Georgia Tech to Offer First MOOC-like Online Master’s Degree in Computer Science

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Despite the on-going rage about the pitfalls of MOOCs, Georgia Institute of Technology has decided to be the forerunner in reshaping the future of higher education. At an unusually low cost – below $7,000 – Georgia Tech announced Tuesday that it will offer an Online Master of Science (OMS) degree in Computer Science via a massive online format. This course will be offered in partnership with AT&T.

While some institutions like Georgia Tech are pioneering the MOOC movement by offering more introductory undergraduate courses via MOOC providers like Coursera, edX, Udacity and Canvas, others reacted negatively to the unconventional model of education. Access, control, and quality of instruction are among the hottest debates revolving MOOCs today. Some professors from San Jose State University have recently launched an open letter to a Harvard professor for his MOOC, JusticeX.

In its fact sheet, Georgia Tech says the OMS course structure will offer “educational experience no less rigorous than the on-campus format.” The Chronicle of Higher Education did a comparison on Tuesday to juxtapose the OMS course fees with the residential tuition fees for similar programs. The new massive online project will put this top-ranked computer science program at a rate comparable to regular community college price point – about $134 per credit. On the other hand, the normal in-state tuition at Georgia Tech is $472 per credit and $1,139 per credit for out-of-state students.

“The toughest part typically is overcoming some of the politics around that,” said Russell Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

In a blog post, AT&T Vice President of Human Resources Scott Smith wrote that “Access to world-class educational resources for anyone with a broadband connection [and] [t]apping technology to jump-start training of engineers and other technical talent for the 21st Century” are reasons why AT&T has jumped onboard onto this partnership.

According to The Chronicle and Georgia Tech’s official announcement, courses in the OMS program will be offered free via Udacity, with unlimited access to course materials including video lectures and computer-graded assignments. Students pay for admissions to the program and may have the options to have their assignments graded by people.

“Today’s learning experiences transcend the brick-and-mortar classroom. As technology improves, the availability and affordability of a quality education and our definitions of the learning environment are radically shifting,” wrote Smith.

A Leap of Faith

Georgia Tech’s project is an unprecedented arrangement and has already drawn attention of academics from all disciplines. While the project has won all necessary sign-offs from every relevant level in the University System of Georgia, including the Board of Regents, I bet many of the officials are crossing their fingers on the success of this delivery method, hoping to set an example for other MOOC-like programs to come onboard.

I anticipate a heated conversation to fire away at the coming Computers and Writing conference at Frostburg, MD, this June 6-9. As one of the only three sessions to discuss on MOOCs, my team is preparing ourselves to respond to some toughest questions about the practicality and ethical issues with this new adventure that higher education has embarked on in just about three years ago.

At least at this point, Georgia Tech indicated that there are no plans to launch another massive-online degree program. As for the OMS program, I am excited to see how the public (students) receive it.

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