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Udacity Cancels Free Online Math Course, Citing Low Quality

Udacity, a start-up company offering free online courses, last week canceled a course, “Logic and Discrete Mathematics,” that was due to begin this summer, saying the lectures and materials it had prepared on the topic did not live up to its quality standards.

“We recorded the entire class and edited most of it, but in our internal tests it didn’t meet our quality bar,” said Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity, in an e-mail interview on Sunday. “We have an enormous respect for our students’ time and don’t want to release anything that wouldn’t meet our bar.”

He declined to say how many students had signed up for the course or to answer further questions about the future of the offering.

The course had originally been slated to start in June. At first Udacity officials announced that it would be delayed a few weeks. But last week they said they would “not be launching this course.”

The course was to be taught by Jonathan D. Farley, an associate professor of computing and information science at the University of Maine at Orono. Mr. Farley said in an interview that he had spent about 45 hours recording lectures at Udacity’s studio, in California.

“It actually was exhausting,” he said. “I really didn’t think that sitting in a chair recording lectures could be exhausting.”

Mr. Farley said that he agreed with the decision to pull the course, which contained both technical and explanatory glitches. “I blundered when recording some of the logic, and the camera was not on,” he said. “And also some of the mathematical proofs need to be explained in a different way.”

He said that it was a challenge to design a course for the format, known as Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC’s, and that he had spent about three hours preparing for every hour he recorded.

“It’s a totally different way of teaching because you have to figure out how you can reach 100,000 people,” he said. Many MOOC’s have seen enrollments topping that number.

The course may still be offered eventually, after it is revised, he said.

In an e-mail sent to students who had signed up for the course, Mr. Thrun praised Mr. Farley’s work. “We want to make clear this disappointment is in no way a reflection on Jonathan, but on the Udacity team and the constraints we put on ourselves,” he wrote. “We hope very much to work with Jonathan again in the future.”

Update: Mr. Thrun said in a follow-up e-mail on Tuesday that “just over 20,000 students” had signed up for the course, and that Udacity “will have a discrete math class” in the future.

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