OMSCS Annual Report 2020

Page 1


Opportunities OMSCS 2020 ANNUAL REPORT





from the



n January 30, 2020, I became the executive director of online education in the

College of Computing. On March 16, 2020, essentially all education became “online” education. The pandemic forced everything, from kindergarten to graduate school, to rapidly shift to teaching and learning online. In the weeks and months since then, I have talked with hundreds of people about what the

transition has been like. People express all the struggles with teaching and learning online, all the results they feel are inferior, all the activities they feel don’t transfer to this new environment. Then I talk about what we are doing here: the activities, assessments, instruction, and interactions — not just created for students, but also driven by students. I share the CS6460: Educational Technology students that have had their projects published as papers, the CS6440: Introduction to Health Informatics students that collaborate with medical professionals, the incredible range of topics covered by our classes, and the number of students who can make major career changes. Asynchronous courses can be a powerful way to equalize opportunities for students. We envision how removing classroom capacities gives opportunities to students who would not have been competitive in admissions but are ready and willing to put the work in to succeed — and whose success can have far more dramatic implications. We imagine how making learning compatible with family and work obligations can open up opportunities for everyone to become lifelong learners. The program shows our success. In fall 2020, we welcomed our largest incoming class. Spring 2021 set a record for applications. We now offer 51 courses, including dozens shared with our sister programs in Analytics and Cybersecurity. We have graduated over 3,000 students, with hundreds more set to graduate this year. We consistently see twice as many underrepresented minority students enroll online compared to on campus. We see our ratio of women in the program growing steadily year over year. We have showed the world that this approach need not be simply a mechanism to survive months of social distancing. It can, and should, be a medium for creating excellent learning experiences that meet the needs of every potential learner. Our impact has stretched and will continue to stretch far beyond the program. David Joyner Executive Director of Online Education and OMSCS


Research Highlights Helping Fight Covid-19 with ML

Student Kenneth Miller is using artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to develop algorithms to ensure that the most important Covid-19 research reaches doctors. His work is part of an ongoing Kaggle challenge to use ML to empower the medical community to find the best Covid-19 studies. His OMSCS studies prepared him for the challenge. The AI track focuses on the practical implementation of AI methods. This made it easier for Miller to start with an overwhelming amount of data and get to an endpoint that solves the problem. His experience using the programming language Python for class also enabled him to agilely work with the data. “The trick, as in any project like this, is understanding and assimilating the data to start with,” Miller said. “But using Python makes the initial data wrangling pretty easy. The hardest part is building new ways to squeeze more desired info out of the documents.” n





Building Better Bionics

Student Glenn Cameron has always been interested in robotics. When he found an open source robotic hand on the internet, the self-taught coder 3-D printed it and got started. But he learned there were many limitations to the basic software. Although he could program the hand to open and close, it couldn’t tell where its fingers were. Cameron knew he didn’t have the expertise to make it more agile, but he knew OMSCS could help him bridge the gap. Cameron focuses on interactive intelligence in the program, where he’s taken classes on computer vision and basic programming. The mix allows Cameron to build up his technical skills while also understanding how to design a product people can really use. “Human computer interaction courses have helped me to think about how this hand would work on a real amputee,” he said. The robotic hand is now on its sixth generation. n


Finding a



How OMSCS Helps Students Start New Careers

For many OMSCS students, the program is a chance to get promoted within their current computing career or broaden their knowledge. But for others, it’s the door to an entirely new career path. From psychology to economics, students of all backgrounds can thrive in the program. Finding CS For many students, discovering a passion for CS was more serendipitous than planned. Goda Tarcijonas was managing a psychiatry research lab where her work was half clinical and half computational, and though she expected to prefer the clinical, the opposite happened. “The days I coded for eight hours were the days I looked forward to the most, and I thought this is worth exploring,” she said. Shijie Shi similarly found herself using data analysis in her role as an assistant director for Vanderbilt University’s Graduate Program in Economic Development. Although she came from an economics background, she would code in the data workshops she taught master’s students. “I liked using code to solve problems, and using a program to analyze the data and see the story this data can tell,” she said. 4


