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Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal
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Georgia Institute of Technology offers first accredited Online Master of Science Degree Program in Computer Science

August 15th, 2013 by Sanjay Gangal

Article source: Georgia Tech University

The Georgia Institute of Technology, Udacity and AT&T have teamed up to offer the first accredited Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) that students can earn exclusively through the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) delivery format and for a fraction of the cost of traditional, on-campus programs.

This collaboration brings together leaders in education, MOOCs and industry to apply the disruptive power of massively open online teaching to widen the pipeline of high-quality, educated talent needed in computer science fields. Not only will OMS CS serve as a catalyst for transformational change throughout higher education, it could serve as a blueprint to help the United States address the current shortage of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

The OMS CS program will begin accepting student applications to matriculate in Fall 2014.


Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) is the first degree of its kind, and people always have questions about something new. We tried to anticipate those questions in the information below.

Why the OMS CS?

Why is Georgia Tech doing this?

Georgia Tech in general, and the College of Computing in particular, are committed to fully incorporating disruptive educational technologies into the value the Institute provides to its stakeholders. The development of massive-online educational models bring an unprecedented opportunity to extend access to high-quality education to an exponentially larger number of people, from around the world, than we can accommodate on a physical campus. Our educational mission as a public university is to explore and maximize such opportunities.

What’s new about this approach?

It will be the first professional Online Master of Science degree in computer science that can be earned completely through the “massive online” format. It shows how leaders from MOOC, industry and academia can join to offer an advanced degree program on a massive and affordable scale. We believe this program can establish corporate acceptance of high-quality and 100 percent online degrees as being on par with degrees received in traditional on-campus settings, and serve as a blueprint for helping the United States address the shortage of people with advanced computer science and other STEM skills.

Why computer science?

There are an estimated 3 million open technology positions in the job market today. Training skilled computing professionals is a societal need, and that is a challenge Georgia Tech, Udacity and AT&T want to address.

How does computer science lend itself to evaluation using the massive-online approach?

Often computer science problems have a right or wrong answer and lend themselves to objective, rather than subjective, assessment and evaluation. This is what makes computer science amenable to the MOOC platform. In instances where this is not the case, we will apply the resources necessary to evaluate and assess student performance.

Will Georgia Tech offer other degrees in this format?

Georgia Tech has no plans at this time to launch other massive-online degrees.

Why has AT&T decided to jump into the world of online higher education?

AT&T believes the disruptive power of the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) platform can help address the shortage of engineers and other technical-degreed talent in the United States. By making graduate degrees and certifications available online at very affordable rates, Udacity, Georgia Tech and AT&T are eliminating barriers for many students unable to afford or access an advanced degree, and increasing the pipeline for the next generation of technology leaders. STEM skills are essential across business segments in today’s digital economy.

About the Program

How is this degree different from residential Georgia Tech MS CS?

The OMS CS will deliver educational content completely through the massive online format. This means it will differ from the residential MS CS in course structure, for example, but will provide an educational experience no less rigorous than the on-campus format.

How is the OMS CS different from other distance-learning and/or online degree programs that have existed for a long time?

The Georgia Tech OMS CS is the first online degree in computer science from a top-tier university that students can obtain exclusively through the massive-online format.

How much does the degree program cost?

We’re not yet ready to announce a specific program cost, but the plan is to offer the Georgia Tech OMS CS for a total cost of under $7,000—a fraction of the cost of Georgia Tech’s on-campus program and even less than that of comparable private universities.

What evidence do you have of market demand for this program?

At present, around 160,000 master’s degrees are bestowed in the United States every year in computer science and related subject disciplines; the worldwide market is almost certainly much larger, perhaps even an order of magnitude larger. We conjecture that the present structure is vastly underserving the market and will conduct market research in the first year to check these estimates and help target our course offerings.

How long does it take to complete and receive a degree?

We anticipate the typical time for students to complete the OMS CS will be about three years, though we will allow for longer enrollments— up to six years—for those students who need greater flexibility.

How does the student workload compare to a residential degree? How many hours a week will students spend on it?

The total workload is the same as the residential program; the weekly or hourly workload depends on how quickly students wish to complete the program.

Who can take courses?

All OMS CS courses will be available free of charge for anyone, anywhere in the world. Degree-seeking students will be virtually separated from “open” students to ensure degree program rigor.

Who can apply to the degree program?

