My online journey with the University of Phoenix
Aug 17, 2000
Review by Lisa Weber
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Can work any time, no commute
***Note – this is a very long and very descriptive review – you will only find it useful if you are considering University of Phoenix or trying to discover how online degrees work, so read at your own risk. :)
Recommend this product?
I just finished my third class with the University of Phoenix Online Course last Wednesday. I can honestly say I find the course interesting and challenging and I feel I am learning something. I am enrolled in the Bachelors of Science Degree in Information Technology with a specialization in Web Management. For me, the only option was online: I am a police radio dispatcher, I work shifts and a lot of overtime – and my shifts change every month. There is no way I could ever commit to a time or date or class. So, when this came along I jumped at the chance. Here is my journey so far.
Late Mar 2000: The Beginning
I have wanted to go back to school for a while – I certainly can’t work the job I am currently working for the rest of my life, and in order to get a better one I need a degree. I only spent one year in traditional college, and I received some other college training through the army so I figured I’d be starting with the equivalent of two years of college. I visited the University of Phoenix web site and looked around at the degrees available through the online campus. I liked the Information Technology one and picked the Web Management specialization. I filled out a form requesting more information – figuring I’d get a brochure or an e-mail or something. The next day, I actually received a phone call from an admissions counselor to answer my questions.
We talked for about an hour and there was no obligation on my part, but I wanted to go ahead with preparations because it sounded like a good deal. He said he would set me up to start on April 6th 2000 (about 2 weeks away), just to set a date, although I might not be able to start that soon. He e-mailed me most of the start up paperwork (and there was a lot) and I filled it out and faxed it back to him. The only paperwork I had to mail in was the financial aid paperwork.
I qualify for the GI Bill and the Army College Fund from veterans assistance, and it comes to just under a thousand dollars a month. I told the counselor that I would be using that to pay for the class so I didn’t need financial aid, but he explained to me that if I apply for financial aid, no money would be due from me until I either denied it or decided I wanted to pay. If I did not apply for financial aid, the money for the first class and each class thereafter would be due two weeks before the class, starting now. I hadn’t even applied for the GI bill to start coming yet, so I didn’t want to have to pay for the class just yet. I told him I didn’t think I would qualify for financial aid and he assured me that as long as I was current on my taxes and didn’t have any outstanding student loans I would qualify, no matter how much money I made. – So I applied for the financial aid.
I was told the class would cost $330 a semester hour, and each class is three semester hours and 5 weeks long. So, according to that I would owe $990 every 5 weeks. Doable, I thought.
Early Apr 2000: The Preparation
I received a preparation kit in the mail about a week before I was supposed to start. It was a folder with a University of Phoenix mouse pad (with the contact numbers on it), a CD ROM, and instructions for how to install the software. The software I needed to install was Microsoft Outlook Express and Microsoft Internet Explorer. I already had Explorer so I just installed Outlook Express. I had never used Outlook Express before so it took me a little while to figure out. I also received instructions for logging on to the student web site. Of course, my username and password didn’t work so I had to call technical service. They were very helpful and told me that there was already someone with my name so they had assigned me a new username. But, and this still confounds me, instead of adding more of my first name or taking away my middle initial, they put another ‘B’ in the middle of my last name. Anybody get that logic?
Anyway, the instructions on the student web site helped me set up the Outlook Express, and then when I was done I had to take an automated proficiency test to prove to the University I could use Outlook Express. For those of you who haven’t used it, it is a combination E-mail application and newsgroup reader. (Apparently it is the one that is so susceptible to all those danged e-mail viruses) It’s not the easiest or most efficient piece of software, and sometimes it is downright slow, but if you are familiar with Microsoft Software it is decent to learn and use. I was assigned my own university e-mail access for use with my classes.
I also utilized the student web site to find out what my first class would be, who my instructor would be, and find the course handbook and the first class module. I needed to buy a book for the first class plus the initial issue books for the entire course. Right on the web site is a link to the online student bookstore. I punched in my credit card information and my address, and my books were on their way. I received them in less than a week via priority mail. During the last three classes I have compared the university book store prices with other online stores like Amazon and consistently found the university book store prices are comparable or lower. I always choose to get the used books if they are available. There is a program to mail back your books when you are done with them and get some money back, but I haven’t tried it yet.
April 5th 2000: The First Class
I am allowed access to my “classroom” the day before each class starts. The classroom is really just a newsgroup that allows access to various other newsgroups within it. It can be accessed either by Microsoft Outlook Express or on the web via the student web site. I suggest mainly accessing via Outlook Express because the web site is frequently slow. If you’ve ever checked out a newsgroup like alt.tv.baywatch using any newsgroup reader than you are familiar with the concept of using Outlook Express, and if you’ve ever checked out any newsgroup using Deja News, you are familiar with the concept of using the web site to read the newsgroup “classroom”.
My first class was Skills for Professional Development – I guess anyone who has been out of school for a certain amount of time has to take this course. The newsgroup was identified by the starting date of the class: 4-06. I subscribed to the newsgroup (classroom) and was instantly subscribed to a list that looked like this
4-06 is the starting date of the class and the newsgroup identifier. BSIT stands for Bachelors of Science Information Technology. Gen 300 is the class identifier. The first newsgroup (or class room or meeting room – whatever you want to call it) is for posting assignments and class discussion. The second one wasn’t used by my first three instructors but my current instructor wants us to post assignments there too. The third one is for off-topic discussions. The fourth one is where the instructor puts lectures and syllabuses. The study group ones are for your study group discussions.
