Thursday, January 1, 2009
A University of Phoenix grad reflects
As alluded to in an earlier post with forgotten songs from forgotten bands, I have indeed completed my time with The University of Phoenix's on-line MBA program. Some pros and some cons with this booming new educational forum, and what better forum than Wolfden V to reflect on this experience?
1.) Length of Time
With each class lasting six weeks and there being ten classes, I was done in just over a year. Granted I did have three classes from Valpo that carried over and counted for credit, but even still a year is a neat and tidy amount of time to obtain a degree.
2.) Topics Covered
The classes are diverse and practical. I took theory based classes on strategy and implementation as well as hard hitting numerical classes steeped in business statistics. Human resources, business law, and other diverse offerings made for a nice ten course make-up of the MBA program.
No doubt this has to be the number one pro. The on-line forum allowed me to continue working while receiving an education. Working retail, I could do the work at inconsistent times and hours. I never had to drive anywhere for class, and I didn't miss a single deadline at work or school because of the program's flexibility.
4.) Freedom of Direction
A little discussed benefit of the on-line forum is that the message board, classroom participation provides a depth of knowledge and shared experience that made logging into the University of Phoenix enjoyable. Message board discussions can go any number of directions and reveal stories, experiences, and ideas that highlight the primary message of the class in a way that a textbook cannot begin to approach.
5.) Research Tools
The University of Phoenix offers a University Library with multiple academic search engines. I don't remember specifically, but I would guess that there were no fewer than 15 different ones for students to try out. I fell in love with EBSCOhost and used that more often than not to find articles for my papers, but there were many other search engines focusing in different areas of expertise readily accessible.
The University of Phoenix is a for-profit organization, which in itself holds lots of pros and cons. But the pro is that they want to retain you as a customer and to do so, they roll out an elite fleet of advisers. From finance, to enrollment, to academics I had a team of people at my disposal trained for prompt and profession response to minimize issue that might cause me to waver in my commitment to the program.
At the conclusion of every class, the student has the opportunity to fill out a feedback form. In every class I wrote some variation of the following:
"As a learning institution designed for working professional who work long and uneven hours, I do not understand why the University of Phoenix places continued importance on coordinating a group of students around a single project. While teamwork is no doubt an important part of any workplace environment, the continued requirement of forcing busy individuals in different time zones into a project better suited to individual performance threatens the effectiveness of the class and the entire MBA program."
2.) Variation in expectations
I realize that variation in expectations is a part of any learning experience at any level of schooling. What one teacher finds important another finds trivial and vice-versa. That said, the MBA program is of a largely a cookie-cutter course structure. While the topics varied, I could expect to write an individual reflection in weeks 1 and 4, a lengthy team paper in 2 and 5, and a massive research paper in weeks 3 and 6. One comes to expect a certain regularity with such a standard in scheduling and even so, the professors' expectations varied wildly with some putting importance on personal experience, others on drawing conclusions, others on research, and yet others (not enough) on basic paper writing ability.
3.) Write or bust
I understand that in writing a blog it will sound narcissistic to say that I had an inherent writing advantage over my colleagues, but my background in high school and college would have backed that up anyway. Virtually every meaningful evaluation of student came from paper writing ability which as alluded to, I do fairly well. I didn't take a single test, and I wasn't required to memorize a single thing. If one can write, one can pass the University of Phoenix MBA program. While writing is certainly an important medium in the workforce, I think it silly to place such an overwhelming importance on just this single way of learning as not all workplaces or learning ability is defined in the written word.
4.) Retention of knowledge
Piggybacking on what I just wrote, I compare much of what I learned to be comparable to reading a newspaper. Some is interesting, some facts register, and lots is glanced over. Since I could pick and choose what I found to be important themes in my papers, I could (and did) left vast sections of information untouched that might have been more important if a professor said, "You need to know this idea for a test." While no one is going to remember every aspect of a class, I probably would have remembered more today if instead of picking and choosing parts for my paper, a professor objectively picked the most important pieces of a class and forced students to learn them.
5.) Quality of Professor
Professor quality varied tremendously is perhaps the scariest aspect of the MBA program. Some professor are incredibly knowledgeable, very engaged, and offer valuable feedback. But in the ten course program I had probably three that shouldn't be teaching a class. Much like the students, these on-line professors are not full-time teachers. Rather, they hold a full-time job in the real world and understandably are not 110% committed at all times, as they have other pressing concerns. This dilemma, though, is not as bad as those who are less than experts in their field, show little interest in classroom discussion, and don't offer feedback in a timely manner that in a rapid paced 6-week course can cripple the ability of the student to adjust and react.
6.) That guilty feeling
Also a part of probably any educational experience, the guilty feeling that one should be doing work for a class instead of something fun is always lingering. I tried to stay ahead of the class as inevitably real world things would cause my ability to keep up with the class to fall behind. But even when I was all even with where I should be, I always felt like I should be reading or writing something to prepare for the next week. The school only takes one vacation - a break for Christmas or New Years - which puts the student in a constant state of worry with lots of work right before him or her.