Formal admission into the OMS CS program will require a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from an accredited institution, or a related Bachelor of Science degree with a possible need to take and pass remedial courses. Formal admission will also require the selection through a graduate admission committee that will meet periodically.

When can people sign up for the courses?

All courses will be open to the public as soon as they are available on the Udacity website. Timing is to be worked out, but course previews are expected to be available this summer for select courses. For more information, please see

When can they apply to the degree program?

We anticipate opening enrollment for matriculation during Fall 2014.

Why isn’t the program open to the general public immediately?

At Georgia Tech, we are not only educators but scientists. To ensure program rigor and success, we will test our programmatic hypotheses with a smaller student cohort before scaling the OMS CS up to larger enrollments.

How many students ultimately do you anticipate participating?

This is difficult to determine, but we feel the current offerings of top-quality computer science degrees vastly underserve the market. Our long-term business models suggest an enrollment of about 10,000 students at any given time.

How does the admissions process work?

Admissions into the OMS CS program will take place on a periodic basis, and students have to furnish materials commonly required for graduate admissions (prior degrees, transcripts, etc.). Georgia Tech will admit successful applicants with special/non-degree-seeking standing and ask them to pass designated courses with a grade of B or higher prior  to being granted degree-seeking standing.

Do applicants need to take the GRE?


Is there a cap on admissions?

Our goal at full scale is to admit all applying students who satisfy the basic admissions prerequisites and qualifications.

What is the curriculum? How does it compare to the curriculum for the residential degree?

The curriculum in the pilot OMS CS will represent a subset of the on-campus curriculum, allowing for a full MS in computer science but with only some of the specializations available in the on-campus program. The OMS CS curriculum will then expand as more courses come online.

How will you guarantee academic honesty?

All exams are proctored using national proctoring standards. We have access to 4,500 physical proctoring facilities and are working with online proctoring institutions.

How will you handle grading? Will each student be evaluated individually by a human being, or is there an automated process?

Grading will be the privilege and responsibility of Georgia Tech’s instructors. We will leverage MOOC technology to automate aspects of the grading process, using a significant portion of the tuition fee to support the scaling of student evaluation through such technologies. Similar techniques already are in use at Georgia Tech to handle grading in classes with very large enrollments.

What kind of reaction do you anticipate from current students and alumni of your residential MS program?

So far we’ve encountered enthusiasm for our willingness to innovate and expand access to higher education. There is broad consensus that the quality of this program will match that of Georgia Tech’s residential degree programs, and we will work as hard as necessary to ensure this is the case without devaluing the experience of our current students and alumni.

Does this dilute the Georgia Tech experience—or value—for on-campus students?

Not at all. These technologies will enhance GT educational offerings in terms of overall quality, access and affordability. Further, Georgia Tech’s existing MS CS program will remain a special experience that is qualitatively different—in terms of student community, faculty interaction, and project and thesis offerings—from the online offering, particularly for those students who wish to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science.

Provided the program is successful, why would a student choose to come to campus and pay more for a residential degree?

Though Georgia Tech believes strongly in the value online education can provide, the Institute acknowledges that certain aspects of on-campus programs simply cannot be replicated at present through the massive-online format. There will always be a premium value on close faculty-student interaction, the ability to work directly with fellow students in groups, and to perform hands-on research projects, to name just a few examples.

Does this program have Board of Regents/USG approval?

Yes. This program has been approved at every relevant level of the University System of Georgia, up to and including the Board of Regents.

About the Collaborators

What makes Udacity the “right” delivery vehicle for this?

Udacity has been a leader in the creation of the modern MOOC and has been dedicated to high-quality online education and improving learning outcomes. The Udacity platform and services offer unprecedented scale for online higher ed. Additionally, Udacity has a strong focus on innovations in online pedagogy and active learning that complements Georgia Tech’s faculty.

Why is Udacity collaborating with Georgia Tech? Why not other universities?

Udacity has already collaborated with other universities, including San Jose State University in California, and the company always seeks to work with like-minded institutions that have a desire to broaden access to higher learning through an innovative use of educational technology.  Georgia Tech’s computer science department is one of the very best in the world and offers a master’s program of the highest caliber. The company is excited to work with Georgia Tech to offer an affordable and accessible degree program through the Udacity platform.

Is Udacity planning other degrees with other universities?

We are trying out this new concept for the first time with Georgia Tech, which will keep us busy for a while. However, we’re always looking for new opportunities to bring affordable, accessible education to a broader group of people.

