Episode 48 - Innovation: MOOCs and Quality - The Georgia Tech Master's Degree in Computer Science

The current series of podcasts is focused on innovation, and we're excited to showcase ideas from various industries and people worldwide. In episode 48, President Scott L Wyatt and Professor Steve Meredith invite Dr. Zvi Galil, the John P. Imlay, Jr. Dean of the Georgia Tech College of Computing, to share how he has helped established Open Online, a collection of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Georgia Tech offers dozens of MOOC courses, including the incredibly popular and successful master's degree in computer science which graduates over 1,000 students annually.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith and I'm joined in-studio today, as I usually am, by President Wyatt. Hi, Scott.

Scott Wyatt: Hello, Steve. It's great to be here today.

Meredith: It's great to be here with you always. And we have a very special guest—I should say that this particular set of podcasts that we're doing right now is focusing on innovation in higher education—and you and I have been fascinated by what our guest has accomplished and have wanted to talk to him for some time. So, we're very excited to have him. Why don't you introduce him?

Wyatt: We are delighted to have Dr. Zvi Galil, who is the John P. Imlay, Jr. Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech. Welcome, Zvi.

Zvi Galil: Thank you, I'm really very happy to be here with you.

Wyatt: And we're talking to you…you're in Georgia, so, I suspect that it's warmer where you are than where we are right now.

Galil: It's not that warm. [All laugh]

Wyatt: My brother-in-law is from Atlanta, and he said he's not going back until they air condition the whole state. [All laugh] But this time of the year, it's a beautiful, beautiful place to be.

Galil: Yes. You know, the nickname of Atlanta is "Hotlanta."

Meredith: [Laughs] That's right.

Wyatt: "Hotlanta." Well, you are probably leading one of the most innovative programs at any university, and not only is in incredibly innovative, but it's being done at one of the country's most prestigious universities or institutes, Georgia Tech. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the Master's Degree of Computer Science that you have on a MOOC.

Galil: So, this is an online degree, MOOC based. So, the courses are not exactly MOOCs, but an approximation of MOOCs. It is...the program itself is identical to the face-to-face on-campus program. Almost identical—and I can elaborate later—admissions requirements, the same courses, the same projects, the same problem sets, the same material, the same curriculum. And it started…you are talking to me almost at the five year anniversary. It started in January of 2014 with 380 students. This term, we have 7,688 students and, according to Harvard researchers already when we were half the size, we were the largest master program in computer science in the U.S. and probably the world. We already graduated 1,370 students, but this year and from now on every year, we will graduate at least 1,000 students, graduates, and this number may reach 1,500 in a couple of years. And this is important because, in this context, big is beautiful because there is a huge need for computing professionals in the U.S. market and actually many other countries' markets. Actually, a NBS, BLS (Bureau of Labor) statistics with the NSF (National Science Foundation) came up with the following numbers: currently, and this was a few months ago, there are 500,000 jobs in computing without applicants and this number will increase to a million by 2020. So, in some sense, we are fulfilling a great national need, which gives me great pleasure. And…

Wyatt: Well you…most of our listeners…when you talk about the number of jobs that are open that we can't fill in this country in computer science and then your method of delivering it, both on-campus face-to-face and then through a MOOC—some of our listeners probably don't know what we mean when we say "MOOC."

Galil: So, MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. And MOOCs were introduced in October of 2011 and in 2012, The New York Times called it "the year of the MOOC." This is an online course—and I can explain if you wish the difference between a normal online course, because online have been with us for quite some time—and MOOCs. And MOOCs…the first MOOC was in October of 2011 and I think there were 150,000 students, at least, started this MOOC. So, it's an online course that is big for scaling. So, you can teach a relatively large number of students. It's different from the normal online courses. If you wish, I can explain a little bit the difference.

Wyatt: Yeah, I think it's helpful to know that. The difference between a regular online and a MOOC.

Galil: So, distance learning existed in the U.S. for over 50 years. I think Stanford had distance learning from the 60s. I was at Columbia before and we had it since the 80s. Basically, courses were recorded, you know, videotaped, and it was put on a tape or on a CD and students all over the U.S. and possibly the world could get the courses and take the courses, say, by getting the disk or the tape in the mail and they took the course. But it had been, until the MOOCs, quite primitive in the sense that there was very, very little interaction between professor and students. And, essentially, it was a recorded course and there were exams and some of them…in the 90s when the internet showed up, these courses were scripted to the internet so you could take them online. And since the 90s, there were quite a number of universities that taught it online and it still was quite limited. And a MOOC is built actually like a movie. It's scripted, you tape it, you edit it. The units are very small, several minutes, so every several minutes is a quiz or a query to make sure that the students follow the concepts and they cannot progress before they follow the concepts. So, it's in some sense pedagogically also much better than the previous online courses.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Well, if you can't…

Galil: Now, we only…we are charging money, we are degree providing, so we have, in addition, advisors and office hours and much more help if needed, because on regular MOOCs, the students are essentially on their own. So, in some sense, MOOC, the normal MOOCs, can be viewed as a high-level textbook. You know, it is a video but very little interaction.

Wyatt: Well, and it seems in some ways, the student is more responsible for her or his education because they are the ones that are driving themselves through. And then you don't let them go more than a few minutes without a quick little quiz to make sure they are listening. In some ways, that sounds better than face-to-face.

