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Online Computer Science Degrees: A Good Idea?

Interested in a degree in computer science, but don't want to relocate? Unsure how to balance additional education with career and family responsibilities? Online learning has long been an option for master's students, and increasingly it's a viable option for undergraduates as well.

Syracuse University's College of Engineering and Computer Science offers an online M.S. in Computer Science focusing on subjects crucial to understanding emerging systems. Request Information about this program.

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The University of Colorado notes that their courses offered online are indistinguishable, on the transcript, from those taken on campus.

Classes may be 100% online, or they may require attendance at some physical location at least once during the term. Some, but not all, schools require students to attend a proctored examination. In other instances, the final is a paper. Technology like SafeAssign helps instructors feel confident that submitted materials are indeed student’s original work. Online technologies are changing the learning experience in many ways! [Check out the top 14 Online Computer Science Bachelor's degrees]

The Online Experience

Today's online learning is more interactive than traditional distance learning. Computer science programs make use of learning platforms like Blackboard. They may also use sophisticated recording technologies that bring students right into the classroom. Professors may maintain online office hours -- it's not all email communication.

A recent California State survey found that 40% of those surveyed preferred online classes to classroom based instruction.

Different schools have different ways of fostering interaction. Some take cues from social media platforms. American Sentinel University, for example, allows students to maintain a profile page and message other learners.

At the University of Michigan-Flint, master's level computer science students recently collaborated with faculty and with members of the nursing department to create an educational video game. The game was designed to teach nursing students to deliver culturally appropriate nursing care. It is indeed possible for online students to apply learning in a team-based format!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Learning in Computer Science

This is not, of course, to say that the online experience is identical to the classroom one. In "Computer Science Students' Online Learning Experience and Workload: Perception vs Reality", California State faculty discuss the advantages and disadvantages of putting learning online. For some students, online classes -- at least in certain formats -- can increase learning opportunities. Students can start and stop a lecture at will and listen to it over again if they need to. However, higher levels of self-discipline and independence are typically required. It’s important that students understand at the onset what the expectations are. Many courses are not self-paced; students will lose points if they don’t get their assignments in on time.

The California State survey examined the online learning experience of students in two sections of a computer science class; both graduates and undergraduates were included. 80% expressed that they learned at least as much through their online class. Still a significant number cited lack of face-to-face contact with the professor as a disadvantage. When asked which format they enjoyed more, 40% -- a plurality -- chose online learning. (26% expressed no preference.)

Graduate Level Online Learning and Computer Science

At the graduate level, students have already mastered the basics and proven their capabilities. Master’s students have traditionally had more responsibilities outside school; distance learning has been viewed as an acceptable way to earn a higher degree and climb the career ladder. Some universities offer fully online programs only to master’s students.

Beyond the Classroom

Will universities or employers look less favorably upon a degree that was granted from an online institution? Traditionally, there has been prejudice in certain circles, but it's evaporating as historically well-known and well-respected universities develop online programs. In some cases, the hiring committee won't even know that a student did classwork at home. The University of Colorado, which offers a master's degree in computer science, notes that courses offered through the online school are indistinguishable, on the transcript, from those taken at the physical location.

As is the case out there in traditional academia, some schools have better reputations than others. Things that a student may want to ask a prospective school: Where are graduates finding jobs? What percentage are hired before graduation? In the year following graduation?

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