Is Udacity shifting away from its strategy of collaborating with corporations for skills-based classes?

This is not at all a shift away, but a natural complement to the high tech, industry skill courses Udacity builds together with not just AT&T but the Googles, Autodesks, NVIDIAs of the world. Many of these companies are employers of Georgia Tech alumni and look forward to seeing opportunities for talent from both the degree program and from the more industry-focused classes.

Why is AT&T the corporate collaborator for this initiative?

As a premier global communications company and a champion for innovation in education, AT&T will provide technology access, connectivity and products at inception, as well as evolving service and platform support. The company will serve on an advisory board and, where appropriate, offer corporate projects for credit, be a source from which Georgia Tech draws curriculum content and guest instructors and offer internship opportunities to select students. AT&T will tap into the program to train its own employees and will recruit graduates.

Why is AT&T collaborating with Georgia Tech and Udacity?

Georgia Tech is an international leader in scientific and technological research and education.  Our company is already well-stocked with Georgia Tech-educated talent and this will give us even greater access to their world-class resources. Meanwhile, Udacity has brought the effectiveness of MOOCs to a new level, working tirelessly to improve learning outcomes. Udacity’s platform and services offer unprecedented scale for online higher education. Founder Sebastian Thrun’s leadership and passion for an educated humanity are a catalyst for re-engineering online learning and his company is widely recognized as one of the most innovative companies in education.

What is the extent of AT&T’s involvement? Is the company providing more than financial resources and the initial student cohort?

AT&T will be the founding corporate collaborator of the program, contributing $2 million to the initiative, in addition to providing technology access, connectivity and products at inception, as well as evolving service and platform support. The company will serve on an advisory board and, where appropriate, offer corporate projects for credit, be a source from which Georgia Tech draws curriculum content and guest instructors, and offer internship opportunities to select students. AT&T will tap into the program to train its own employees and will recruit graduates.

How will AT&T technologies be integrated into the program?

AT&T will provide technology access, connectivity and products at inception, as well as evolving service and platform support.  We’re further defining that engagement as part of the pilot.

Is AT&T helping to determine the curriculum?

Where appropriate and subject to the approval of a GT faculty committee, we will offer corporate projects for credit and be a source from which Georgia Tech draws curriculum content and guest instructors.

MOOCs, Education & Learning

What kind of evidence do you have to support positive educational outcomes for the MOOC delivery format?

Udacity evolved the MOOC format into one for which the company has proven learning outcomes and high retention rates. The evidence stems from an independent study funded by the National Science Foundation, as well as various smaller-scale evaluations. Still, Udacity believes the OMS CS enters uncharted territory. Student outcomes are of utmost importance, and resources will be dedicated to conducting independent evaluations of educational and job-placement outcomes.

How do Udacity MOOCs differ from other platforms’?

Udacity MOOCs differentiate themselves in two significant ways. First, Udacity courses focus on active student learning and student experience, by using interactive and collaborative elements pervasively throughout our courses. Second, Udacity provides human services in the form of student mentoring. In past classes, we found that the Udacity formula can attain 100 percent retention, compared to less than 4 percent for a conventional MOOC.

How much does it cost Udacity to produce a MOOC?

While the actual cost remains to be seen and can vary from course to course, Udacity typically budgets about $200,000 per class. Udacity is committed to the highest quality of service, and OMS CS MOOCs will be developed by teams of people, led by the Georgia Tech instructor.

Does Udacity own the MOOCs it produces?

Udacity makes no claim with respect to the intellectual property of the instructor or Georgia Tech.

The Need for STEM Education

Why do working professionals need this degree? Can’t they just enroll in classes?

The United States is facing a severe shortage of skilled workers in STEM fields. The Georgia Tech master’s degree in computer science represents an achievement and skill set that companies like AT&T value and want more of their employees to have. The OMS CS program will produce graduates on par with those receiving degrees from an on-campus program, and will also bestow skills certifications for employees who complete designated coursework and take proctored exams.

Why does AT&T care about education and STEM-skills programs in particular?

AT&T hires about 30,000 employees a year, and STEM skills are required across its business. It’s clear that the United States must develop a robust pipeline of skilled STEM workers to remain globally competitive; many jobs are going unfilled as candidates lack the necessary skills, training or degrees. STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17 percent over the next six years, compared to 10 percent for other professions. Through this program, Georgia Tech will be able to offer employers like AT&T a larger and more diverse pool of highly qualified STEM-trained workers.

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