April 23, 2014

MOOC Dropout

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I have dropped out of my first MOOC, the General Game Playing course from Stanford on Coursera. Having completed half the 8 week course with a score of 100%, it would be easy to continue. However, the course is not interesting enough to justify the effort required.

General Game Playing involves creating computer programs that can compete in multiple, previously unseen games. These games can be single-player or multi-player; have perfect or imperfect information; and may be competitive or cooperative. The resulting players must be able to handle all games without any internal changes, so are closer to the ideal of generalised AI than the very narrowly focused computations used in traditional players like the Chess-only Deep Blue. The games are specified in a logic-based language. A Java library is available to implement the basics of the client/server game playing protocol and parsing game messages (including the game specification).

Each week the course covers some aspect of writing the players with 30-60 minutes of video – mostly the content of these involve running through a couple of chapters from the lecturer’s textbook. Every week there are multiple assignments – some as online tests, while others require programming. By the end of the course each student will have created a player they enter into a competition against the other students’ work. The resulting ranking feeding into the overall grade, although the details were not available by the time I quit.

To me the course seemed to be mainly teaching their “system” (that is, the game specification and protocol). A few useful ideas are presented, for instance Propnets and Monte Carlo simulation. Although, I had already covered most of these techniques previously. It was like doing a work course on MS Office or some other proprietary technology. The course is not worth the time, unless practice in formal logic and related optimisation techniques is needed.

So I unenrolled and it has disappeared from my course history. This seems to be a common event. Another recent online course advertised that it dropped 80% of its students over the first two weeks – apparently a good result! I haven’t given up on online courses. Right now I’m halfway through 2 other, more compelling courses (another reason to free up time by quitting this one), with another starting in a fortnight. Being able to easily unenroll is a benefit of MOOCs. This way there is no barrier to give giving one a try. If it doesn’t work out, just stop. Of course now I’ve quit one, it will probably easy to quit again!

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