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Master's Degrees: Online vs. Brick-and-Mortar

  1. May 3, 2015 #1
    What are your thoughts on Master's degrees completed online in comparison to those completed at a university campus? Does industry/academia tend to look down upon online degrees, or could they not care less, as long as the degree wasn't from a diploma mill? Do you think online education will become more commonplace as universities continue to experiment with online programs? I looked for threads on this topic, but most of them are outdated.

    Personally, if I were working with someone with a Master's degree, I wouldn't care if the degree was online or not. I would be more interested in their research/work experience and personal projects. To me, those are a better indicator of what someone knows, and whether or not hey have a drive to learn new things. However, I also see certain fields as being better-suited for online degrees. Experimental sciences and engineering-related fields would have difficulty offering online students opportunities for conducting physical research. Remotely conducted mathematically or computationally-oriented research might be more feasible, although student interaction might still be difficult.
     
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  3. May 3, 2015 #2

    ZapperZ

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    But here, you yourself have stated that it depends highly on the areas of study. Since this is a physics forum, I'd say that I have never encountered someone who had a degree based entirely on online work, be it a B.Sc or Masters, in physics.

    The thing I have always emphasized on here is that there is a difference between learning physics, and being a physicist. One MIGHT possibly do the former simply by reading and listening to lectures. However, one cannot be the latter by doing just that. Being a physicist involves intangibles things beyond just what's in the books, and I don't see how those can be done via just online courses.

    Zz.
     
  4. May 3, 2015 #3

    bcrowell

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    There's no way to say much about this without talking about the field you want to get the degree in and what your goals are. For example, if you want to be a teacher, an online program won't give you any opportunity to get teaching experience. Even in a field that might be inherently well suited to online study, the reality is that an online degree is at best a second-class degree.
     
  5. May 3, 2015 #4
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  6. May 3, 2015 #5
    My entirely online BSc in physics/math got me admitted into a bunch of UK and European masters programs in physics. Admissions to most of those programs is competitive (though not very: mostly 2:1 applicant/offer ratio) and I did not even have strong references, which leads me to believe that online degrees can be regarded quite well. Some people from my program got into funded PhDs.

    I would conjecture that the modality of studies matters less at a masters level since there is generally a significant practical component (there is no contradiction in this sentence).

    One can get funding for a PhD with a 2:1 so that is fine o_O
     
  7. May 4, 2015 #6
    I think many online degrees are money making scams. For example, I looked into UWs applied math course. It costs about 30 grand. That is almost the exact same price for a full time degree without access to the campus, professors or other amenities.
     
  8. May 4, 2015 #7

    jtbell

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    Open University? That's the only such program I've read of.

    I don't think Ben meant "second class" to mean the specific UK sense of "second class degree".
     
  9. May 4, 2015 #8

    donpacino

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    As far as online masters degrees go, the main downsides that ive noticed are lack of in person interaction with the professor, and not having access to the physical labs. It really depends on your area of research as to whether or not it can be a deterrent. If what you do doesn't need an actual lab then you should be fine. I've Skyped professors to discuss topics.

    The online classes ive taken have been run very well and I've learned all the material. The online class students take the same exams as the in-class students, and ive done more than fine on all examinations.
     
  10. May 4, 2015 #9

    symbolipoint

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    That last part should mean, student taking test should be able to draw precise figures and diagrams that the student forms HIMSELF, and WRITES problem-solving steps to reach an answer, for several test item problems. The professor or evaluator must make an assessment for everything the student answers and apply any partial credit which the student response deserves.
     
  11. May 5, 2015 #10

    QuantumCurt

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    In my opinion, the number of degrees suited to an online atmosphere is very limited. Fields like physics simply don't work in an online atmosphere in any broad sense. There may be a couple of exceptions to the rule, but I know that I would absolutely loathe it.

    I see online degrees as quite different from traditional. Call it what you will, but I find it hard to take a lot of them seriously. I've seen too many people get completely screwed over by online degree granting institutions.
     
