Online Computer Science Courses vs. Campus Courses: Experts Respond
Online education continues to grow, enjoying wider adoption across at several traditional institutions, but not all online courses are created equally. Different fields of study have different sets of standards when it comes to instruction methods, teacher interaction, testing and more. This is particularly true when it comes to programs in computer science.
How do online computer science courses tackle a curriculum that requires a lot of individual work and project-based assignments? Does the slant towards solo study make it significantly easier to study computer science online versus, say, history, or are there special challenges that aren't apparent at first glance? Is there anything a prospective student can get out of a traditional on-campus computer science program that they possibly wouldn't derive from an online offering?
To help answer these questions, we talked to experts from University of Maryland University College in Maryland and Husson University in Maine.
Program Director for Computer and Information Science and Computer Science
University of Maryland University College
How different are online computer science courses versus offline? Is taking a class online notably different from taking the course in a large lecture hall?
There are differences. The lecture hall and code discussions may help some learners in class. However; online classes have even more discussions and usually rapid responses to questions through the online discussion boards. Also, at the end of the day, the student still has to learn how to code. They don't do that in a lecture hall or discussion forum. They learn by coding their own projects.
Do you think computer science courses are inherently compatible with independent or distance learning?
Computer students are probably online most of the time anyway, so they are use to using computer tools to accomplish their goals and activities. The learning management system assist with access to discussion boards, chat rooms, and the ability to add videos and other electronic resources as needed.
James Robertson is program director of the department of Computer and Information Science and Computer Science at University of Maryland University College, a role he's held since transitioning from Oracle into the academic realm in 2001. He holds an MS in electro-optical engineering as well as an EdD in instructional director. Additionally, he teaches courses in programming, databases, computer graphics and image/signal processing at UMUC.
Director of Online and Extended Learning
What are the key differences in student experiences between online and offline courses?
All research shows that the experiences are equivalent. Technologies for online classes allow for extensive student engagement with faculty and fellow learners, while providing access to a wealth of digital resources and support services. Online classes also provide students with the opportunity to balance course schedules with other commitments such as work and family.
What methods or tools do you use to overcome the problems introduced in distance learning?
I wouldn't say that there are necessarily "problems introduced" when students utilize distance learning. Today's online courses are very different from those of the past. In many instances, students ask more questions and participate more in online classes because of the ease of sending a message by email, accessing course resources and submitting assignments through sophisticated technologies. These include learning management systems, video conferencing technologies, webinars, discussions and simulations delivered through computer and mobile devices. As I see it, online courses create significant opportunities for student and faculty engagement.
Richard Pushard is director of Online & Extended Learning at Husson University.
Interview with James Robertson, Program Director for Computer and Information Science and Computer Science. Conducted by Michael Kushman, 2015
Interview with Richard Pushard, Director of Online and Extended Learning, Husson University. Conducted by Michael Kushman, 2015