Galil: Actually, I can later make some comparisons. There are some aspects where our courses in our program are superior. Not all—face-to-face has its advantages, especially for very small classes like 20, 30, lots of interaction, you can change directions many times…this is not achieved. But even with larger classes on campus, if you have 300 students in the class, in the classroom, it's very limited. After three questions, the professor says, "Hey, I cannot answer anymore. I have to continue."

Wyatt: Well, you talked about this starting…you talked about Stanford starting some of these distance courses. My father, when he was in the Air Force in the late 1950s—I don't know what year it would have been, but it would have been somewhere between 1957 and 1960 when he was stationed in the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska—took a correspondence course in mathematics.

Galil: So, correspondence course is the elder version of distance learning. And often universities usually are built on them, though they are now moving to online, they have moved to online, but they…yes, there were correspondence courses. But that's even the predecessor of the videotapes.

Wyatt: Yeah, when we talk to students today about that, and I explain, "So, something came in the mail, you opened it up, you studied it, you read it, you mailed it back." [Laughs]

Meredith: It's hard for them to wrap their minds around that.

Wyatt: Yeah, it really is hard. In the pre-internet world. But, this has been going on for a long time, hasn't it? A long time?

Galil: Yes. It is true with online, even what we do, you need a certain level of motivation by the students. It has not worked well when the students are far less motivated.

Meredith: So, can we talk about your students for a second? You, I think, had expressed in an article that we read that there was some concern in some quarters that your MOOC version of the degree would steal from your face-to-face group and that you would be somehow cutting in on the same group of students. But that hasn't been the case, has it?

Galil: No, no it has not cannibalized at all because, there are several reasons, but we can prove it—and then, by the way, also the Harvard people found out this—the proof is because our students and the on-campus students are coming from very different populations. And if you wish, I can elaborate.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Yeah, please.

Galil: First of all, the online students are older. So, on-campus are usually immediately after a bachelor and they are 22, 23. The average of our online student is 33, the age. I think one of them graduated, he was 69, but the average is 33, so they are much younger. Also, international versus domestic is reversed. On-campus majority, and in some universities, a huge majority are international students. In our case, they are big part Indian and second Chinese. In some universities, it is the other way around. The online master program, we called it OMSCS (Online MS in CS), OMSCS started with 87% domestic and now it's a notch under 70. More and more, first of all, more and more international students find out about it, and the reason for the fact that we did not cannibalize the on-campus population, because it's international, students who come to student master programs in the U.S. first and foremost come for the visa. If you give them work, they might not even go for the master. So, the very high price that they pay for the master tuition is essentially the price to get into the U.S. And when they study online, they don't get the visa.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Well, it's interesting that your face-to-face program taught in the United States is primarily, if I heard you right, is primarily serving international students, where your online MOOC is primarily serving domestic students.

Galil: Indeed, that's the case. However, you shouldn't view the on-campus program negatively because most of the students that come, they want to stay, and they stay.

Meredith: Oh, of course. Yeah, no negative.

Wyatt: Of course.

Galil: Now is somewhat difficult immigration constraints and immigration is not always rational and some go back because they find it difficult, but most of them want to stay and to work here.

Wyatt: Yes.

Galil: So, in a sense, these graduates also serve the need in the U.S.

Wyatt: You're bringing people from other countries, turning them into highly educated, skilled workers and then their building the United States economy.

Galil: Yes. But the irony is that sometimes, you still give them so much hassle that they have to go back which is kind of unfortunate.

Meredith: Yeah. So, I would be remiss—we've been talking about international students, and our students are probably thinking, "We've been listening to Zvi talk for a while, and to our ears, he doesn't sound like he was born in Atlanta. Why don't you…can you share just a little bit about your background? How you ended up at Georgia Tech? Because you have quite an international resume and give us just a little bit of your background, Dr. Galil.

Galil: I was born in Israel and I lived 25 years in Israel. I served in the Israeli Army, I also served in two wars. I got BA, BS and MS in applied math in Tel Aviv University and then I went to Cornell and got my Ph.D. I had…I worked in post-doc in IBM Yorktown Heights, IBM Research Center, Watson Research Center. I then went back to Israel for six years and was in Tel Aviv University. Every summer, though, I spent in Berkeley. In '82, I came to Columbia and later…I worked 25 years at Columbia University in New York, though, I was still for a while half and half with Tel Aviv University. In '89 I became Chair of Computer Science at Columbia, in '95 I became Dean of Engineering at Columbia and in 2007 I returned to Israel to be President of Tel Aviv University which is the largest University in Israel. But in 2009, a little over two years, I resigned. I don't want to get into the details. I fought some corruption and the powerful people were corrupt and I went back to the faculty. When the telephone from Georgia Tech came and in 2010, I became the Dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech where I have been since 2010.

Meredith: Were you engaged at Columbia in any sort of online learning? Or did you become a devotee of that sort of delivery in…

Galil: No, no. We…Colombia has what they call and still call it, even though it's a misnomer, CVN, Columbia Video Network in the engineering school. And actually, I grew it quite a lot when I was dean, but then it actually shrunk some because Columbia tuition is enormous. It is like $70,000, the degree costs $70,000 dollars. And in the past, companies funded students, but with the economic situation becoming much for competitive, they couldn't afford to pay a large number of students $70,000 for a year and a half or two. So, the number has gone somewhat down, but I had an online program and I built it. Actually, my predecessor as dean wanted to close them because they were losing money. We made quite a lot of money then, our distance learning, so, I was involved with distance learning before.

