eklavya Sai responded: All the best to (friend's wife) for her ai course!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

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