  12. May 9, 2015 #11
    The basic assumption here was that you cannot get practical experience outside of the classroom. This is wrong in most cases, although physics is a special case where it may be true (not many companies do "physics"). I feel that someone who took an online masters in engineering from Columbia while actually working in the industry (where, y'know, they can see the reality of things rather than living in the ivory tower) is much better prepared and educated than most of those who matriculate directly into Columbia's masters programs from undergraduate. I'd venture to say they would probably even be more dedicated students in that they have clearly defined education goals pertaining to their work.

    On the other hand there is a definite incentive for established professionals to downplay online masters degrees, which may be the only way for someone who needs to support a family to get further education, aside from going into effective slavery through debt. In medicine they have the decency to simply restrict the number of residencies and making the MCAT very difficult earlier on, rather than bickering about who holds a "second-class" degree.

    To be fair my views may be skewed in that my undergraduate campus was basically a cross between a fashion show and a fraternity party. We are ranked in the top 40 nationwide though, so I imagine only 39 other universities can really claim to be that much better. I doubt it though, in my experienced those who are the most skilled also do the most self-study.

    And yes, I've used anecdotes. Sue me. Statistics about "educational effectiveness" would only serve to enforce the status quo here, with online programs as yet being far from perfect.
     
  13. May 9, 2015 #12
    Another assumption most people seem to make is that one cannot get practical experience in physics by taking an online course. All kinds of computing projects are obviously doable online, as are many other activities. For instance, Open University has a 100-hour (undergraduate) project during which you use a robotic telescope to gather data and then analyze it. I recall one group got their results published. When I look at taught masters programs in physics, there is very little in them that could not be adapted to the online mode.
     
  14. May 9, 2015 #13
    Let's not forget that at least at the undergraduate level, physics laboratories are incredibly basic. I understand that chemistry may be out (without signing some special waiver), but surely we can trust people with pulleys, pendula, breadboards, op amps, oscilloscopes? I just finished my degree and our professor in advanced lab specifically made a point of not helping us, because as physicists we were supposed to be able to "figure it out". We did, it was fun.
     
  15. May 9, 2015 #14

    ZapperZ

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    Really? What do you mean by "basic"?

    The advanced undergraduate physics lab that I used to teach had everything from UV-VIS measurement to making thin film layers to measuring tunneling spectroscopy of superconducting-insulator-nomal metal tunnel junction. I would not call these "basic" by any stretch of the imagination.

    Zz.
     
  16. May 9, 2015 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    An online lab must be largely cookbook. You don't - and can't - get the very real experience of "I set this up and should see X, but instead I see Y". This is an extremely valuable part of the educational process.
     
  17. May 9, 2015 #16
    ZZ: I concede, the advanced labs tend to get advanced. This is why I'm somewhat hesitant about physics (or anything requiring a lab) online/ off campus.

    Vanadium: Exactly, my idea is to let them do the same thing at home and call/email the professor if they are truly stumped (since at lower level the apparata are rather cheap so far I know). May be wishful thinking.

    I'm not really trying to argue for a stay-at-home style of education though. The idea is more learn-your-work. Do you guys think it would be practical if engineering and science companies would implement small lab rooms for their employees to train in? Somehow I believe the cost would be largely offset by keeping the employees in house while completing their educational objectives online and in the lab room. A night and day career switch would still require attending a physical university, unless you can get an in with a company in your desired area. I don't see the college experience being taken away from the average student, but rather given to those who start as technicians or less and prove their worth.

    Perhaps I'm naive; still, one of my role models and the best professor I ever had told me that scientific learning is best stimulated by technological demands. In this sense I find this impulse of separating academia from practice very detrimental. It is probably not without reason that engineering firms increasingly weed out physics students. I doubt that it is because the engineering students are becoming better qualified, after having dealt with many of them.

    Again, forgive me in that I have probably been skewed by my own institution and experiences!
     
  18. May 11, 2015 #17
    As others have said it depends on the field. And to some extent your current job. I did my masters completely online at a state university. I graduated with traditional students and our degrees look the same.

    However, it was in education and I was a certified teacher with my own classroom. This was a requirement of the program. Unless you are working in the field I think it would be a waste of money.
     
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