Wyatt: How do you…tell us, when MOOCs first started, Massively Open Online Courses, when that first came out, there seemed to be—and we remember when this happened as if it was yesterday…

Meredith: Right, we did. Yep.

Wyatt: For all these different schools that are doing some really big things, and then, for me at least, the big surprise was when Georgia Tech said, "We're going to create a master's degree MOOC." So, here is a really credible school that's creating this master's degree. What was it that was the genesis of this? Why did Georgia Tech…why did you try this?

Galil: So, a MOOC, you know, as I said, 2012 was "the year of the MOOC" by The New York Times and there were also some predictions and some of them exaggerated. Sebastian Thrun, the CEO of the Udacity and my partner in this, he kind of predicted that many universities will not exist in five years or ten years. Of course, he had to swallow what he said, but it looked like MOOCs have a great future and we also had MOOCs at Georgia Tech which were quite successful. An in September of 2013, Sebastian Thrun visited me here in Georgia Tech and he told me, "Zvi, let us do a master's degree for $1,000." You know, because then, the spirit was everything was free. "So, let's do a master degree." And immediately I told him—I'm pretty good in numbers, especially with a dollar sign—and I told him $1,000 will not do. Maybe $4,000. However, our leadership, they wanted to be a little more cautious so, we ended up with a cost, say, between $6,000 and $7,000 for the entire degree. That's when the out of state students pay something like $42,000 for the degree here. So, I was fortunate that the provost let us do it, and the president. And they helped us get it through the Board of Regents. So, what happened after this visit, that was not…we didn't start right away. I wanted to do it, but I am only the dean. I cannot, as you know, even you as the president know that you cannot tell faculty what to do. You need their buy-in. And I created a task force that worked for six and a half months to define everything and they, the most important concern by them were the three concerns of quality, quality, quality. They decided that we will not water it down. We will not dilute it. It must have the same quality, which I believe we stuck to it. So, for six and a half months, we had the town hall meetings, Sebastian came several times and they prepared some document and after six and a half months we had to vote. And I told the faculty right from the beginning, "If you don't want to do it, we will not do it." And I and my senior executive, senior associate dean did not participate in this task force. I said, "If you don't want it, we will not do it." But this task force, I put some people that were already some of them were teaching MOOCs, so I think immediately, there was a wish by many of the faculty to do it. To be kind of at the forefront. And I and some others felt that if we don't do it, somebody else will, and pretty soon. So, after the six and a half months, we had a vote. 75% of the faculty voted to do it, which is quite amazing that the faculty would vote for a change. As you know, faculty usually are against every change, even if it's in their benefit, because they believe in—many times justifiably—that there's something behind what they know about. So, they voted to do it and then we went to the Board of Regents. The president and provost prepared the Board of Regents and on May 14, 2013, the Board of Regents approved it. So, then we went to work and created five courses, the five first courses, we announced it, the five first courses, and started in January of 2014. And we started to create courses, now we have 30 courses and there are 10 in various stages, mostly early ones of preparation. So, we…that's how it all started.

Wyatt: So, when you ventured into this, you've talked about, "If we don't do it, somebody else will," "We need to make sure the quality is high" those kinds of things, but was there a principle or a vision at the back of this that "Georgia Tech is going to make money from this" or "We're going to democratize the education in the world," "We're going to make it so that…" I mean, what was the guiding vision?

Galil: To me, personally, making the money was not primary. I wanted to…our motto is accessibility to affordability and technology. So, the accessibility was the most important thing. Now, making money at the back of my mind—and we are making money, I can explain you later—I believe that it's probably, if we scale it enough, now scaling it doesn't mean hundreds of thousands of students, it's a master program, but having it large enough also creates revenue. Now, the most expensive part is making the courses. Initially, it cost us almost $300,000 to make a course, because it's like making a film, with staff that is expert in some of these things. We get better in this and now it's more between $150,000 and $200,000. Still very expensive. What actually helped us tremendously, and at that time we didn't realize it, is the help we got from AT&T. Sebastian Thrun and I went to the leadership of AT&T in actually early January of 2013, two months before we actually voted to do it and they gave us the next day $2,000,000 dollars. A year later, they gave us another $2,000,000. With that…that was crucial because without their help, our start would have been much slower, and if you start much slower, the naysayer can have the upper hand. Because Georgia Tech, it does not have large endowment. It cannot, like Harvard and MIT, who invested $60,000,000 in edX, we don't have such kind of monies. I cared much less about the money, more about the accessibility. I was influenced by a book by Richard DeMillio, I'm not sure you read it, it's called From Ableard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities. And where he speaks of about many of the drawbacks of American university, especially tuition, but he discusses other things. So, I was influenced by this and I wanted to find a way of making a higher education much more accessible.

Wyatt: So, a lot of prestigious universities like Georgia Tech pride themselves in who they turn away.

