Misunderstanding MOOCs and Computing Labor Shortage: Andy Kessler of WSJ.com

June 17, 2013 at 1:42 am 11 comments

Andy Kessler of the Wall Street Journal (linked below) misunderstands why we have a computing labor shortage. MOOCs definitely make “computing education” (in general) accessible to more people.  But that doesn’t mean that we’ll shrink the computing labor shortage, as described by Code.org.  Undergraduate computing education is “accessible” to everyone on campus, but rarely draws more than 15% women. We have to go from “accessible” to “engaging.”  Unless we draw in women and under-represented minorities, we can’t close the jobs-graduates gap.  We have to change how we teach to draw more women and under-represented minorities, and MOOCs don’t teach that way.

Anyone who cares about Americas shortage of computer-science experts should cheer the recent news out of Georgia Tech. The Atlanta university is making major waves in business and higher education with its May 14 announcement that the college will offer the first online masters degree in computer science—and that the degree can be had for a quarter of the cost of a typical on-campus degree. Many other universities are experimenting with open online courses, or MOOCs, but Georgia Techs move raises the bar significantly by offering full credit in a graduate program.It comes just in time. A shortfall of computer-science graduates is a constant refrain in Silicon Valley, and by 2020 some one million high-tech job openings will remain unfilled, according to the Commerce Department.

via Andy Kessler: Professors Are About to Get an Online Education – WSJ.com.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jasmine  |  June 17, 2013 at 1:57 am

    Actually, where access does matter is for people like me who have missed the boat on taking CS in college, but now want to pursue it. I have self-studied enough to get a job as a software engineer, but to further my learning I foresee that I will have to eventually go back to school or figure out the academic equivalent. But it’s quite difficult to pursue CS as a formal degree without the undergrad prerequisites, and I will have to study part time to make up for it. It makes sense to have degree or non-degree alternatives to help people who want to switch field mid-career:

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  June 17, 2013 at 11:03 am

      Access certainly does matter. The question is whether access is enough to correct the computing labor shortage. How many people are there like you, who want to make a career change to CS later in life? Are there enough to make a dent in the computing labor shortage? And are MOOCs the most effective form of education for that audience? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but my hypothesis is that there are not enough mid-career changers into CS. My hypothesis is based on the large percentage (over 50%) of mid-career women who leave computing. If we need more women (as a percentage of the workforce, so more than just numbers) to address computing labor shortage, then we’re not getting to get the hundreds of thousands that we need via mid-career MOOCs.

      • 3. jasmine  |  June 17, 2013 at 8:44 pm

        I don’t know enough about the nuances of women currently in computing, but my feeling is that the number of them leaving their careers is not a logical proxy of how many want to enter. How do these numbers compare to women leaving mid-career in other industries? Could there be natural attrition because of family considerations, or another set of reasons to address to make them want to stay?

        Either way, while I’m not sure what the exact number would be for people wanting to switch careers, my guess is that it’s significant enough to warrant attention and will be growing even more. Dev bootcamp receives hundreds of applications a month (granted, not all female) and Hackbright Academy (an all female program that I attended) received 500 applications for its last 10-week cohort. This is 1/4 of my class at UPenn (of course, I understand I am kind of comparing apples to oranges here)

        Almost all of my classmates at Hackbright and many other self-learned I have met have done a MOOC. I myself would not have pursued CS/programming if I was never exposed to Stanford’s opencourseware. It gave me an exposure that would’ve been difficult to come by in another era.

        It is easy to argue here that I recognized the need to move beyond MOOCs to carry my learning to another level– and that much is true. But without MOOCs, many of us would never have even been able to recognize that we were interested in the topic in the first place. And now that I actually have a job in software, it is the most viable option for me to continue learning.

        I see the funnels of increasing the number of women in computing occuring at three junctures:

        1) ensuring people who have no idea what CS is about to have exposure and the ability to try out the subject
        2) ensuring those who do try to have a good, engaging experience that make them want to stay
        3) ensuring those who want to stay have ongoing access to knowledge and an encouraging environment to further learning

        I believe that MOOCs provide good options for 1. and 3. (for some good courses 2. as well). I see it being particularly good at 1: if I had access as a HS student, maybe I would’ve not had the preconceptions that I did and decided to pursue it.

        • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  June 18, 2013 at 9:35 am

          Jasmine, women are under-represented in mid-career and leadership of IT companies (see scorecard at NCWIT.org). Women are woefully under-represented in leadership of all companies, but it’s worse in IT companies. The number of enrollees in any MOOC isn’t the critical issue — it’s the number of completers who will go on to more learning, and there’s a question whether anybody learns anything in MOOCs.

          I’m glad that MOOCs are working for you. From what data I see, you are an outlier — most women are not succeeding with open learning resources for getting into computing. If we want large numbers, we have to figure out how to make learning opportunities that work for the average students, too.

          • 5. jasmine  |  June 18, 2013 at 10:05 am

            I don’t think our arguments are mutually exclusive. I’m not arguing that the computing labor shortage can be purely solved by mid-career switches, or that there isn’t a need to somehow make materials more engaging at undergrad level or for (some) MOOCs. What I’m saying though is that at least for many, they provide avenues of reinvention never previously available. As low as the numbers may be, that may still be an infinite increase over previous numbers if it was almost non-existent before. This gives other people courage and belief that they can do it too.

            This means a lot to me because while it makes sense to focus on future labor force and economy, it makes no sense to say no to the rest of the women who have come to the realization too late that they would’ve liked to study CS. Not only were they misguided by a system with wrong perceptions (perhaps perpetrated by actual factors in the environment), they are then turned away by the system declaring that it’s simply too late?

            I understand the gender imbalance in the industry. I work with 30 males and am the only girl on my team– the ratio was worse than I imagined and much more intimidating too. But it matters that I will be there, because it will be that much less scary for the next woman joining the team. And it will matter for undergrads choosing their majors as well.

            Anyway, just to clarify– I’m not agreeing with the article’s reasoning of MOOCs somehow being the primary driver of reducing computing labor shortage, but I do think for the immediate term they provide viable options for however minimally helping to bridge the labor imbalance. It may only work for those with great self-learning initiatives, but all great developers are constantly self-learning anyway, even well into their jobs.

  • 6. mgozaydin  |  June 17, 2013 at 4:08 am

    Georgia Tech offers a MS in CS for $ 7,000 for 12 online courses from Udacity. Per course 7,000/12 = $ 583 per course.

    Now Coursera sold to 10 state ( yes state ) universities all of its courses at $ 36 per course .

    $ 583 versus $ 36
    Don’t you feel that Georgia’s very intelligent professors and managers haVE BEEN unintellegent a little .

    Georgia Tech courses may be at most $ 100 sincde they are MS courses .

  • 7. mgozaydin  |  June 17, 2013 at 4:09 am

    see Chronical and New York Times May 30 , 2013

  • 8. mathcs  |  June 24, 2013 at 8:19 am

    What do you think of what this article says about the purported “labor shortage” in STEM?

    • 9. Mark Guzdial  |  June 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      There is a suggestion that the shortage is only purported, but I don’t really see the evidence. People who hire in computing tell me that there’s a shortage. I attended a briefing by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that says that there’s a shortage. I need to see more evidence that the shortage is invented.

        • 11. Mark Guzdial  |  June 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm

          Thank you — I’ve read some commentary making similar arguments, that STEM education is actually better over the last decades, and improving STEM education further is unlikely to make workforce improvements. I can’t really speak to those arguments, because I don’t know STEM education overall. I know computing education. Considering that only about 1 in 12 high schools in the US even has CS education, I don’t buy the argument that increasing and improving computing education wouldn’t have an impact on students pursuing computing as a career. In fact, what evidence we have on under-represented minorities suggests that simply having any kind of computing education in schools makes a big impact on getting students to pursue computing. So, I buy that there’s a shortage in computing labor, and there’s something worthwhile to be done about it.


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