BUZZ: Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T Launch MOOC to Earn Master’s Degree in Computer Science

This article is cross-posted from edtechtimes.com, where I currently serve as editor-in-chief.

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The Internet is abuzz with yesterday’s announcement of Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T’s MOOC launch.

Here are the basics:

  • Georgia Tech will offer an Online Master of Science degree in computer science (OMS CS).
  • Course content will be delivered through Udacity’s platform.  Courses will appear for free on Udacity, but only Georgia Tech’s accepted students can receive credit.
  • Tuition is expected to be below $7000.
  • A pilot program supported by AT&T will begin in next academic year and limited to a few hundred students.

Now, the buzz:

Co-founder Sebastian Thrun, on Udacity’s blog, puts his pride into perspective:

“There are a few moments in my life I will never forget. Like the moment I proposed to my wife, Petra. Or the moment Stanley crossed the finish line in the DARPA Grand Challenge.”

Forbes describes the move as a “shock” to higher ed:

“This is the kind of disruption that the higher education industry has been expecting and experimenting with using massively open online courses (MOOCs) for free that do not lead to a degree. Georgia Tech and Udacity made a bold move with this announcement. They changed the game by offering a sought after graduate degree through online instruction for 80% less than what the existing classroom curriculum costs, and employers are waiting for such graduates with good paying jobs.”

Inside Higher Ed’s post, entitled “Massive (but not Open)”, highlights the 4 types of OMS student:

“The first of the four tracks will include traditional degree-seeking students who will be able to complete the 12-course master’s degree in roughly three years. Georgia Tech said it does not plan to lower admission standards to find 6,000 or so students for this track — a number than is 20 times larger than its current computer science master’s degree program. Instead, Georgia Tech hopes to attract more qualified applicants from across the world, including inside the military and at companies – places that harbor nontraditional students who could not previously come to a traditional campus or find the money for a full degree, on campus or online.

The second type of student will be ‘prospective degree-seeking’ students who will be admitted to the program tentatively because they will not have to take the GRE as other applicants do. If they do well in two core classes, Georgia Tech will put them on the degree track. The university expects to enroll 2,000 such students in the next three years. 

A third type of paying student will be students who can drop in to take several courses for a certificate short of a full master’s degree. Georgia Tech expects 2,000 such students.

The final type of students will resemble the students in a traditional MOOC and will be able to take the courses but will pay nothing or perhaps a small fee for a certificate of completion for a course. Tens of thousands of students would presumably sign up for these types of courses, an enrollment figure similar to existing MOOCs.”

TechCrunch has this to say:

“Again, while the idea itself isn’t new, and Udacity isn’t the first to partner with an elite graduate program to provide quality education and an actual, graduate-level degree to students online, the quality of the academic program (and presumably its content), its focus on Computer Science, combined with its relative affordability and the ability to receive credit and complete a full, graduate-level degree online, is absolutely huge.”

“If technology and online education are going to truly transform education, maintaining the status quo isn’t acceptable, especially if these automated courses replace or curb the need for real, live human teachers. So, not to be party pooper or anything, but while this program has significant implications, it’s still all about quality content/presentation, improving retention, outcomes and ye olde learning experience. Without that, scale and affordability don’t mean quite as much.”

EdSurge talks about AT&T’s statement of STEM support, saying:

“Although AT&T’s involvement seems limited to providing what the press release calls ‘generous’ support, AT&T’s chairman and CEO, Randall Stephenson was unequivocable upbeat about the program in a statement:

‘We believe that high-quality and 100 percent online degrees can be on par with degrees received in traditional on-campus settings, and that this program could be a blueprint for helping the United States address the shortage of people with STEM degrees, as well as exponentially expand access to computer science education for students around the world.’

AT&T will have to live up to that declaration by offering the first grads jobs–but at least for now that’s in the future.”

And from the educator’s mouth, Robert Talbert on his blog on Chronicle of Higher Education:

“I think here in a nutshell is why so many educators are ambivalent about MOOCs. The way Thrun puts it here, getting a good education seems to mean sitting at the feet of ‘the best professors in the world’, by whom he means professors in ‘top–10’ programs — a designation largely determined by reputation, which is in turn driven by prestige and research output. That the quality of one’s education is determined in this way is highly debatable, first and foremost because the emphasis in this formulation of education is on the professor, not on the student. This is where a lot of things in education — online and otherwise — start to go wrong.

Most of us in education also realize the fact that a good education consists not in being around smart people but in doing interesting and useful things. And in that sense a ‘top–10’ university actually might be a terrible place to get a good education. Much better would be a CS department where professors know and interact with their students and where the curriculum is structured to provide lots of hands-on work to give students transferable, useful experiences both on the theory side of CS and on the application side. Thrun writes that the tuition cost for the credit-bearing version of the Master’s degree will be for ‘support services’. At my university that’s called ‘teaching’.”

Education blogger Audrey Watters tests AT&T on Twitter, saying:

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This is just the beginning of the buzz – there is certainly more to come the education technology blogosphere processes and ruminates on the groundbreaking announcement.

Read the original press release on on CNBC via PRNewswire.

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