A couple weeks ago, Georgia Tech shook up the world of higher education with the announcement of an Online Master of Science in Computer Science, believed to be the first computer science degree at a major university to be taught entirely with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs have been in the news for the past year, due to their potential to disrupt the traditional academic system.
Traditionally free of charge with almost limitless enrollment capacity, MOOCs have as yet rarely been leveraged for accredited degrees. Georgia Tech believes this initiative will put the university squarely on the forefront of the movement.
According to the program website, the accredited online degree will “serve as a catalyst for transformational change throughout higher education” while simultaneously helping “address the current shortage of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.”
The announcement does not come without its own share of controversy, though. An investigation by Inside Higher Ed published May 28 uncovered “significant internal disagreements” within Georgia Tech’s College of Computing before the announcement.
Externally, some critics look at the movement toward MOOCs as a play to funnel tuition dollars to private, for-profit entities such as Udacity—which is partnering with Georgia Tech on this initiative—and Coursera, a similarly-focused MOOC developer. There is also concern that a glut of computer science degrees could force salaries for engineers down.
On a larger scale, some academics wonder if the wide-scale adoption of MOOCs could harm academia at large by obsoleting professors and adjunct faculty at smaller institutions. Why employ your own geology professor, after all, if you can just have your students follow along with an M.I.T. geology course for a fraction of the price?
The answers to those questions won’t be answered any time soon. However, the price point for the Georgia Tech program—which is approximately one-sixth of out-of-state tuition for the in-person program— is sure to draw applicants from all over the world. One has to assume that similar programs in different disciplines will begin popping up all over the country, especially if Georgia Tech’s experience is a success.
Editor’s note: If Tech’s program sounds like a good fit, you might have to wait until Fall of 2014. The initial pilot will consist of “a few hundred students recruited from AT&T and Georgia Tech corporate affiliates.” (AT&T, the Dallas-based telecom company, is providing financial backing for the new venture.)