Friday, June 14, 2019
When Zvi Galil, the outgoing John P. Imlay Jr. Dean of Computing, came to Georgia Tech in 2010, there was no such thing as OMSCS. True online degree programs were still a dream, AI teaching assistants unnecessary, and the College of Computing, while excellent, in many ways mirrored its peers in higher education. Over nearly a decade that he has led the College, however, it has experienced dramatic growth both in size and reputation. As he prepares for the final month of his deanship at the College of Computing, we chat with Dean Galil about what brought him to Georgia Tech, his mission and how he fulfilled it, and, of course, the world-renowned online degree program for which he will be most remembered.
Ayanna Howard: When Zvi Galil, the outgoing John P. Imlay Jr. Dean of Computing came to Georgia Tech in 2010, there was no such thing as OMSCS. True online degree programs were still a dream, AI teaching assistants unnecessary, and the College of Computing - while excellent - in many ways mirrored its peers in higher education. Over nearly a decade that he has helmed the college, however, it has experienced dramatic growth both in size and reputation. Due, in large part, to the Online Master of Science in Computer Science program that Dean Galil spearheaded, Computing is now Georgia Tech's largest major and is also a consensus top 8 computer science program nationally.
As he prepares for the final month of his deanship at the College of Computing, we'll chat today with Dean Galil about what brought him to Georgia Tech, his mission and how he fulfilled and, of course, the world-renowned online degree program for which he will be most remembered.
I'm Ayanna Howard, chair of Georgia Tech's School of Interactive Computing, and this is the Interaction Hour.
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Zvi Galil was a faculty member at Tel Aviv University, serving as chair of the CS department from 1979-1982. He also served as chair of the CS department at Columbia University for five years, served 12 years as dean of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia. After all that, he joined Georgia Tech's College of Computing in June 2010.
Zvi, thanks for joining us.
Zvi Galil: I'm happy to be here.
Ayanna: Ok, there's a lot of ground that we could possibly cover about your career and your vision, so I just want to start with 2010. You came to Georgia Tech -- what actually brought you here?
Zvi: So, it's a little complicated story, you know. I was dean at Columbia, Columbia Engineering, and here came to me people from Tel Aviv University and wanted me to be the president of my alma mater. I agreed, and I was selected and I was, for a little over two years, president of Tel Aviv University. There, I faced some ethical problems -- not mine (laughing) -- of the board, which resulted in me stepping down after two years. Two years and one month. I won't get into the details, but that's a story by itself. It's not related to Georgia Tech.
Then, people from Georgia Tech called. Ellen Zegura and Alberto Apostolico, whom I knew since 1984 -- the late Alberto. They called then they kind of asked me to be a candidate, actually a finalist, for the position of dean. My better half, who is my wife, told me, "Take it. That's for you." She sometimes knows much faster than I do. I have doubts, but she knew. She sometimes says, "Don't go there." Also for Tel Aviv, she said, "Are you sure you want to go there?" And I became dean. So, I was a faculty member like I will be soon, too, and Georgia Tech called. I learned a little bit about Georgia Tech, I knew some about Georgia Tech, and I joined Georgia Tech.
Actually, I'll tell you something funny. In the week I resigned from being the president of Tel Aviv University -- we have very good friends. One of them is Michael Rabin. He's a very famous computer scientist. But his wife told me, "One day, you actually will be happy that you had to leave Tel Aviv University." At that time, I didn't know whether to believe her or not. But she was right. Because, essentially, I did here at Georgia Tech probably the biggest thing I've ever done and will ever do. So, I've had a wonderful, wonderful time here.
Ayanna: So, the lesson is when you get the call, one answer it and then say yes.
Ayanna: So, you came here -- and I want to talk a little bit about OMSCS. That didn't exist at the time -- the Online Master of Science in Computer Science program. If you think about when it started, what was the goal or mission for OMSCS and the College? What did you have in mind?
