Olivia Leonardi regularly writes about the burgeoning field of computer science and its corresponding education options, which of-late include newly offered certificates in computer science. In todayâ€™s post, she explores the shift from on-campus, traditional computer programming degree programs to fully online options. Although these new online options offer convenience and can be less costly than traditional programming degrees, one concern noted in a uTest post suggests that there is a gap between learning how to program and delivering a great product, a gap that may be exacerbated by online learning.
Online Computer Programming Schools Seek to Challenge the Status Quo in Computer Science Education
As the costs associated with college education continue to rise, more and more computer science students are looking to online degree programs as a means of keeping expenses low while still learning skills needed for gainful employment. Programming, coding, and other aspects of computer science are particularly well suited for the online learning platform since they already require ready access to a computer and an Internet connection. Most programmers benefit greatly from a college degree, both in terms of job prospects and base salary earnings. The technology growth of the past decade means that there are more jobs than ever in the computer science sector. While degrees are still offered at many of the nationâ€™s top universities, more and more schools are also exploring remote education for programmers, offering degrees, certificates, and even just basic education over the Internet.
One of the reasons that computer science programs are booming is that technology jobs are, in many respects, recession-proof. â€śWe had placed 87% of our undergraduates in jobs as of last spring,â€ť Cedric Stallworth, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Enrollment at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, told Network World in early 2011. â€śThe financial sectorâ€”credit card companies, insurance companiesâ€”are very much interested in computer science students, as are defense companies and software development and networking companies,â€ť he said. â€śHere’s a tip for incoming and current college students: If you want to have a high-paying job on graduation day, study computer science.â€ť
Traditional schools and programs are increasingly tapping into this market need. Established institutions like Oregon State University and the University of Illinois are offering online-only programming degrees, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Hopeful programmers who may not have the funds or the time to attend a full-time college program may find the flexibility of an online program to be ideal. This is particularly true for those who already work full-time in the IT sectorâ€”enrolling online often means that students do not have to quit their jobs or relocate. All they need do is allocate enough time each day to log in, watch lectures, and complete required assignments.
Free access to lectures and course material is also popular at schools like Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In fact, MITâ€™s OpenCourseWare program was one of the first to offer no-charge online access to computer science lectures, with the belief that top-notch technology education should be available to all. Participants do not get credit and cannot claim that they have an MIT education, but for most, the payout is in the practical applications of their learning.
Stanford has begun accelerating this idea by offering a fully online course that enrollees can actually use for job advancement. Participation in lectures and on chat boards will remain free. What Stanford hopes to implement next is a computer science certificate program, where students can pay a small feeâ€”usually less than $100 per courseâ€”to participate in tests, quizzes, and other assessment mechanisms. Students who perform well will be awarded a Stanford-issued certificate, and will have access to the universityâ€™s career and job placement office.
The demand is definitely there. One of the certificate program founders, Stanford computer science professor Andrew Ng, told The New York Times in 2012 that he has already been experimenting with the model. In 2012â€™s spring semester, Ng taught 100,000 students via online lecture, with little added work for him. His live lectures were streamed, he said, and assessment tools were auto-graded. â€śTo reach that many students before, I would have had to teach my normal Stanford class for 250 years,â€ť Ng said.
There are a number of indisputable benefits to this sort of education, primarily related to cost. As with most things, though, there are also a number of drawbacks. Critics of online computer science programs question the breadth of learning that can happen within such nuanced constraints.
â€śThe further out you are from college graduation, the less your success is attributable to the field in which you majored, and the more your success is attributable to a set of abilities imparted by any top-tier bachelor’s-level education: critical thinking, problem solving, rhetoric, the ability to work in teams, leadership, conflict resolution,â€ť Ed Lazowska, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece. â€śA balanced education serves you best,â€ť he wrote.
Online courses, unlike those in more traditional universities, usually cater only to the specific degree being pursued. This is one of the ways these schools and programs can cut down on costs: rather than requiring students to complete credit requirements in a range of fields before graduation, focus is narrowed to one area. Computer scientists who are already working in the field and are looking to either brush up on skills or advance their careers with broadened knowledge usually do very well with online programs. At the same time, new high school graduates interested in exploring computer science might be better served through a more traditional university experience.
It is very likely that the coming years will bring an even greater surge in online programming courses, and the possibilities for IT-based education are only expected to grow. Finding the right program is still of paramount importance, though. Tomorrowâ€™s students will have more choice, but also many more options from which to choose.