Monday, 22 July 2013

Meet the founders - An interview with Dhawal Shah

Back at the end of 2011, when MOOCs were still few and far between, a very prescient mind thought it would be a good idea to build a directory.
The Good MOOC interviews Class Central’s founder +Dhawal Shah.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I was born and brought up in India and then moved to US to get my Masters in Computer Science from Georgia Tech. Currently I am 28 years old and working as a Software engineer somewhere in the silicon valley.

  • How have you heard about MOOCs in the first place?

Probably via Hacker News or Reddit. At that point they weren't called MOOCs.

  • What was your first MOOC?

  • Why did you choose to take it?

A that point there were just 3 courses to choose from and its been so long that I don't remember why I choose AI over the rest of them.

  • Which MOOC have you taken since and why?

Taken and finished are two different things :)
I took the first course to strengthen my base in Computer Science and second one to broaden my skills as a programmer.

Class Central was something that I built for myself and launched over the thanksgiving weekend in Nov 2011. At that point I had been working at my first full time job after graduation. The AI class was wrapping up and Coursera (which hadn't taken on the name Coursera yet) had announced around a dozen courses, but each course had its own separate domain name. So I just built a one page website which lists all the courses. All I wanted was to sort the courses by date so that I could schedule which course can be taken when.

I consider myself to be a founder. I love creating things that add value and not necessarily make money. I have a few ideas about business model, but at this moment I don't want to be distracted with that and would like to focus more on evolving Class Central.

  • How would you compare MOOCs to traditional education?

The biggest difference that I have experienced  is that I actually learn from the professor while doing a MOOC. Due to short attention span I wasn't able to focus much in classes that I took while going through traditional education. This meant I had to resort to textbooks or my peers of help.
While doing a MOOC, I can just a replay a video if I don't understand any concepts.

  • If you think about the best MOOCs you’ve taken, how would you improve them?

I can't think of anything. I loved all the 3 MOOCs that I finished and was very satisfied with the experience. The content was top notch.

  • Are you telling people around you about MOOCS and how are they reacting to it?

I don't  really promote MOOCs in the real world as I do online. But one thing I have noticed about peoples reaction to the Georgia Tech's Online MS CS degree. Those who have it (a degree from top school) don't like it while those who don't have it are optimistic about it.

  • How do you see MOOCs evolving in the future?

MOOCs to me represent the lack of barriers between an individual and knowledge. Previously such knowledge was only available to people who could prove they were worthy of such knowledge (i.e the admission process). MOOCs do not have such biases and I believe they will continue breaking down these barriers. The next step in the evolution of MOOCs is credentialing and it would be really interesting to see how different initiatives go about it. Udacity which co-incidentally has the least number of official university partners were the first one to move ahead with an online degree. Anant Agarwal, has already mentioned that it might take less than a year for purely online degrees coming out of edX. Coursera's recent $43 million funding round might also indicate they are heading in that direction.

Moving forward I can see the term MOOC itself being abused a lot (already happening) as everybody tries to jump in on the MOOC bandwagon. Its important to note that Coursera & Udacity; the ones who started the MOOC revolution don't actually use the term MOOC anywhere on their websites.

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