Zvi: The story was like this. The MOOCs started in late 2011. Sebastian Thrun and Peter Novick of Google gave the first MOOC in AI. In 2012, it was called "the Year of the MOOC" by the New York Times, where Coursera and Udacity started. Rich DeMillo -- who wrote a very good book about higher education that somewhat inspired me, too, to do OMSCS later -- started to bring MOOCs here. We started to do MOOCs, there was a lot of hype. And then in September of 2012, Sebastian Thrun came and saw me and suggested to do a master's degree for $1,000. That was kind of totally new because MOOCs were free. So, to do a degree -- a full degree -- a master's in computer science, I liked immediately the idea. But the problem was to do it. The problem is to bring the faculty to buy in. Without it, it wouldn't happen. ... So, the faculty had to decide. We devoted to it over six months of deliberation, town halls. I liked the idea, I liked to do it. I told Charles (Isbell). Charles immediately also joined and said, "Great idea."
But then we had six months of deliberations and we had a task force, and then there was a vote -- 75 or 76 percent of the faculty voted to do it. In two more months, the regents approved it. In eight more months, we prepared the first five courses. The idea is to make higher education accessible, more affordable and accessible. Rich DeMillo in his book describes the problem of this extremely high tuition. So, that was the idea. We had no idea what it would become. It was kind of where actually we were delighted and overwhelmed by the response, by the way it grew. We started with 380 students, we now have 8,600 and probably in the fall we'll have 9,500 students. Apparently, OMSCS is the largest master's program in the world. I didn't say it, but people from Harvard think that it is.
Ayanna: So, it's the largest. 2012, MOOCs came a'knocking. And now we're in 2019. Just so you know, for those of you who are listening -- OMSCS is an online master's degree program that offers similar quality to people all over the world for higher instruction. And it costs -- how much does it cost?
Zvi: The cost for the whole degree is $6,600 compared to $40,000 for non-residents in Georgia Tech or in public universities. Private universities can reach and exceed $70,000, which doesn't include living expenses, which is even more thousands of dollars. Here, online, you live at home.
Ayanna: So for $6,600 you can have a quality computer science education.
Ayanna: So, who is this designed for? If you think about the students who are in OMSCS --
Zvi: It's mostly -- we actually thought it would also attract the younger people, but actually the average age is higher. Thirty-three. It's young professionals, people who have a degree in computer science. But they're older and they have jobs and families, and actually we stumbled on a niche that was not served by the current system. It's people who cannot just stop what they're doing and move to a city or a town 200 miles or 1,000 miles away. They have a job, they have a family. I meet them all over the world, and many of them thank me so much -- it gives me an ego trip. They say, "We wouldn't do it without you."
Ayanna: You said we stumbled, you stumbled, the College stumbled on a niche. But I think it's more than that. If you think about OMSCS, I mean, we've seen new programs -- OMS Analytics, OMS Cybersecurity, we even see research from faculty and students in our own school, the School of Interactive Computing, looking and measuring the effectiveness of how to deploy online programs. So, how extensive -- I think it goes beyond the niche. How extensive can this impact go?
Zvi: People see it -- again, I'll give some compliments, but I'll quote people. I accept those compliments, but it's by others. So, some people see it as a game changer and as the first step in the revolution. Indeed, now, there are over 40 -- we call this MOOC-based online programs because it's based on MOOCs. So, it's not exactly MOOCs because it's not open, you pay tuition and it's not massive, it's large but it's not 100,000 students. It's very big, but it's not massive. But it's MOOC-based, and also the pedagogy of the MOOCs. So, now there are more than 40 other programs, including two in Georgia Tech, as you mentioned -- Analytics and Cybersecurity. Which, by the way our College is partnering in those two and both follow our model. There are 40 and over 30 universities. The No. 1 follower -- I'll tell you some breaking news -- was the University of Illinois with iMBA. And they were No. 2 -- now they also have three. There first one was iMBA. And they fully acknowledged that they -- they called us "our big brother." They came here and they learned what we do, and they copied it. They're not as cheap -- they're $22,000. But in business schools, it's still much much cheaper. They announced a week or two ago that they canceled the on-campus program and have now only online.
