Kevin C. Tofel

So ends the great Masters in CS experiment

Published on December 22, 2021

Well, my first semester in the Georgia Tech OMSCS program is over. And my first semester is also my last semester. I’ve decided to not continue this online Masters program.

My decision isn’t because of the program, it’s because of me. At least in a sense.

I’ll say upfront that I think the program is fantastic. Georgia Tech has created an affordable, top-notch advanced degree path in Computer Science. Seriously, it’s undervalued at $800 per class. And although I only took one course, I reviewed many of the syllabuses and video lectures from a bunch of other classes. They’re all available online for anyone to see. And they’re all very interesting for their respective topics.

My Human-Computer Interaction course was excellent as well. Yes, it was a lot of work, but that’s to be expected at this level. I learned a ton. More than I expected. My class notes totaled more than 18,000 words!

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The professor, who is also the director of the OMSCS program, is a fantastic presenter filled with passion. He made what could have been mundane at times very interesting. And he was very responsive, both on the class forms, as well as a few personal email interactions I had with him.

Overall, I can’t complain one bit about the course materials, the lectures, nor the workload.

So why am I not going back?

Like I said it really has to do with me. In a learning environment, I thrive on educational and social engagement with my peers. It’s one of the reasons I really got involved at my local community college when taking CS classes from 2018 to 2020. Instead of watching my classmates leave campus after class (typical for a county-based commuter school), I challenged them to join me for study groups.

So I started up in the campus library with me just sitting by myself for the first week. Then one or two students joined in. Halfway through the semester, nearly half the class made regular appearances and we informally gathered a few times a week. We went from individually working out various challenges to working together as a group to help anyone who needed it. Effectively, we learned more together than we would have done alone. I loved it.

That’s difficult to do in today’s world as COVID has impacted the entire globe. Many schools have gone from in-person to hybrid learning and to online only. And to be fair to Georgia Tech, I knew when I applied that it was an asynchronous, online only program. I really thought I could deal with that.

But as the semester went on, after failed attempts to get some synchronous video chat study sessions together, I knew this wasn’t the optimal situation for me.

I think it was more of the asynchronous aspect than the online one. I say that because my final class as the community college was online. However, we did meet for class at regular times on Zoom. So there were opportunities to engage with the professor and with students in real time.

Only getting half of what I really want

Yes, the OMSCS program would get me my Masters in CS, assuming I continued on and kept doing the work. But I wouldn’t give me all that I want in such a program: More of a real-time experience as least on occasion.

As I noted, what Georgia Tech has put together in OMSCS is fantastic. As a result, we had students in the HCI class from six of the seven world continents. Probably all, or most, of the 24 world time zones as well. And while this accessibility is a strength of the program, it’s a challenge get the engaging environment that works best for me.

So for now, I’ll keep learning development on my own and with some local folks that I had class with a few years back.

I plan to increase my involvement again at the local community college, assuming there’s some in-person opportunities. And I have some coding projects that I’ve resumed since stopping them when my semester started. It’s all good!

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