Galil: So, I can get into the several ways that our problem is different. [All laugh]

Meredith: Yeah, that…

Galil: So, one of them…one that draw the maximum, the biggest attention, was the price. That caused them minor earthquake. And they…and huge attention by the media I can get into it later, but there are several other things that distinguish us, and you hit on the second of them. We actually…it's a paradigm shift. Actually, what you said is true. Universities become prestigious, not by admission, but by rejection. And they reject, I think Stanford undergraduate accept 5%. That means they reject 95%. That means that about 30% or 40% or 50% that are rejected are probably as good and in some cases better than those that are admitted because they don't have the space for it. It doesn't mean that it's fair. So, we didn't follow the paradigm. We accept everybody that has the capability to succeed. So, in a sense, our on-campus selectivity, which is the percentage of people you would admit from the number of applicants, is about 10%. The selectivity of the online is 66%. So, two out of three. In fact, in recent years, the quality has gone up, so actually, in the last one, it was 72%.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: Wow.

Galil: So…and we don't feel…and you know, these students, many, not all, of the courses that are taught online are also taught on-campus in parallel. And they online students perform comparably and sometimes a little better. Statistically, there is no difference. Sometimes a little better, sometimes a little bit worse. The same class we see. So, here we accepted two out of three and here we accepted one out of ten and as good. Now, 66%, that's our admission. One thing that we are different from the on-campus is the survival rate is around 60%. So, we lose 40% of them along the way. And that's because the program is difficult. It's the same requirement. Students tell us they devote 25-30 hours a week per course, and some of them when they start, they feel that they cannot handle both work, family and study. So, it explains why the number of drops is higher. But, other than that, the performance in all the courses…in on-campus, it's very close to 100%. There are very few course…students drop out, and usually they have some crisis or mental problem or something, you know? Or something in the family, something very unusual for them to give it up.

Wyatt: Zvi, you…we've been talking a little bit about the admission standards for online versus face-to-face and the fact that one way, the university increases its prestige, or its reputation is to turn away larger numbers, which is interesting from a lot of levels, especially when we are struggling so hard to get people into these jobs in America. But, what has this Massively Open Online program in computer science done for Georgia Tech's reputation? Has it increased your reputation? Has it decreased it?

Galil: I believe so. There was no formal study, but I humbly—or not so humbly [All laugh]—believe that it has been tremendous to the Georgia Tech brand. Partly because many more people now know where Georgia Tech is, what is Georgia Tech, and may even find Georgia on the map. And we, our college progressed in the ranking. In the US News, we were 10th in 2010 and we moved twice up, and last year, we were #8. In The Times of Higher Education…that's in the U.S. That's graduate programs. In Times of Higher Education, a year ago—they do it every year—we were 8th, now we are 7th in the world. Exactly I don't know what they measure. Maybe the undergraduate program, I'm not sure. Our brand improved considerably. I believe so. I don't have any proof, maybe some special company that can measure it tell us. This is only gut feeling.

Wyatt: Have you had any difficulty recruiting faculty? High-quality faculty to teach?

Galil: To teach on the online or to teach…we, I don't know if you know the situation computer science, which by the way, online can help you too. I don't know if you know it.

Wyatt: Well, here's my question…

Galil: No, very difficult to hire people. Everybody competes and everybody poaches everybody else.

Wyatt: Yeah. So, the question really is this: one way to measure if your reputation is increasing is how would-be faculty members see your program and how students see your program. So, if applications are going up and if other faculty members see your program well…

Galil: So, since OMSCS started, the master…the number of master applicants to the on-campus program went up by 125%, so, more than doubled. In the lasts four years.

Wyatt: They're not seeing this MOOC as diminishing the program, the diploma they're seeking?

Galil: No. No, no, no. We had more than double number of applicants. Now, all the graduates, it was five times, but everybody sees increase…I think we are in the high end of increases. So, in the last four years, we saw a factor of five or six. In the last ten years, we saw a factor of ten, of eleven of number of applicants to undergraduate computer science. If you remember, in the early 2000s there was a dip because the world was scared of outsourcing.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: That's impressive, because there's a lot of universities that are struggling to keep their enrollments up.

Meredith: Yeah.

Galil: No, no we are also huge on campus. We have 2,400 majors.

Wyatt: Do you think this master's degree in computer science that's being offered by Georgia Tech through this Massively Open Online Course program, should that expand to other master's degrees?

Galil: It has…

Wyatt: Not just computer science?

Galil: The answer is it has expanded. We have now at least 22 followers. Some of them in computer science, but, for example, the first follower was a program in University of Illinois which is called iMBA like iPhone. Lower case "i" capital "MBA". So, they are the first follower, which, by the way, they fully admit they are a follower. They came here and learned everything. The more recent followers don't mention us. You know, Udacity actually is not in this market, but Coursera has a half a dozen, edX has half a dozen, and FutureLearn has several. FutureLearn is one in London. So, there are…we are aware of 22 followers. And on top of it, there's the micro-master which was invented by edX which means—and started the first one at MIT—that half of the degree you do online like OMSCS and half of it you do on campus, but you can come to several campuses, several universities because they work together. So, MIT, the bottom line is that not many go for the second half because it's fewer price. So, they don't pay $66,000, they pay $33,000 for the second half. And MIT doesn't take that many of them anyway, but they can go to other universities that are kind of partners in this. So, there are about 50 micro-masters and in some sense, they are also following us.

