A massive online master’s degree in digital journalism?

The Georgia Institute of Technology announced yesterday a plan to offer a $7,000 online master’s degree in computer science to 10,000 new students over the next three years. Being the first online degree that can be earned completely through the MOOC format, Georgia Tech’s model may be adapted by a journalism school to offer a similar online program in digital or multimedia journalism. Which J-school will be the one to try it?

Georgia Tech answers in an FAQ some questions people have regarding this online program and the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) format. Their rationale, market analysis and operating plan are of direct relevance to a similar massive online program in digital journalism. For instance,

Q: Of all the degrees on campus, why computer science?
A: Computer science is defined by the ability to train and test students within a rubric of discrete, quantifiable problems and solutions. This makes computer science much more amenable to the massive-online format.

In a survey of master’s program in digital journalism in U.S., I found that master’s programs in digital journalism are usually designed for working professionals and have a curriculum focus on digital skill training. The (online) teaching of digital skills can also be based on “a rubric of discrete, quantifiable problems and solutions” – something I will be experimenting with in my summer project for a free, open, online j-school.

Q: What evidence do you have of market demand for this program?
A: … We conjecture that the present structure is vastly underserving the market and will conduct market research in the first year to check these estimates and help target our course offerings.

Similarly, in another blog post, I argued that growing demands for journalism training will come from institutions that are eager to reach and engage the public. To stay ahead of the curve, a journalism program needs to expand its curriculum focus to include content training for institutions, and to offer such training to both degree and non-degree students.

An article by insidehighered.com says the Georgia Tech program will have four enrollment tracks for students, or in other words, four types of students the program will target at:

  • The first of the four tracks will include traditional degree-seeking students who will be able to complete the 12-course master’s degree in roughly three years.
  • The second type of student will be “prospective degree-seeking” students who will be admitted to the program tentatively because they will not have to take the GRE as other applicants do.
  • A third type of paying student will be students who can drop in to take several courses for a certificate short of a full master’s degree.
  • The final type of students will resemble the students in a traditional MOOC and will be able to take the courses but will pay nothing or perhaps a small fee for a certificate of completion for a course.

If there were to be a massive online program in digital or professional journalism, the above-mentioned four types of target students will provide for a ready road map for marketing and enrollment.

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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