Review: edX Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has always been something that has interested me, but more in the “I can beat you at chess” sense than the Data from Star Trek sense. Perhaps because the former seems like something I can reasonably design whereas the latter is so far impossible. Thankfully for me, the edX Artificial Intelligence class (aka BerkeleyX: CS188.1x) deals strictly with problem solving.

I was really impressed by the quality of the lectures in this class. They are mostly videos of Dan Klein teaching the class at Berkeley accompanied by really great Power Point slides. I’ve noticed that the best teachers are those who are experts in their field, but still choose to teach intro classes. Professor Klein clearly falls into that category and his passion really comes through in this class. He covers a wide variety of AI topics including search, adversaries, MDPs, and lotteries. Getting to see these ideas come to life in “real-time” through the programming challenges is very encouraging and helps to solidify the concepts learned in lecture. I also appreciated that the weeks with programming challenges did not have any other requirements such as lectures or quizzes.

The main complaint I have is a technical complaint about the edX interface. Homework questions can be answered an unlimited number of times and the final exam questions can be answered 1-2 times. However, after answering a question incorrectly, you cannot simply change your answer and recheck it. Instead, you must hit “reset” which clears your incorrect answer(s) and even more frustratingly sometimes changes the problem! This is not that big of a deal for multiple choice questions, but there were many multi-part, math-based questions where you could get, say, eight out of ten answers correct yet have to redo the entire problem after hitting reset. Based on the discussion forums, some students ended up writing scripts to solve the questions given certain inputs. I went more low-tech and built some spreadsheets to do the same thing. I never got the feeling that this was expected. At most the questions say something to the effect of, “We suggest you work these out on paper before answering the questions.” I understand they may want to prevent students from just randomly guessing, but this just felt punishing.

A smaller complaint, really more of an annoyance, is the number of edX-external websites involved in the class. Although participation is not required, discussion took place on Piazza instead of edX’s built in discussion boards. I immediately thought, “Oh great, yet another ‘novel’ approach to the discussion board” and, go figure, it was nothing special and even seemed to lack some common message board features. Another example (also not required) was submitting practice final exams to GradeScope for grading.

Despite these issues, I would still definitely recommend the class. The content is of such high quality that it’s easy to overlook some frustration here and there. If you are looking for an advanced programming MOOC or have an interest in AI, this is a great place to start.

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