Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

New virtual master’s program in AI breaks traditional learning methods

Cassandra Ozuna

The University’s fully virtual AI master’s program introduced its first cohort this spring. 

The Master’s in Artificial Intelligence is designed to fit an individual’s schedule and learning goals with its range of elective classes and on-demand lectures. The program’s curriculum combines classes that apply to a variety of industries, ethical considerations of AI and case studies to provide students with a personalized education in the fast-growing industry. 

Ken Fleischmann, a professor in the School of Information, is the founding chair for Good Systems, a University research initiative that investigates how to build and integrate AI systems that benefit society. He said the master’s program directly stems from the collaboration of Good Systems and the Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning. He wrote the ethics plan for the program and now teaches the required “Ethics in AI’” course. In the course, he requires students to use ChatGPT to write an assignment and reflect on the output produced.

“Students will be expected to use these tools in the workplace, but they need to know how to use those tools appropriately and responsibly,” Fleischmann said. 

While the program is asynchronous, courses are still instructor-paced with weekly release schedules. To produce high-quality instructional videos, the program partners with the Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services

“We work really hard to give a great user experience for students,” Fleischmann said. “So they have the best opportunity to learn.”

Eric Busch, the managing director of computer and data science online programs, said the program is now the fastest-growing of the three online master’s programs offered by Computer and Data Science Online at UT.

Busch said the program’s focus on not just learning how to use AI models, but also understanding and constructing them differentiates it from AI programs at other universities.

Busch said the growth and proliferation of this type of online program gives students the option to continue their education while working other jobs or attending to other obligations like family time. 

About 700 students enrolled in the program, with some being abroad or in different time zones. Although fully virtual, Busch said the students have a vibrant community and consider themselves Longhorns as anybody on campus does. 

One student, Himanshu Joshi, decided to enroll in the program to pursue his fourth master’s degree while living in Toronto, Canada, with his family. 

Joshi said he dedicates two hours of his own time every day to his coursework. He said what he learns in classes aligns with his current job working with AI.

“It definitely calls for being more disciplined so that you can align your work as well as your other commitments in life,” Joshi said. 

 MSAI students use Slack and Discord to build community and exchange thoughts and ideas with each other. However, Joshi said he hopes to meet with students near him in the future. 

“The best part is the discussion forum, which is embedded into the course, where you ask questions,  somebody else replies, and then you get to know their perspective,” Joshi said. “So you learn from various different domains, not only limiting it to one perspective.

According to the World Economic Forum report, 97 million new AI-related jobs are expected over the next two years. The MSAI website said it hopes to prepare students to stand out in these AI-related professions. 

“What I like about MSAI is that it showcases a commitment that the university has to diffuse some of the knowledge and expertise that we’re developing here as widely as possible,” Busch said.

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