The first week was spent on introductions, and minor assignments like reading and assignment to study groups. Study Group work appears to count for at least 25% of the grade in every class. In each of my classes we were divided up with 2 to 5 in a group, and given weekly assignments which usually culminated in a larger end-of-the-class paper or project. The study group participants are given their own “classroom” (newsgroup) and asked to divide the work amongst themselves in order to effectively meet deadlines and turn in work. Group participants can communicate with each other via the classroom but they are also encouraged to utilize other applications like an instant messenger application for instant conversations. Normally progress is posted to the study group classroom and assignments due are posted to main like everything else.
Participation is also a large factor in the grade in every class. One instructor clearly spelled out that “4 well-thought out, engaging questions or comments” would be posted 5 out of 7 days each week. What he means by that is: Let’s say one of this weeks assignments is to research technology web sites and describe what makes one effective while another is not effective. So then, one of my classmates posts their assignment - I would be expected to read the assignment, and if needed, ask for clarification on something I didn’t understand or post a comment about the classmate’s insight if possible. Sometimes this is hard, but most of the time it is easy. You can usually draw parallels between experiences, or relate some part of the assignment you found particularly interesting – whatever. U of Phoenix places a high value on participation, and many of the instructors relate they find this to be the method that causes students to learn the most. In my second class, I had two people that were already working in Information Technology positions in my class, and I learned a lot about LAN’s and WAN’s and Intranet’s just by reading their assignments. I don’t know what they learn from me though since I work for a very backwards police department.
The instructors so far have all been very different and mostly good. I had one who was actually excellent. They normally don’t do much except post assignments and lectures and send you your grades. Sometimes they get involved a little in the classroom discussion, but mostly they expect you to discuss amongst yourselves. There have been between 6 and 12 students in each of my classes, and while I see the same names a lot, there are different ones in each new class too.
The study groups are difficult. Usually everybody does their fair share of work (but not always) – but getting together and accepting someone elses work when you would have done it much differently can be hard. The first class my study group got together on ICQ to discuss the work, but since then we have just divided the work into research, writing, etc., and then done the work individually and posted it for review and discussion by everyone before putting it together and turning it in.
Classes are always 5 weeks long, and then you get a one week break before you start a new class. The class always starts on a Thursday, and normally the weeks assignments start being due on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. All of the classes have had a lot of textbook reading as assignments, and then other assignments like papers, communication logs, and weekly summaries. The study group usually has one paper due at the end of the 5 weeks with a certain amount of work you are supposed to get done each week. Just before the class starts you can find the class module on the student web page that spells out all the assignments and the expectations for the class. The instructor cannot take away from the assignments but they can add to them or modify them slightly. Every instructor so far has posted a syllabus at the beginning of the class and you have to compare the syllabus and the module to figure out the assignments. Sometimes this is very difficult – because it is not clearly done.
At the beginning of every class I always print out the module and the syllabus, and then I write in one of them and circle all the assignments due – then, as I post them or finish them I cross it off. This helps a lot. I spend between 15 and 20 hours a week on schoolwork.
On the student web site I can view all my past and future classes and all my past grades. So far I have received an A in every class. I have worked hard for all these A’s, so I can’t tell you if the University of Phoenix is a degree mill or not, all I can say is I work hard, and my efforts have been rewarded.
My second class was Organizations and Technology, and my third class was Organizational Communications. I am currently enrolled in Ethics in Information Technology. The student website gives you good access to your classes and a really good online library too.
The university does require each student to take a test at the beginning and the end of each program that determines how much you learned and allows them to keep their accredidation. They call it a COCA and the first time they mail it to you to take. The second time you must have it proctored at the library or something. I just took mine and it was hard – I am sure I did very poorly, but that’s OK, because if I learn all that stuff I will do so much better at the end of my degree program.
Two issues I have with the school are 1. My first three thousand dollars of financial aid ran out last week. The financial advisor called me at work to tell me to send back the form he had just sent me. I told him I didn’t want any more financial aid and I was going to pay by credit card from now on. He said he had to charge my credit card now – fine, but he quoted me a little more than 1,000 dollars. I said I thought it was 330 dollars a credit hour? He said, no, it’s not, and it never was. – I am not sure where the price increase happened, but I was a little upset about it 2. When I first joined, I sent the enrollment advisor all of my transcript requests. When the university sent me my prior learning assesment it only had my college time. My Army education and my CLEP tests were not on there. I e-mailed my academic advisor and he said “I have no record of that information”. So what did they do – lose it? Throw it away? I had to send it all back in again.
All in all, I am happy with the school and my experiences. I am a little concerned that I will be at a slight disadvantage when I graduate, never having worked on anything but my home computer – where will I get hands-on experience with networks, etc. I feel I will be able to overcome this somehow though. I have to warn anyone considering this that your written communication skills must be very good – since everything is written. You also must have a decent computer and Microsoft office (you need Word and Powerpoint mostly) and you must be proficient with the Internet – they don’t teach you this – well, maybe there is a class for it, I’m not sure because I didn’t need it. In my last class there were two students for whom English was not their first language. They had to take some sort of a test on their English language skills to get in, and they both did fairly well although it was hard to figure out what they meant at times.
I would recommend the University of Phoenix to working adults who have little free time but still want to get a degree.
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