© 2013 Miro Roman

to learn – A Day at Udacity: Andy


A Day at Udacity: Andy

My name is Andy. I’m Udacity’s “Lead Instructor.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but whatever it is, it’s pretty awesome. I get to work with enthusiastic, creative people to solve interesting educational problems.

One of those people is Chris. He teaches math at Udacity.

Chris is happy because he’s thinking about circles.
Friday morning, Chris and I were getting ourselves pumped up about circles. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “What!? Are you saying you weren’t ALREADY pumped about circles!?” And no, of course I’m not saying that. These shapes are amazing! I mean, any circle that you’d ever want to draw can be fully described by just three numbers. Three! That’s right. A circle–a collection of an infinite number of points–can be fully defined by just three numbers! Wow.

The majestic circle! Fully defined by three parameters!
Once we got excited, we had to brainstorm how we wanted to convey the simplicity underlying this potentially complicated shape. I won’t spoil the details (you can watch Visualizing Algebra, lesson 11.4 for that), but we settled on having students gradually construct a circle by finding some of its points using the Pythagorean Theorem. I hope it’s effective. Luckily we’ll have the data to gauge the effectiveness of the lesson and will be able to tweak it as necessary.

Non-linear course flow for the win?
After a couple hours of circle-time, I had a lunchtime conversation where I talked to some of the software engineers about the costs and benefits of non-linear course flow (think choose-your-own-adventure education, see picture above for detailed schematic).

Lauren and her brain, thinking about the brain.
This was followed by a conversation with Lauren, our psychology instructor, about the human brain and how to convey the details of neuronal firing without losing a big picture understanding for how mind-blowingly complex and amazing our brains are. After that I got to talk with the tutoring team about how to effectively tutor thousands of students. Turns out it’s not easy.

In fact, most of the problems we work on aren’t easy. That’s why I love working here. Every day I get to work with brilliant, passionate people to help solve what is, to me, the world’s biggest unsolved problem: education. And in doing so, we’re encountering all sorts of new, fascinating problems along the way. Problems in pedagogy, curricula, logistics, engineering, design…even cinematography. I generally focus on the pedagogy problems, but they’re all interesting. And unlike the circle, they don’t seem to have simple solutions.

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