Computer science department plans to provide new online master’s degree

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Photo Credit: Andrew Choi | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Department of Computer Science is in the final stages of approval for a new online master’s degree program.

“The question everyone wants to ask is, ‘Can online be done as well as the traditional on-campus lecture?’” said Brent Winkelman, department of computer science director. “My response is, ‘Why can’t it be better?’ When you have an online format, you’re able to absorb information at your own pace. You can interact with this information in a tailored way that’s better suited to how you might learn.”

According to code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to computer science education, the gap in supply and demand for computer science graduates is increasing. Around 500,000 computing jobs are currently open but there are only around 50,000 graduates to fill them.  The nonprofit predicts by 2020, there will be a million more computing jobs than there will be applicants to fill those positions. 

To meet this demand, the computer science department has teamed up with edX, an online learning website started by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to provide an online equivalent to UT’s master’s degree program in computer science. The program is ranked tenth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. 

“For years now, the computer science department has been looking at how we address the mismatch in supply and demand, the talent shortage that is currently facing the tech industry,” Winkelman said. “One of the areas where we have the most flexibility to do that is in our masters’ population.”

Winkelman said the online degree is functionally indistinguishable from the one students get on UT’s campus. Don Fussell, computer science department chair, said to assure the degree is similar in quality, the courses will be taught by UT professors and will use technology which provides automated grading and monitoring during tests to ensure students are doing their own work. 

“What we’re going to try to do is make the content as similar as we can,” Fussell said. “Online is different than on-campus and so by necessity things will be different, but we do plan to cover the same material in those classes and to the extent possible, we’ll provide the same resources to people to be able to learn from them.”

Mathematics senior Evan Shrestha said he was looking into the online graduate degree program because of this high demand for computer science graduates. Having already been offered a full time tech job in a state across the country, Shrestha said he saw the program as an opportunity to work at his new job while getting a degree that will help his career.

“It offers the flexibility that I want,” Shrestha said. “I’d be able to pursue a master’s in a really good computer science program while working, so even though I’m all the way in Connecticut I can still go to UT and get the same education … I wanted a computer science masters to use machine learning and actual methods instead of the low-level learning stuff they’d be doing on Excel. It’s mostly to get better at what I’m doing.”