The pitch for the online course sounds like a late-night television ad, or maybe a subway poster: “Learn programming in seven weeks starting Feb. 20. We’ll teach you enough about computer science that you can build a Web search engine like Google or Yahoo,” the New York Times reports. But this course, Building a Search Engine, is taught by two prominent computer scientists, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford research professor and Google fellow, and David Evans, a professor on leave from the University of Virginia. The big names have been a big draw. Since...

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