Wyatt: Wow, so, there is growth and there should be growth is what you are telling us?

Galil: Yes. It's mostly, so far, and it's natural like this, to those areas, you know, data science, accounting, those areas that the job market is big. Those areas where, which in universities are the most attractive to students. So, people ask me, "Hey, what about other areas?" Other…social science or whatever, everything. I believe you don't know if you don't try. And even if you try, you maybe do it wrong in the first time. OK. I believe that it's possible to teach many more subjects that we now see possible. Also, the technology keeps improving.

Meredith: That's interesting.

Wyatt: How does a student begin this program? Does it happen at the beginning of semesters? Or can a student sign up and start…

Galil: Yes, we have three semesters. Fall, spring, and summer. Like in the normal, and they are running parallel. Initially, Sebastian—Sebastian Thrun is you know the CEO and founder of Udacity—he had the idea of having it totally free, totally flexible. But the registrar at Georgia Tech almost got a cardiac arrest. [All laugh] You know, it's very difficult. It's very difficult to handle this, they cannot handle this. If every students come whenever they want…it's much, much more difficult. So, in some sense, that's different from the MOOCs where you are totally free to do it anytime and you don't, you are not responsible for anybody except yourself. Here, there are certain time posts, like when you have to submit exercises or when the midterm is or when the final is (which is this week for the full-term.) But in between, it's more flexible. So, it's not…that's one of the ways that we are not exactly MOOC. Also, we are advising, you know, we have office hours, we have a support system. You cannot charge tuition without some support system.

Meredith: So, it does start and end with normal semester lengths…

Galil: Exactly.

Meredith: So, in that way it's slightly different? Yeah.

Wyatt: If it wasn't for the registrar and financial aid and some of those things, you could start at any time. You could start it every Monday, I guess.

Galil: Possibly, possibly. But then it's also good for the faculty and TAs that in some weak way, overlook the progress and see if there are major problems if all of them are more or less synchronized, you can see it. If everybody is in a different point, it's a big mess.

Meredith: So, you currently have more than 7,000 students coming into this January cohort?

Galil: This semester…no, no. This semester which started in August, we had 7,688.

Meredith: Oh.

Galil: We don't know yet how many in January, we will know probably toward the end of January. The number can be as high as 8,500 or even close to 9,000.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: In one master's degree program.

Meredith: Yeah. Can you give us an idea of the scope, then, of the number of teaching assistants, the number of faculty…how are faculty compensated at this significantly lower tuition rate?

Galil: So, actually, you ask me five questions, and I try to answer them.

Meredith: I did, sorry.

Galil: It's OK, it's fine. Teaching assistant was my biggest worry, and on-campus, we have one teaching assistant for every 25 students, online we have one for every 50. With this large number, so, I just give you an example. This term, we have 232 teaching assistants. But, initially when we started and I thought about bigger numbers, that was my biggest worry. "Where will we find them?" And we need also more teaching assistants for on-campus because the numbers here are also big. So, initially, I thought that will limit the growth, that will severely limit the growth. And then I had the idea to use some of the online students who took the course to TA it. You know, like we do…I'm sure you do it in your university that some bright undergraduates can TA courses after they took them.

Wyatt: Right.

Galil: And they're usually very cheap. Undergraduate TAs are wonderful, and of course, I cannot take them for the master's degree, so, originally, it was master's students, but we do not have enough master's students here to do it. But then, I had the idea, "Oh, we will take online students!" But then, two nights later, I lost sleep and told myself, "Stupid you. Why would they do it? They are paid peanuts. These people work full-time jobs, most of them, why would they do it?" Here is a surprise: they do it. [All laugh] They love to do it.

Wyatt: They want to do it.

Galil: They love to do it. They are…A) They are getting…I'm not sure how much they are getting from it, you know, the interaction, trying to explain things to students, they are getting something out of it. And two, they want to give back and I give you just this semester, 230 students, TAs. Only 87 of them, only 85 of them are a master's student on campus. Hundred are online student. 47 are online graduates. They want to TA after they graduate.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: That's a loyal group of students.

Galil: A) Because they love it and B) One of my goals, also, inside the university was to be the community. And we, I believe we were somewhat successful.

Meredith: Yeah, that's a loyal group.

Galil: So, that's about the TAs. And so far, if…and we have been growing slowly, so these changes were not…so, every semester, it's a little bit of a challenge because you don't know until the first week of the semester how many students you will have. And finally, finally, finally, these online students who work full-time and doing work for the money in many cases do a better job. Also, they are paid by the hour. On-campus, they get $500 tuition and if a number of students in the class drops, the student gets the same. The online students, they get a small compensation and by the working hours. So, that's about the TA. You asked another question about compensation, and actually, this is…the task force came up with a suggestion. Actually, faculty teaching the online program not as part of the teaching obligation. It's additional work with additional compensation.

Meredith: So, outside of their regular load?

