Crunch, Rumble, Shake. Georgia Tech Goes MOOC.

Georgia Tech has a great campus -- which many of its new students will never need to visit.
Georgia Tech has a great campus — which many of its new students will never need to visit.

The tectonic plates of higher education continue to shift and slide. The latest rumble you heard emanated from Atlanta, where the Georgia Institute of Technology recently announced that it would offer an online master’s degree in computer science at less than one-third the cost per credit hour.

Georgia Tech is partnering with Udacity, a company that runs massively open online courses (MOOCs), and AT&T, which is donating $2 million to get the program started, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. The program is expected to take most students three years to complete and to cost less than $7,000. The university and Udacity will split the tuition revenue 60/40.

“This is not going to be a watered-down degree,” said Georgia Tech Provost Rafael L. Bras. “It’s going to be as hard and at a level of excellence of a regular degree.”

“These students will never have to set foot in a classroom to earn degrees on par with those received in traditional on-campus settings—degrees that will be equally valued by their future employers,” blogged Scott S. Smith, senior vice president for human resources at AT&T, which aims to ensure a stream of qualified job applicants. “By harnessing the power of MOOCs, we can embark on a new era for higher education and for the development of a highly skilled work force.”

Bacon’s bottom line: There are several significant aspects to this story. First, Georgia Tech, a highly reputable academic institution, is willing to stake its reputation on offering an online degree program. We’re not talking about Phoenix University here. Second, AT&T, a Fortune 500 company, hopes to snap up a large number of the program’s graduates. So much for the concern about the value of MOOC credentials. Thirdly and most importantly, the economics of MOOCs are such that Georgia Tech can slash prices by two-thirds.

This experiment should send paroxysms of fear into every established institution of higher education in Virginia — and across the country. Academics can talk all they want about the putative advantages of traditional, face-t0-face education, but we’ll see what students say when they are given the opportunity to cut tuition costs by two-thirds. Higher ed — and in all likelihood, much of K-12 education — will be disrupted as thoroughly as newspapers, music CDs and book retailing have been. The big question for the Old Dominion is this: Will we be in the vanguard, or will we be bringing up the rear?

The move to MOOCs will not proceed glitch-free. Much to its embarrassment, Georgia Tech had to cancel one of its MOOCs, “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application,” after a series of technical snafus. But the technology will evolve, the online pedagogy will innovate, and the experience will continue to improve.

A sign of the times: Interest in MOOCs is now so fevered that Hybrid Pedagogy, which bills itself as a digital journal of learning, teaching and technology, is launching a MOOC… about MOOCs.


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7 responses to “Crunch, Rumble, Shake. Georgia Tech Goes MOOC.”

  1. larryg Avatar

    here’s a little vignette from the near future:

    Someone is asking a guy who attends GaTech as a campus student?

    “Seriously, you are spending how much a year to get a degree in Computer Science?. My brother/son/ good friend is getting a degree for 7k”.

    ” so why did you decide to pay 3 times that”?

    ” oh jeeze…you say you’re getting a loan to pay?”

    “good God”!

    and somewhere in the bowels of UVA… there is a lady named Dragas who is strutting her stuff saying “I told you so”.


  2. DJRippert Avatar

    This is a good plan. A masters degree student has already been through undergraduate studies. They don’t have to “learn how to learn” at the college level. Computer science is pretty “cut and dried”. Sitting around in study groups, smoking pot, singing Kumbaya and discussing Nietzsche isn’t something that most MSCS students find useful. OK – maybe the pot part could be part of a techie’s wake and bake philosophy. MSCS degree holders are in very short supply. Even employers who value on-campus degrees will be sorely tempted to hire the Georgia Tech MSCS graduate.

  3. Larry raises an interesting issue, though. At some point students are going to ask, what’s the value proposition for an on-campus Georgia Tech computer science degree? Georgia Tech will have to argue that it is somehow superior to the online program…. but it can’t admit that the online program is deficient in any way. It will be interesting to see how the administration works through that one.

  4. VCU has a masters program in Homeland Security & Emergency Management that is offered only on an online basis. The University has students from all over the United States and several foreign nations.

  5. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Georgia Tech – This is the existential moment – the end and the beginning.

    The loud crack and boom.

    Now massive glacial ice locked up for generations begins to move.

    Move itself and all that stands before it, reshaping its world.

    The glacial snout reshapes the earth, the mass behind leaves all else rubbish.

  6. Sounds like Liberty University has been ahead of the curve for quite some time. While many were accusing Liberty of being a diploma mill, people in education have been watching. The president of Pepperdine was quoted recently in the Washington Post saying “in higher education circles…Liberty is considered a school on the move.” There are a pretty fair number of hypocrites in education these days.

  7. […] Two years ago, the Georgia Institute of Technology partnered with Udacity, a company that runs massively open online courses (MOOCs) and ATT to launch an online masters degree in computer science charging a fraction the cost per credit hour. Georgia Tech was staking its academic reputation on its ability to deliver a quality education online. (Here was my spin on the story at that time.) […]

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