Interview on e-learning with Dr Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google Inc



Peter Norvig is Director of Research at Google Inc. Norvig1He is a Fellow of the AAAI and the ACM and co-author of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, the leading textbook in the field. Previously he was head of Computational Sciences at NASA and a faculty member at USC and Berkeley.

What is the motivation for offering an online course on Artificial Intelligence free of charge?

We wanted to make this knowledge available to people who otherwise wouldn\’t get a chance to see it.

What was Stanford University\’s response to your proposal? Did senior management have objections to delivering a course free of charge?

Stanford has been very supportive. They believe that their mission is to educate, and they are not tied to having that education occur only in their classroom buildings.

Is e-learning the future of HE? Will it eventually supplant the on-campus teaching and learning experience?

It is one component. The on-campus model is great and won\’t disappear. E-learning can be used in a flipped classroom, where the e-learning is done outside the classroom and discussion is done in class, or it can be used for people who don\’t have access to on-campus teaching.

What are the drawbacks of online teaching and learning – for universities and students?

For the student, you miss the personal interaction with the professor, and you get a different interaction with classmates — you interact with them in discussion forums, not in person. Universities should see it as one more tool. Universities have physical libraries and online libraries, and both serve students in different ways; similarly they can benefit from physical courses and online courses.

Does online delivery require completely different skills in academics?

Different, not completely different. I\’ve had practice teaching through writing short essays, writing books, lecturing in a small class, having a discussion-oriented class, holding office hours, lecturing in a big class, lecturing in class and having that broadcast to remote students, and putting together an online course. These different modes share some skills and require some unique skills as well. The main difference is in the amount of real-time interaction with students.

For which subject disciplines is online learning best suited? Would there be differences in the online delivery of sciences vs the humanities?

Yes. An important part of learning is practice. For math and related fields, it is easy to automatically generate new problems for students to solve: a program can teach multiplication and ask one student \”how much is 24 * 37\” and another \”how much is 3 * 4\” — the questions are tailored to the student\’s skill level and the program can compute the correct answer. But we don\’t have programs that can automatically do that in poetry or political science. Similarly, evaluation of online learning is easy when the answers are multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank, and are harder when the answer is a two-page essay.

Does online learning enhance individual or collaborative learning?

It depends on what the instructor tries to do. It can be used to concentrate on individual skills, or on collaborative efforts, just as an on-campus course can.

What is the impact of online teaching and learning on graduate employability?

I suppose that schools that are offering online teaching will have to do that evaluation. What I\’m doing is something quite different: offering a class to people who are not in school — my class does nothing towards having them graduate. It may do something about their employability, although that will be difficult to assess properly.

Will higher education institutions have to deal with the intellectual property-related challenges that other industries (film, music, publishing) have faced over the last decade?

They are already dealing with it, and will continue to.

Is online learning the best solution for the lack of HE resources and infrastructure in developing countries and for the increasing demand for HE in countries such as China and India?

It is a good solution; I won\’t say it is the only or best.