Galil: Yes. And the pay has three components. We decided not to have it by enrollments. So, if your course is a hundred or eight hundred, well, 1000 or 50,000 students you are not paid more. But, first to make the course. To make the course, $20,000. It's a lot of work. That's not high because you work on it for close to one semester. About one semester you work to make the course, it's a lot of work. You script, you edit, you tape, you edit, you replace pieces…it's a long process, and arduous. So, $20,000 to prepare the course. Now, there is the notion of instructor of record when you offer the course every semester. Now, the creator of the course has to be the instructor of record in the first time because it's their work but only in the first time. Amazingly, most of them do it again and again. Maybe also for the money. The instructor of record, whether it is the course creator or somebody else, they get $10,000. This is not…this is quite good because you don't teach. The classes are the videos. But you have office hours, you might interact somewhat with the students, you might give most of it to the TAs, to the head TAs in a hierarchy in the grad school. So, $10,000 is pretty good, every time. And in some cases, there were some faculty that left Georgia Tech so somebody else is teaching it. And in one or two cases they didn't want to continue, but almost all of them do it semester after semester. Sometimes work in the summer, but in summer we have a limited offering because the summer semester is somewhat shorter and not all the courses can be offered in the summer. And the third component is like royalty, even though technically or legally it's not a real royalty. Every time the course is offered, the creator gets $2,500. That's like for using your IP. So, some people that left Georgia Tech still get the check of $2,500 every semester.

Meredith: So, it's like a residual check for a performer or something like that…

Galil: This is like a…it's like royalty.

Meredith: Yeah.

Galil: It's like using your IP but for some legal reason that I do not really understand it, it's not exactly a royalty. So, basically, somebody has a course and it's offered three semester and he teaches it, he's instructor of record, he get each time $12,500—$37,500, which is not bad. Of course, executive MBA in many schools, they get $50,000 just to…if somebody scratches their back or something. [All laugh] So salaries there, they pay much higher.

Meredith: But $37,500 is not peanuts, for sure.

Galil: No, no, of course. They like it. I'm—also from my Columbia days—I am a strong believer in incentives.

Wyatt: Have you had a hard time recruiting faculty to help? Or do they…is that pretty simple?

Galil: So far, we have 30 courses, and 10 in the various ways of…our master program has specialization, and we have on-campus about a dozen. Online, we have four and with another course or two, the number will be six or seven. And we are working on it, we are working on some attractive courses. So, like blockchain, like deep learning, courses like this. So, usually, the faculty…with success, it's easier even to get some of them to do it. We are 75% voted for, we don't know exactly who are the other 25%. Once we succeeded, everybody is on board.

Meredith: So, the original vote of 75%, and you don't know who the 25% were that voted against it, but everybody seems on board now? Is that right? [Laughs]

Galil: Yes. Actually, a couple cases we know they were against, but they actually said so. They said, "We were against, but I'm changing my mind." We didn't take another vote, though.

Wyatt: Well, you've described that the outcomes are comparable, and the quality is good and you're reaching the goals. Success typically wins over converts, I guess.

Galil: Indeed, indeed. And, so far…you know, I'm sure that you and your university all have always have fears that something could go terribly wrong. So far, so good.

Wyatt: What have you…what would you describe as the surprises? Has there been a leading surprise that's positive? And has there been a leading disappointment as you've rolled this out and now have five years' experience?

Galil: Frankly, I don't have any negative surprise, and I'm surprised by this. [All laugh] So, I don't. The surprise —by the way, the event I'm going at 5:30 is a reception to the graduate a master and Ph.D.'s that will graduate, tomorrow is the commencement. The number of OMSCS students that are graduating students that are graduating, 420 this term, maybe 100-150 will be at the commencement. I'm not sure how many come today to the event today, maybe half or more. So—and by the way, when I meet them all over the world, the love us. Many of them come to me and say, "We couldn't or wouldn't do it without you." And it's been a pleasure to hear this. So, negative? Not. The surprise is that…one of them is, and I think so far "touch wood" has gone wrong, on occasion, we have minor problems as usual and fix them. One big surprise is the use of social medial. So,…and here, it's a big advantage of OMSCS on the face-to-face. Students in universities normally do not use social media for learning. They…even though almost all of them were born in Facebook, so, nothing new for them in social media. Students in the online first for classes direct use is Piazza…you, I don't know…you probably know what Piazza is, and they…where they answer questions, help one another, explain one another why some points were deducted. But in addition, there are 70+ groups on Google Class. They have LinkedIn, they have Facebook, but the biggest is Google Class where they have 70 groups self-generated. And there are groups—OMSCS by geography, I met the OMSCS in Silicon Valley and the OMSCS Beijing, there is group by course. And there are more people than students, I don't know who are the other ones. So, there is about 1,000 more participants in this Google Class, and as you know, probably heard, Google Class is closing, and we will have to find a substitute.

Meredith: Right.

Galil: But, the use of social media, the volume, the amount, the use is unbelievable, and we did not anticipate it.

Wyatt: So, do you think that your students…this is an interesting thing that you're observing is the dramatic use of social media. Who would you say is more connected, the face-to-face or the online students?

Galil: The face-to-face have the face-to-face connection but they don't use it all…I cannot generalize, in some cases they might. But not in this level. So, again, this is all that feeling, much more in the online. It comes also to substitute the face-to-face.

Meredith: I teach an online degree program—master's degree program—in music technology as my faculty assignment, and I've been interested to note that my online…I learn more. As a teach, I think I know more about the real thoughts and ideas of my students, their hopes and dreams for their careers and so forth, in the online student world than I do from my face-to-face students.

Galil: Yeah, because you make use of the social media.