Goda Tarcijonas

Shijie Shi

Building skills Students need to have demonstrated success in undergraduate-level CS courses to be accepted into OMSCS. Yet many prospective students start taking those classes when they discover their passion for CS. After enjoying coding, Tarcijonas enrolled in undergraduate CS classes at the University of Pittsburgh and a nearby community college. While searching for boot camps, she found OMSCS. “I thought, ‘This really seems too good to be true! What’s the catch?’ This is an affordable amount of money, and it’s an amazing school,” she said. Tarcijonas applied to OMSCS in 2018. She started the program Spring 2019 and has enjoyed combining her psychology background with computing in the Interactive Intelligence track. “I’m sure I have to put in more work than someone who already has a CS background, but it’s definitely not impossible to do OMSCS if you’re motivated,” Tarcijonas said. Shi also decided to pursue her passion for data and completed a data mining certificate at Stanford University. “From that program, I really started seriously thinking about doing a CS graduate program because it’s my passion even if the homework sometimes takes me a little longer,” she said. Shi found OMSCS while searching for online degrees and applied in 2015 to start in 2016. She focused on machine learning because it combined her math and economics background with CS. Discovering new paths Through OMSCS, Tarcijonas attended the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration, where she got an internship at Docusign that turned into a full-time position as a software engineer. She knows without OMSCS she wouldn’t have been able to make this career shift. Shi now works at the World Bank as a financial analyst, a role she wouldn’t have been hired for without OMSCS. She was first brought on as a consultant because her computing background enabled her to revamp the organization’s data systems. “I wanted to work for an international organization that makes a difference,” Shi said. “The reason I can work there is because of OMSCS.” n


We have 51 courses, from foundational systems and machine learning to cutting edge artificial intelligence for robotics and health informatics.

Here are six of our newest offerings: CS6457 – Video Game Design (Jeff Wilson) Design games like Super Mario 64. This course covers all aspects of the game design process, from game engine concepts and technologies to structural elements of games. Students create full 3-D games with real-time game object control.

CS7280 – Network Science (Constantine Dovrolis) Learn every element of network science: algorithmic, computational, and statistical as well as their applications in social, communication, and biological networks. With a focus on the overlap between machine learning and network science, this course highlights methods for network inference, generative network models, graph embeddings using deep neural networks, and other state-of-the-art topics.

CS7632 – Game AI (Jeff Wilson) Explore the artificial intelligence used in gaming, like agent movement, path planning, decisionmaking, goal-oriented behavior, learning, and procedural content generation.

CS7643 – Deep Learning (Zsolt Kira) Discover deep learning’s fundamental principles, underlying mathematics, and implementation details. This includes the concepts and methods used to optimize these highly parameterized models (gradient descent and backpropagation, and more generally computation graphs), the modules that make them up (linear, convolution, and pooling layers, activation functions, etc.), and common neural network architectures (convolutional neural networks, recurrent neural networks, etc.). Apply it to computer vision, natural language processing, and decision-making (reinforcement learning).

CS8803-O12 – Systems Issues in Cloud Computing (Kishore Ramachandran) Develop different layers of a cloud computing infrastructure including software defined networks, distributed runtime systems, network function virtualization, and application development in this project-intensive, immersive course.

ECE8843 – Side-Channels and Their Role in Cybersecurity (Alenka Zajić and Milos Prvulovic) Dive deep into digital and analog side-channels and their use for attacks and defenses in cybersecurity. Software and hardware developers will understand fundamental mechanisms of side-channel creation, analysis, and application to various cybersecurity problems.



OMSCS By the Numbers Student Enrollment



Men (% of Enrollment)

(% of Enrollment)



Underrepresented Minorities (% of Enrollment)

Overall Enrollment




New Enrollment Fall 2020

Total Course Enrollments


Companies Represented


U.S. Citizens & Residents (% of Enrollment)

International Students (% of Enrollment)



U.S. States/Territories Represented


Countries Represented




LucyLabs Gives OMSCS Students Research Experience

OMSCS leads not just in online education but research in the area, and students are at the forefront of it.


fter OMSCS launched in 2014, online education data only grew by the year but wasn’t being analyzed. Sensing a research avenue, OMSCS Executive Director