It's kind of amazing. We're not canceling our on-campus. Our on-campus program, the number of applications to our on-campus program is more than two and a half times what it was in 2014. So, the brand of Georgia Tech -- it impacted the brand of Georgia Tech.
Ayanna: So, given that there's now over 40 and you have institutions canceling their brick and mortar programs --
Zvi: No, no. That's an exaggeration. One of them did.
Ayanna: But if you think about this trend, then, is online learning -- is that just going to be in the DNA in the future for higher education?
Zvi: I think it will be much, much bigger. On-campus will still remain. Actually, on-campus -- the international students still prefer -- many of them Indians and Chinese -- prefer the on-campus student because it gives them a visa. I still believe that and others will have their on-campus students. But in certain areas where there is huge demand like computer science. The BLS -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics together with NSF predicted several years ago that in 2020 there will be 1 million jobs in computing that will be unfilled. I don't have the up-to-date at the moment, but something like a million jobs. Many OMSCS students ... some of them are coming from other areas. So, actually, Georgia Tech is doing something to alleviate this problem more than many, many other universities.
Ayanna: So, how do you think -- Georgia Tech, School of Interactive Computing, other schools, other institutions -- how do you think we can continue moving forward this needle?
Zvi: First, there should be more and more programs. I'm not saying every program. Smaller programs, no. Programs judiciously selected partly by the job market, we can have quite a number of these online programs. What we've done, we've actually moved to undergraduate education. So, I'm not for a full undergraduate degree. Undergraduate studies serve several purposes, not only with study. But we already have CS 1301 -- or, in short, people call it CS1 -- being offered six times. Students surveyed say that it's the best course they've taken in Georgia Tech (laughing). And now we're working and preparing CS2 and 3. Basically, that can alleviate the problem of the cost of college. Some people can take two or three courses online in high school. And then take courses online in a co-op. Right now, with a co-op or internship for a year or a semester, they don't take courses. Now they can take, not a full load, one course. Plus they're kind of disconnected and they have to get back to study later, it's challenging. And then they can actually take a few OMSCS courses, which usually master and senior courses are more or less the same. They can take it on the job. They can have a shorter time on campus. Shorter means not necessarily shorter than four years because only 40 percent at Georgia Tech finish in four years. ... 80-something percent in six years.
If online courses are priced appropriately like OMSCS, it will save them significantly. It's still a problem -- college will still be very expensive. But it will alleviate some.
Ayanna: So, online learning, OMSCS -- it really does address a need in our society. So, I want to give you a little bit of time to also talk about what will you possibly miss as you think about your future. Is it the faculty, the students -- what is the one thing you think that you will miss?
Zvi: As dean, I like very much the relationships with all the constituents, which is students, alumni, parents, faculty, not necessarily in this order. Not always are the relationships peaceful and nice. There are challenges of course. But I like the human factor very much. I hope to still be involved, and I will still be involved with the online programs. I'll continue to be some kind of an ambassador. I've given 67 talks in 15 countries. The next one is in Moscow, Russia is the 16th country. That's in July. Still, five years later, everybody wants to here about it. It has been incredible.
Ayanna: I was going to say what's the future hold, but I guess the future holds a lot of other things -- OMSCS, talking about OMSCS. Are you going to teach?
Zvi: Yes, I'm going to teach and do a little bit of research. That will be a challenge after 25 years. We will see. I'll still be -- and I'm writing this paper about OMSCS. I'll publish some, I'll teach, I'll try to get some faculty international academy or whatever. I'll be around for a few more years.
Ayanna: Good! And you know papers turn into books (laughing) -- and on that note, we do appreciate your time today on the Interaction Hour. As we look back over just a few of your accomplishments here at Georgia Tech, I learned a lot, I hope our community out there listening learned a lot. Zvi's service to the College has really helped make it an incredible destination for students, faculty, for alums, and has laid the groundwork for generations to come for what OMSCS will look like, what other (online) programs will look like.
I think you for joining us today.
Zvi: Thank you, it was really a pleasure.
Ayanna: To close out this podcast, remember you can find us online at ic.gatech.edu and on Twitter and Facebook at @ICatGT. Thanks for listening.
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