Thomas Edison was right, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”
In 2020 the Department of Computer Science at Colorado State University launched its new bachelor’s degree both on campus and through CSU Online. Students can pursue the innovative program, the first of its kind in Colorado, in-person or fully online and receive the same degree. The new major is wildly popular – enrollment in the online program has jumped sevenfold in the first year.
The program’s impressive growth is no accident. It is the result of decades of experience, thoughtful preparation, and innovative design. When the pandemic hit last year, demand for online education erupted, and like Edison said, opportunity met with planning.
Innovative new major meets online delivery
The computer science department has long been a leader in online education. It has a 40-year history of successful distance learning programs and an online master’s degree consistently ranked among the best in the nation.
“We deliberately planned for our online program when we developed the new bachelor’s degree for on campus,” said curriculum specialist Albert Lionelle. “Our goal was to provide the flexibility of an online degree, the community of an on-campus environment, and the academic rigor expected of a top computer science department.”
“Our goal was to provide the flexibility of an online degree, the community of an on-campus environment, and the academic rigor expected of a top computer science department.” – Albert Lionelle, curriculum specialist and instructor
Online learners enjoy the options of the innovative new major:
- Customizable major offering concentrations areas: human centered computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, computing systems, networks and security, software engineering, and general computer science.
- Flexibility to add any CSU minor with online options.
- Guaranteed transfer pathways for transfer students.
- No previous degree is required.
- Pathways for second bachelor’s students.
- The program can be done entirely online.
“Our courses are purpose-built for online learning and follow best practices for online course delivery,” said Benjamin Say, computer science online and on-campus instructor. “CSU Online ensures that our online courses meet the Quality Matters standards, giving students a first-rate online experience.”
“Our courses are purpose-built for online learning and follow best practices for online course delivery.” – Benjamin Say, online and on-campus instructor
The online and on-campus curriculum and degree are identical. Online students join the on-campus cohort, participate in the same lectures, projects, and discussions, and the identical degree appears on their CSU transcripts.
Replicating on-campus programs online is challenging. The curriculum is the same, but the student experience is not. Closing that gap requires building a diverse, vibrant educational community.
Community begins with inclusiveness. The department has been recognized for its commitment to diversity, achieving a BRAID Affiliate designation, $600K support from the Center for Inclusive Computing, and record-breaking enrollment of women and underrepresented groups. In its first year, the online bachelor’s student population includes 35% first generation, 28% women, 11% ethnic minorities, and 32% second bachelor’s.
Interaction is the lifeblood of a thriving online community, and computer science is a collaborative discipline requiring team problem solving. Facilitating communication was a top priority for program designers.
Online students in the program are equipped with tools to connect among themselves and with on-campus classmates. An online help desk provides academic support, and course teaching assistants continually adapt techniques for their online audience.
“TAs are always here to help, even with the small stuff.” – Jacki Hyatt, teaching assistant
Second bachelor’s student Jacki Hyatt began the online program in summer 2020 and became a teaching assistant after taking an intro class. As a visual learner herself, Hyatt’s teaching includes screenshots, descriptive explanations, and links to websites with examples. She also creates lab videos to replicate the in-person lab experience and help students feel more connected to the program.
“It is frustrating when tiny errors keep students’ code from working, but it’s nice to share with students that I made similar mistakes myself,” she said. “TAs are always here to help, even with the small stuff.”
Offering access and opportunity
Online education is about accessibility, and students have flocked to the new bachelor’s degree for its flexibility, high-quality education, and supportive community. After a booming first year, the department aims to double the online program’s enrollment in the next few years. Student enthusiasm is propelling it toward that goal.
Undergraduate student and program teaching assistant Spencer Baloga Loufek needed the flexibility of an online program. CSU’s online computer science B.S. offered scheduling options, allowing him to complete his degree while continuing his work as a professional ballroom dance instructor. He also manages the challenges of autism.
“One thing I have to deal with is major test anxiety,” he said. In the online program, “I can do my classwork, labs, assignments, quizzes, and tests from home, which improves my performance.”
“As an online transfer student and someone who has learning disabilities, CSU made it effortless to be successful.” – Spencer Baloga Loufek, undergraduate student and teaching assistant
With over 100 credits in math and physics under his belt, Baloga Loufek chose CSU because of the ease of transferring credits and the supportive, engaging environment. “As an online transfer student and someone who has learning disabilities, CSU made it effortless to be successful,” he said. “I admire that about CSU and am very thankful I found CSU to finish my degree.”
Colorado State University’s land-grant mission is to provide access and opportunity to anyone with the motivation and ability to earn a degree. Recognizing the need for online learning options, the computer science department now proudly offers its new bachelor’s degree online, making it available to everyone.