Published: Feb. 8, 2018 By

The Board of Regents on Thursday approved a new and innovative MOOC-delivered master’s degree in electrical engineering–the first of its type in the world.

The on-demand, asynchronous, and fully online degree, to be offered by the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering (ECEE) within the College of Engineering and Applied Science, will provide high-quality graduate education to students around the world in response to growing workforce demand.

Key takeaways

“The MOOC-based electrical engineering master’s degree really captures the spirit of ingenuity, entrepreneurship and creativity of the faculty at CU Boulder,” said Provost Russell Moore. “In every discipline on campus, our faculty are looking at new ways to teach and conduct research mindful of the benefits for Colorado, the nation and the world. We look forward to presenting this unique degree to the HLC for authorization with all these benefits in mind.”

This degree, which will be rolled out in phases, represents an important evolution of CU Boulder’s 2013 experiments with massive open online courses, or MOOCs. At that time, MOOCs at CU Boulder were largely free and non-credit bearing. MOOCs are now emerging as promising vehicles for credit-bearing educational experiences.

The MOOC-based Master of Science in Electrical Engineering leverages advanced online learning platform technologies to offer a rigorous degree at a lower cost, giving students choice in how, when and where they complete their coursework.

The degree is optimized for the modularity of MOOCs. A three-credit, semester-long on-campus course might become three or four individual month-long MOOCs, each targeting specific content areas. Students will select subjects that best fit their goals as they move through the program. This modular and stackable structure captures the curricular content of the existing on-campus master’s in electrical engineering degree but adds an unprecedented level of flexibility.

“What excites me about this initiative is that we’re using technology thoughtfully and strategically to create something new - an online degree that doesn’t try to mimic the classroom experience,” said William Kuskin, vice provost and associate vice chancellor for strategic initiatives. “We want to use the digital environment to let learners explore a sophisticated academic curriculum at their own pace.”

“Our hope is that we will deliver an online degree that can only exist in the online environment, unique to this modality, and by doing that, deliver some powerful teaching to the entire world.”

Students working on computersThe new MOOC-based degree provides a robust set of academic options for students, including 100 month-long MOOCs covering academic and professionally relevant topics in embedded systems engineering, power electronics, photonics, feedback control and digital communications, and remote sensing. As they navigate the program, students will combine individual MOOCs into thematic series, along the way looking toward CU Boulder graduate certificates and, eventually, the full master’s degree.

CU Boulder faculty have custom designed each course. Courses feature in-depth video content, curated readings and resources, and assessments that challenge students to demonstrate their mastery of the subject area. Many courses bring the laboratory experience out of the Engineering Center to MOOC students around the world, inviting students to apply their knowledge using hardware and software kits at home. The curriculum pushes the limits of automation in MOOCs to scale graduate education and capture the energy of a rapidly evolving field.

“The faculty have seized the moment and created something truly imaginative,” Kuskin said, “an online degree where each course bears the idiosyncratic mark of its creator.”

In a field of peer institutions working in the for-credit MOOC space–including MIT, Georgia Tech and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign–CU Boulder takes a leadership position in the electrical engineering master’s space. 

"Expanding access to the technological world and increasing our global engagement is what our college is all about,” Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science Bobby Braun said. “Through this new degree program, I’m excited to see the department leading our college and university–and really the nation–with this 21st century approach to education.”