This spring, Philips Pham was among the more than 12,000 people in 148 countries who took an online class called Code in Place. Run by Stanford University, the course taught the fundamentals of computer programming.
Four weeks in, Mr. Pham, a 23-year-old student living at the southern tip of Sweden, typed his way through the first test, trying to write a program that could draw waves of tiny blue diamonds across a black-and-white grid. Several days later, he received a detailed critique of his code.
It applauded his work, but also pinpointed an error. “Seems like you have a small mistake,” the critique noted. “Perhaps you are running into the wall after drawing the third wave.”
During this online class, a new kind of artificial intelligence offered feedback to Mr. Pham and thousands of other students who took the same test. Built by a team of Stanford researchers, this automated system points to a new future for online education, which can so easily reach thousands of people but does not always provide the guidance that many students need and crave.
“We’ve deployed this in the real world, and it works better than we expected,” said Chelsea Finn, a Stanford professor and A.I. researcher who helped build the new system.