Meredith: Right, right. And there seems to be a more openness…they're not afraid to say things at the keyboard that they might be afraid to say inside of a regular class. Have you found that?

Galil: Probably, yes. But sometimes you regret what you say.

Meredith: Well, that's right. [All laugh]

Wyatt: Yeah, we know a few people that fit that category.

Meredith: Dr. Galil, you mentioned—or, Zvi, sorry, I'm old school and call people by their formal names—you mentioned and have mentioned Sebastian Thrun throughout and Udacity, they've been a partner for you. What has been their role in the development of the program?

Galil: We have been using their platform. So, when I mentioned edX having certain programs and, of course there are...there is this platform that potentially we could create, but this is of the MOOCs. So, there was a platform. So, they were running the platform...initially they thought they would do the TAs, but they cannot do the TAs. They cannot choose the TAs. It's academics, so we did it. But the platform on which the course runs, creating the course. Right now, actually, we are already after four or five years, we are creating them themselves, they're not creating it anymore. But they were the ones that created the courses, they had expertise and eventually, we may not need them. They, by the way, get a...for the net revenues, they get 35%.

Meredith: So, your faculty would work with the technicians at Udacity to create the film that you've been referring to create the course?

Galil: Yes. That was until the last round, which is about close to a year ago, when our people in distance learning in distant education are responsible for this. But they used to, for the first three or four years, this was a Udacity employee.

Meredith: Interesting. So, you now have moved that part of it in-house? Is that correct?

Galil: Yes.

Meredith: You've moved it in-house?

Galil: Yes. So, in some sense, they are now getting their share for doing nothing. For using the platform, but...so, for them it has become an ATM machine.

Wyatt: It's been very positive for them.

Galil: Yes.

Wyatt: I…

Galil: Though, it's not huge amount. I think so far in all these years, the net was $12,000,000.

Meredith: Wow.

Galil: The net of $12,000,000. But really, net is only $8,000,000 because we got $4,000,000 from AT&T. And because of AT&T, we were in the black in the first two years. And since then, we are in the black anyway. So, without AT&T, we would start with being in the red for a number of years, which would be much more challenging.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: We read an article in Inside Higher Ed—you referred to a researcher from Harvard that looked at your program…

Galil: Yes.

Wyatt: It's a very fascinating article several months ago that talked about how Harvard and somebody from Georgia Tech did some significant analysis.

Galil: Right. I have the article. If you don't have it, I can send you. It will appear in a major economics journal in January.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: It seems to be a very positive report.

Galil: No, no, no. Hey, we have some incredible sense. We have somebody by the name of James Gates who is National Science Medal award winner and he invited me to PCAST--you know what is PCAST? President's Council of Advisors on Scientific Technology. I'm not sure the...it's dormant with this administration but…

Wyatt: Right.

Galil: And I appeared before them, and he actually...in the first article in The New York Times in the summer of 2013—I may send you the link—he basically said about me and Sebastian that we are...might be the Wright Brothers of MOOCs. [All laugh]

Wyatt: That's a…

Galil: Not in the Wright sense that we invented the MOOCs or invented something, but we are actually testing whether MOOCs will fly. And they did.

Wyatt: And they did.

Galil: And he is a great, great friend. So, we have quite a number of friends of the program which is really highly satisfying.  

Wyatt: Well, we can include the link.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: So that our listeners can access that. What we have read of the…

Galil: I can send you a...my talk in Open edX. I was keynote in eight...in ten education conferences in eight countries. So, that was one of them. It was an Open edX conference in Montreal in late May of the last year. So, that's the most recent. I have several, one from 2015 I have a [inaudible] but I...there are about five versions of the same talk, but the talk is evolving because we learn more, and also the numbers grow. So, I can send you two: The New York Times article and the whatchamacallit, the talk if you want to watch it and see what I miss in the podcast.

Wyatt: That would be terrific. Zvi, this has been fascinating. Congratulations for talking something...for taking this risk, playing it out for five years and having such good outcomes.

Galil: So, let me finish even though you didn't ask me. So, we moved to undergraduates. The Intro to Computer Science is now online for on-campus students as well to talk it online. 35% do. We do it for the sixth semester now, and now we are developing two other courses from the online...for the undergraduates. It's amazing that we did a survey of the students that take the Intro to Computer Science. Many of them are not entering computer sciences because some of them took AP already, it might be some other students from other majors because everybody in Georgia Tech has to take computing and you don't necessarily take it in the first semester at Georgia Tech. 91% of them say that it's as good or better than any course they took at Georgia Tech online

and 84% say it's better. But I cheated a bit because I took one of the best teachers in OMSCS to do it and now we are preparing two more undergraduate courses. Now, I have a vision about how to make a dent in the cost of higher education. I'm strong supporter and believer in on-campus BAs, so I'm not preaching for a complete undergraduate education because undergraduate education, college, achieves several other purposes that cannot be simulated online. But we can have several pieces of the curriculum offered online. For example, the first two, three, four courses they can do it in high school or even before coming to the university. So,...and now we have one or soon we go to three courses. It's kind of like AP. Now, in the middle, only 47% of Georgia Tech students finish in four years because they have co-ops, they have internships, and 60 or something percent finish in five, 80% finish in six and the rest finish in more or don't finish at all. As a result...so, the intro courses they can do it before. In the middle part when they do co-ops or do internships they can take one course so they can make progress in the curriculum. And at the end, they can go get a job and complete the last three courses by taking OMSCS courses because courses for seniors are usually the same courses as master courses. Maybe with a difference in projects, but many are joint courses, so they can take it on the job. So, that will shorten not necessarily from four to three or two and a half, but from five or six to a year or two less. And if it's priced appropriately—and that's a big "if"—that will make a dent. It will not solve it, but it will make a dent in the cost of higher education.