David Joyner founded LucyLabs in 2016 to meet the growing demand for online education studies and give the program’s students the ability to engage in academic research. “OMSCS students are incredibly well qualified and passionate and have great ideas, but lack spare time to pursue the great ideas they already have,” said Joyner. In LucyLabs, students and instructors work on the most compelling educational technology problems and can publish their research. This enables students to learn research skills with the benefit of professional guidance and course credit. “Being given the opportunity to perform substantive research work has been a very important part of my OMSCS experience, as working through the process from design through IRB approvals and authoring of conference papers are unfortunately not part of the typical OMSCS course work,” said OMSCS student Ellie Shivers. A computer science degree is

Ultimately, LucyLabs is about letting students see the real-world impact of their research.

ideal for pursuing online research because many companies are working with similar parameters, such as asynchronous communication and a shared project management chan-

nel. This makes the chance for research collaborations with companies and students across the university easier. Since its founding, LucyLabs has published 47 papers on everything from automatically giving grades and feedback on open-ended assessments in support of rapid revision to examining the myriad challenges with leveraging online learning in Nigeria. Of those 47 papers, 21 have been co-authored by students and 15 have had a student as the primary author, including recipients of the best paper award at the Learning with MOOCs and Learning @ Scale conferences. Ultimately, LucyLabs is about letting students see the real-world impact of their research. Shivers is currently evaluating the effectiveness of at-scale continuing medical education course material surrounding the transgender/nonbinary community from a social perspective. “I am passionate about social research around marginalized communities as it relates to healthcare technology, particularly with the ever-growing focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning in healthcare,” Shivers said. “I love being afforded the opportunity to perform research that I hope may one day have tangible value in the dayto-day lives of people by improving patient outcomes in various capacities.” n



In LucyLabs, students and instructors work on the most compelling educational technology problems and can publish their research


Assisting the

Future of


How TAs Help OMSCS Run


hen Mike Romano was an OMSCS student, the teaching assistants were one of the highlights of the program for him. It was no question that he would work as one when he graduated.

“I had some amazing experiences with the TAs when I was a student, so this is my

way of giving back and trying to provide that same experience for others,” said Romano, who TAs CS6440: Introduction to Health Informatics. Many OMSCS students like to give back in the same way. OMSCS boasts 332 TAs who help the program scale and maintain rigorous academic standards. While a professor can’t grade every student and answer every question when enrollment can exceed 1,000 students in a single class, a well-trained TA under their direction equipped with a clear rubric can take on many of them.



“The most important thing is that this is a for-credit, equally-accredited graduate program that requires students to get individual feedback, individual assessment, and individual support,” said OMSCS Executive Director David Joyner. “The only way to deliver that is with well-trained, well-qualified, dedicated individuals that are hired to meet enrollment needs.” More importantly, they add a personal touch to the program. TAs help students learn material, navigate assignments, and feel welcome in computer science. “The most rewarding part of TAing is being able to help students reach their ‘Aha!’ moment,” said Irene Ng, who TAs CS7637: Knowledge-Based Artificial Intelligence. “Since it’s an online master’s program, everyone has such diverse backgrounds and some concepts can be hard to grasp if you take a course on an unfamiliar topic.”

Mike Romano

Irene Ng

Stacia Stokes

TAs also bring their own diverse backgrounds and often have more expertise than a typical on-campus TA. Many have professional careers in the subject they teach. Just in CS6460: Educational Technology, TAs have been executives from textbook publishers, entrepreneurs from EdTech startups, and teachers from other universities. Ng comes from an electrical engineering and business administration background that gives a unique perspective to computer science. “I have a different mindset for approaching problems and helping

OMSCS boasts 332 TAs who help the program scale and maintain rigorous academic standards.

others overcome their struggles without just flat out giving them the correct answer,” she said. Ultimately, being a TA is rewarding for more than just the students. TAs have a chance to shape one of the most exciting education initiatives. “TAing has improved my experience by gaining insight into the inner workings of OMSCS,” said Stacia Stokes, who TAs CS6460. “It also led to a stronger sense of community with other OMSCS students.” n


People of


Mustaque Ahamad, Professor, Creator (CS6035) Instructor (CS6238)

David Goldsman, Professor/ Director of Master’s Programs, Instructor (ISYE6644)

Tucker Balch, Professor, Creator (CS7646)

