On-line degrees

Yesterday, Joshua Foust had a bit of a rant on twitter about the (ab)use of online education within the DoD and the practice of degree inflation.  The requirement for Master’s degrees for even mid-level positions seems to be growing at an alarming rate.

Today, the NYTimes (again, courtesy of Josh) has a discussion about the value and uses (or lack of them) of online education.

As someone who is on the brink of completing an M.A. from a virtual university allow me to present my view of the issue:

The online class experience is far, far inferior to the classroom experience.  No amount of on line discussion boards or chat sessions will replace the real time, face-to-face interaction with class mates and teachers.  While have to type questions and answers may allow some time for reflection and therefore eliminate some dopey questions it no doubt also prevents important issues from being raised.

The online experience also (at least to me) encourages a strategy of ‘satisficing‘.  Maybe it’s just me but if I don’t actually have to face my peers and teacher (and will likely not encounter them again) am I likely to give 100% when 80% will do just fine?

While I have learned some in my pursuit for this degree it was less (much less) than I’d say I learned in my first year as an undergraduate.  Much less challenging and much more an experience of checking off annoying boxes.  ‘Ok, another class.  Write three papers about stuff I know enough about that I don’t need to do any additional research and zip through.’  A great part of that, I believe, is due to grade inflation, a problem which is not exclusive to online universities.  In their desire to attract more paying customers, universities are accepting (and passing) people who simple are not prepared to successfully complete university level coursework.  At times it’s been embarrassing to see the work some of my peer have put out.  And the result?  After a year or so I realized that I could continue to get the same grade while putting in significantly less work.  I just completed my final course for my degree and would be hard pressed to say I put any real work into it.  I’m not exaggerating here.  Hardly any research and very little work.  My expected final grade:  Maybe a B+ if my final paper (which I wrote in 6 hours between a significant amount of unrelated web surfing) is graded in the low ‘F’ range.

So, while it is true that online education allows a host of new people access to the post-secondary school world, I’m just not sure it does anything other than give people a piece of paper.

Well, that’s not fair either.  Since many jobs now require that piece of paper as proof that the bearer possesses specific skills or qualities.  We all know from experience how that’s just not true however.

When it comes to analysts (who, theoretically earn their break and butter through intellectual pursuits) it’s even more true.  And yet, how many analyst positions require some demonstration of analytical ability?  For that matter, how many agencies hiring analysts have taken the time to identify what knowledge, skills and abilities (in other than useless, generic ways) they actually want out of analysts?  Of that subset, how many come up with metrics to identify those KSAs?

Beats me…but I’ll soon have that degree…


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