Meredith: Indeed.

Wyatt: Wow, that's incredible, and it will be interesting to see how those…

Galil: I may not be alive to see it, but that's my vision.

Meredith: [Laughs] Yeah, we think that often, too. We're not sure we'll be alive to see it.

Wyatt: So, you've talked about the fact that your master's degree students that are taking the program through a MOOC are not the same people that would do it face-to-face. How about undergraduate?

Galil: No, undergraduate, it might be the same but university, especially at high quality university we…they simply can include the surplus. If people are not spending...you know, the bottlenecks are dorms and classrooms, so they can accept more students because some of the students some of the time are not on campus. Of course, we have to learn how to schedule this, but...and the better universities will be able to serve more students and they may accept larger percentage. On the other hand, Anant Agarwal, who is the creator and CEO of edX, he invented the term of micro-bachelor's which is basically—but he admits that this was basically my idea except I didn't have the right name—to 3 or 4 introductory courses. Now, micro-bachelor's can serve university students but also can serve many, many other people that want computer science basic education without a degree. This might be people...you know, OMSCS also have many, many converts from engineering, from the sciences, even from humanities that get into the field, but that's for a degree which is a big, big challenge. But here, the basic three or four courses, people can take it and then they can be programmers. And if you price it correctly, it wipes out all the code academies where they charge you through the nose for introductory programming course.

Wyatt: It will be interesting to see how...what the impact might be if the most prestigious universities continue to expand these kind of programs, as you have, which allows them to admit more and more students, what the impact that might have on regional universities and other schools.

Galil: So, I mentioned 22 followers. One of them is University of Pennsylvania, and one of them is University of Texas. Penn is not...Penn is private. UPenn.

Wyatt: Uh-huh.

Galil: And one University of Texas in Austin. So, these are very, very good universities.

Wyatt: What do you think the impact of this is going to have on regional universities and liberal arts schools?

Galil: It will have adverse effects on the really weak universities. But, universities, even now, need A) to do a very good job. So, some liberal arts universities they have reasonable size and can devote much more attention to community building and other things, the things around everything. Plus, everybody should have their own niche. But those that do not do a good job should not exist. Right now, some of them exist. But it may affect, and that's why what we do is not uniformly popular. Some faculty see us as a threat, but the price of higher education is insane.

Wyatt: It's too high.

Galil: Yes.

Wyatt: We all need to be working to bring the cost down.

Galil: Yep.

Wyatt: And you've found one way to do that that has been not only bringing the cost down for students, but helpful to the university as a whole, to your institute.

Galil: In some sense, we probably could have charged more, and they still would come. We could charge $10,000 or even $15,000 and some of the followers...none of them charge as little. Though, I resisted the urge of the higher administrators, because, as I say, the price was not my main motivation. So, we stayed low, and possibly if we increase it, everybody will attack us. But, in some sense, we can do a low cost because we are cheating a little bit in the following sense: the salary of the faculty, which is one of the major components of the cost of the university, is not paid by this. They are already fully employed and get their salary from the face-to-face education. So, we...they get only $10,000. So, even somebody teaches two or three courses, $30,000, that's not the cost of a faculty. So, this can be done in parallel and on top of the normal university obligations.

Wyatt: Well, this has been absolutely fascinating, you have been a delight to visit with. And it's been…

Galil: Thank you so much. As you noticed, I do it with pleasure. [All laugh] I love giving these talks. I love the reaction. About five different universities invited me just to help them do digital strategic planning like Edinburgh, one in China, so, the big surprise is that we are actually overwhelmed is what happened. The response. There were 1,200 stories in the media.

Meredith: Wow.  

Galil: Georgia Tech was on the list of the most innovative companies in the world by Fast Company, the third one only and the only one in education and innovation was OMSCS. So, we have not anticipated even half of what happened, and we are still a little overwhelmed and a little in cloud nine.

Wyatt: What you're telling us, then, is that the world is reacting in a very positive way to what you've done?

Galil: Yes. And the biggest pleasure is meeting the students, and they thank you and they say, "I wouldn't do it. I couldn't do it, I wouldn't do it" and actually, the Harvard people, one of the researchers noticed - - they study the first two cohorts and only 2% of the students that applied to us applied to a normal face-to-face. It wasn't an option.

Meredith: Hmm. You were there only option.

Galil: Yes.

Meredith: Hmm.

Galil: But now, there are a few other computer science programs in various early stages. So, we might have cornered the market. [All laugh] It's kind of funny.

Meredith: That's great. I'm going to…

Galil: Thank you so much. I love it and I will enjoy listening to the podcast.

Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. Our guest via phone from Georgia today has been Dr. Zvi Galil, the John P. Imlay Jr. Dean of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. We thank Dr. Galil for his time and thank you to our listeners for listening. We'll be back again soon. Bye bye.