Reina Grundhoefer, Director Academic Programs, Assistant Director - OMSCS Advising

Raheem Beyah, Professor/ Vice President of Interdisciplinary Research, Instructor (CS6263)

Catie Holt, Academic Advisor II, Academic Advisor

Alexandra Boldyreva, Professor/ Associate Chair, Instructor (CS6260)

Ayanna Howard, Professor/ Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Chair, Instructor (CS6603)

Jeff Borowitz, Lecturer, Instructor (INTA6450)

Charles Isbell, Professor/Dean of Computing/The John P. Imlay Jr. Chair, Instructor (CS7641, CS7642)

Mark Braunstein, Professor of the Practice, Creator (CS6440) Gerandy Brito, Lecturer, Instructor (CS6515) Jessica Celestine, Academic Advisor II, Academic Advisor Polo Chau, Associate Professor, Instructor (CSE6242) Martin Davis, Senior Academic Professional, Director of Admissions Constantine Dovrolis, Professor, Instructor (CS7280) Jon Duke, Principal Research Scientist, Instructor (CS6440) Alex Duncan, Research Associate II, Associate Director of Student Experience Irfan Essa, Distinguished Professor/ Senior Associate Dean, Instructor (CS6475, CS6476) Eric Feron, Dutton/Ducoffe Professor of Aerospace Software Engineering, Instructor (CS7639) Ada Gavrilovska, Associate Professor, Instructor (CS6200) Adriana Gerena, Academic Advisor II, Academic Advisor Ashok Goel, Professor/Director of Ph.D. Program in Human-Centered Computing, Creator (CS7637)

Jennifer Jackson, Academic Advisor II, Academic Advisor Roshan Joseph, A. Russell Chandler III Professor, Instructor (ISYE6420) David Joyner, Senior Research Associate, Executive Director of Online Education/Instructor (CS6460, CS6750, CS7637, CS7646)


Thomas Ploetz, Associate Professor, Instructor (CS6601) Chris Poch, Lecturer, Instructor (CS6340) Tia Pope, Research Scientist II, Instructor (CS6440) Milos Prvulovic, Professor/ Associate School Chair, Instructor (CS6290, ECE8843) Kishore Ramachandran, Professor, Instructor (CS6210, CS8803-O12) Mahdi Roozbahani, Lecturer, Instructor (CSE6242) Spencer Rugaber, Adjunct Senior Research Scientist, Creator (CS6310) Nicoleta Serban, Virginia C. and Joseph C. Mello Professor, Instructor (ISYE6402) Priyal Shah, Academic Advisor II, Academic Advisor

Taesoo Kim, Associate Professor, Instructor (CS6265)

Joel Sokol, Professor, Instructor (ISYE6501)

Zsolt Kira, Assistant Professor/ Associate Director, ML@GT, Instructor (CS7643)

Thad Starner, Professor, Instructor (CS6601)

Maria Konte, Research Scientist I, Instructor (CS6250)

Jay Summet, Senior Lecturer, Associate Director for Academic Affairs/Instructor (CS7638)

Wenke Lee, Professor/John P. Imlay Chair in Software, Instructor (CS6035, CS6262, CS8803-O11)

Jimeng Sun, Associate Professor, Instructor (CSE6250)

Leo Mark, Professor/Associate Dean - Academic Programs, Instructor (CS6400) Tori Misudek, Academic Advisor II, Academic Advisor Mark Moss, Lecturer, Instructor (CS6310) Milton Mueller, Professor, Instructor (PUBP6725) Alessandro Orso, Professor, Instructor (CS6300) Santosh Pande, Professor, Instructor (CS6291, CS8803-O08)


Kamran Paynabar, Associate Professor, Creator (ISYE8803)

Brani Vidakovic, Professor, Creator (ISYE6420) Eric Vigoda, Professor, Creator (CS6515) Rich Vuduc, Professor, Instructor (CSE6220) Jeff Wilson, Senior Research Scientist, Creator (CS7632)/ Instructor (CS6457) Alenka Zajić, Associate Professor, Instructor (ECE8843) Georgia Institute of Technology 801 Atlantic Drive Atlanta, GA 30332-3000 @gtomscs @GTOMSCS