What’s behind the success of post-grad computer science programs? | ZDNet

Online learning is not a new idea. It is rooted in correspondence courses. Back in the late 19th century, postal services operated training and communication platforms. Today, everything is digital, with interaction between teacher and student available in real time and in your own time.

The ongoing pandemic caused people to reconsider their career prospects. As a result, many people decided to expand or update their education. In response, universities improved existing online learning options and introduced new programs.

“It was a risky endeavor”

Atlanta-based Georgia Tech says it was the first accredited university to offer an online master of science in computer science, or OMSCS for short. The degree is available in a solid online format. Georgia Tech partnered with Udacity and AT&T to launch its 2014 OMSCS program.

For the spring semester 2022, 12,016 students enrolled in the program. For the autumn semester 2021, 837 people graduated. Almost 6,500 students have graduated so far.

David Joyner, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of Online Education and OMSCS at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. Joyner pointed to four key factors that contributed to the success of the OMSCS program.

“In retrospect, the success of OMSCS seems obvious, but at the time, it was a risky endeavor,” Joyner said. “The low level of teaching could have undermined our enrollment in the campus program, and the high enrollment rate may have reduced the perceived quality of the degree.”

But the opposite happened. In less than a decade, the OMSCS program’s reputation and visibility have driven more applications to the program on campus. Joyner thinks that the “incredible quality” of online students has improved the university’s reputation.

Joyner credited the program’s founders and visionaries – along with Georgia Tech’s administrative leaders – for moving forward despite the risks of starting something new.

In addition, “the faculty embraced the idea of ​​building the online program and ensuring that it adhered to the standards we have come to expect on campus,” Joyner said. “The courses are taught by the same professors who teach personally and who do the research that then becomes material for their classes, and which gives an authenticity that gives the program its magic.”

When the program registered more than 2,000 students, Joyner and his colleagues realized that they could not support the program’s growth with only teaching assistants on campus.

“But online students have increased a lot to support the program,” Joyner said.

The program now employs over 400 teaching assistants, almost half of whom are alumni. Many are now professionals in the field. As a result, their first-hand professional experience, perspectives and insights enhance the courses they support, according to Joyner.

Finally, Joyner said, technology “recently reached a point where rich, authentic, active learning experiences and dynamic social learning communities can be created and scaled around the world with relative ease.”

Lack of jobs drives students’ interest

Georgia Tech claims to be the first. But today, dozens of colleges only offer online post-graduate computer science programs. They include the University of Texas at Austin, which launched its Master of Science in Online Computer Science (MCSO) 2019.

Eric Busch, Ph.D., is the director of online programs in computer science and computer science at UT Austin. He said that the technical labor market is a factor that makes this type of master’s degree in computer science worth it for many students.

“Despite the effects of the pandemic, we believe that MCSO’s early success is rooted in the sharp differences between education and labor markets in computer science – which the program is partly designed to address,” said Busch.

The gap between the number of computer science graduates and the number of open computer jobs is well documented. That shortage creates a massive unsatisfied demand for skilled CS workers in a variety of areas and job functions.

– Eric Busch, Director of Online Computer Science and Computer Science at UT Austin

The Society for Human Resource Management predicted that employers would struggle to find and retain IT workers by 2022. About three months into the year, SHRM’s prediction seems to be coming true.

“The gap between the number of computer science graduates and the number of open computer jobs is well documented,” Busch continued. “This shortage creates a massive unsatisfied demand for skilled CS workers in a variety of areas and job functions. Although technology companies have raised wages to compensate, the supply of skilled labor in these areas is still relatively inelastic.”

Busch said that inelasticity has its roots in lack of education. Even large computer science programs on campus like UT Austins can only accommodate so many personal students in one year.

“Campus capacity is still limited in terms of financial support capacity and physical space,” Busch said.

For the spring semester 2022, UT Austin had 860 students enrolled in the MCSO program. The UT Austin faculty teaches the courses, which include lessons designed for online learning.

“Programs like MCSO represent an important intervention in this scarcity dynamic,” Busch added. “Because our online, asynchronous curriculum format can handle much higher volumes of students, we can accommodate all applicants who are qualified and capable of taking a master’s degree.”

The content changes part of the program’s success

We’ve been working for the last two years without any online program manager or MOOC partner, and I think we’ve been better off because it allows us to design each part of the program according to our own needs.

– David Joyner, Executive Director of Online Education and OMSCS at Georgia Tech

Joyner says that changes in academic content also contribute to the success of the OMSCS program.

When the program started, OMSCS collaborated with a massive open online course provider that produced and hosted the school’s course content.

“Now we handle the production ourselves and host content on our own platforms,” ​​said Joyner. “We’ve been operating for the last two years without any online program manager or MOOC partner, and I think we’ve had a better time because it allows us to design each part of the program according to our own needs.”

“Our early classes were relatively lecture-heavy, and although they used many active learning strategies, there was a lot of focus on the pre-recorded video content,” Joyner said. But now, he said, online MS in computer science courses are instead built around six focus points:

  • Classes with minimal lecture content built around open, student-driven projects
  • Lab-based challenges and simulation-based evaluation
  • Synchronous workshops with faculty and teaching assistants
  • Seminars focused on student presentations or shared reading interests
  • Classes based on partnerships with real non-profit organizations or healthcare professionals
  • Independent student research in collaboration with the faculty

What are the prospects for this year?

In application cycles since the pandemic began, applications for Georgia Tech’s OMSCS increased by 14%.

Joyner suspects that the increase in applicants for this online postgraduate degree in computer science is temporary. He believes that students are attracted to affordable online education at a time when “there is so much uncertainty about personal finances, the global economy and public health.”

Joyner also highlighted a remarkable demographic change at Georgia Tech. The average age of incoming OMSCS students has dropped from 37 to 30.

This is likely to suggest that “we are attracting more students early in their careers and fewer mid-career professionals who have been waiting more than 15 years for an opportunity to study CS in a more formal program.”

Tori Rubloff / ZDNet

“That said,” he continued, “we have been wrong in the past: we thought we had stabilized during the first three years of the program, only to see explosive growth after that.”

Busch, at UT Austin, also has a positive view of graduating in computer science.

“We expect a further increase in the number of enrollments in both the MCSO program and in online postgraduate education in general,” he said. “MCSO continues to add new courses and expects to remain a market leader in computer science online based on its use of permanent faculties to teach online courses, and its focus on rigors and building student community.”

This article was reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

Monali Mirel Chuatico, a woman with long dark hair, smiles in a head shot.

In 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, which gave her the foundation she needed to excel in roles as a computer engineer, front-end developer, UX designer and computer science instructor.

Monali is currently a computer engineer at Mission Lane. As a data analytics captain of a non-profit organization is called COOP CareerMonali helps graduates and young professionals overcome underemployment by teaching them data analysis tools and mentoring them on their professional development journey.

Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocating for mental health, empowering women and educating young people. Monali’s goal is to gain more experience in their field, expand their skills and do meaningful work that will have a positive impact on the world.

Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of Red Ventures Education’s Freelance Review Network.

Last reviewed March 21, 2022.

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