Monday, January 26, 2009

Go Western, Young Man

By KATHLEEN KINGSBURY, Reprinted from TIME Partners with CNN

Let's not waste anyone's time or money. You won't find that phrase emblazoned on a T shirt, but it's essentially the motto of Western Governors University (WGU), a private online school that has worked hard to prove it is anything but a diploma mill.

Established 11 years ago by the governors of 19 states, the virtual university--which is administered from Salt Lake City--has experienced a surge in admissions as more college students look for low-cost alternatives. Enrollment topped 10,000 last spring, growing at a rate of 40% in both 2006 and 2007.

Some 4 million Americans sign up for a distance-learning course each year, whether at an extension of a bricks-and-mortar institution or at an online-only school. Although the latter category is populated mostly by for-profit companies, WGU stands out as a nonprofit funded mainly by tuition and the $20 million in seed money supplied by those 19 governors. To help bolster its reputation, the school obtained accreditation from both regional standard bearers and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the professional body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for certifying teacher-preparation programs. (WGU remains the only online institution that has NCATE's seal of approval.) Such moves were designed to "lend WGU more legitimacy as an educational institution," says Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who helped found the school when he was governor of Utah. Today WGU is the nation's largest supplier of math and science teachers in urban school districts. And its alumni are hired by such FORTUNE 500 companies as Microsoft and AT&T. "[WGU] has earned a reputation for producing high-quality graduates, particularly in education," says Kevin Kinser, a professor at New York's University of Albany who studies online learning and is not affiliated with WGU.

The school's success is owed in large part to its competency-based approach. Instead of requiring that students take specific courses or amass a certain number of credit hours--as most colleges do--WGU asks only that students demonstrate mastery of the subject matter via online exams or papers that could take a day or a decade, depending on the student.
WGU has no full-time instructors, at least not in the conventional sense. Course work for its four majors--education, IT, business and health care--is developed by and licensed from outside vendors. But WGU does have about 250 full-time faculty members who work as mentors, checking in with students by phone every couple of weeks to ensure they are making progress in their courses and to recommend additional resources. "I get to know each of my students much better than I did when I lectured to them once a week in class," says Alisa Izumi, a business professor at WGU who lives in Granby, Mass., and used to teach at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

At $3,000 per six-month semester, WGU charges a sixth of the average annual tab at private four-year colleges and half as much as an online for-profit like the University of Phoenix, a mega virtual school that has some 200,000 students. And WGU lets you take as many courses as you can fit in a semester, which means some students are able to finish an undergraduate degree in as little as two years. "Before WGU, I would have had to drive almost two hours to Richmond," says Sandy Newsome, a teacher in rural Virginia who is getting her master's in math education. "Learning this all from home seems so much smarter." Sure does.

1 comment:

Boyd said...

ALL BUT DISSERTATION (ABD)


Are you at the ABD destination in your program?

There are two types of Ph.D. candidates that fall into this category:

1) The "just arrived" and anxious to move forward.

2) The "been there for awhile" and think they will never move forward.


While both types may need help to move on, it is the latter that is likely to derive the most benefit from this article and become motivated to complete, perhaps, the most important event in their life.


You are intelligent enough to have come this far, there is no reason (from an academic stand point) to linger in the "ABD Zone." The longer you are there, the more difficult it becomes to pick up the pieces and move forward.


A qualified and experienced consultant who works with Ph.D candidates understands the special circumstances that can lead to ABD status (e.g. hectic fulltime job, family, and other personal issues). The question is, how do you find a qualified consultant?


The best way to get started is with a phone call to a consultant and ask the question: "How can you help me move beyond the ABD level and complete my Ph.D. program"?


For many doctoral students, the most rigorous parts of a quantitative or mixed-methods dissertation are:


1) Methods Section

Study Design
Research questions and hypothesis formulation
Development of instrumentation
Describing the independent and dependent variables
Writing the data analysis plan
Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it



2) Results Section

Performing the Data Analysis
Understanding the analysis results
Reporting the results.
Many Ph.D. candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the "methods" and "results" section of their dissertation. This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their mentor, peers, university assistance and even Google. This is also the time when the student may ask themselves the question "HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH"?

Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong. On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation (e.g. APA formatting and editing). It is also not unusual for advisors to encourage students to seek outside help with the statistical aspects of their dissertation.

As a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggests the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandable language by telephone and e-mail.

The ideal time to begin working with a statistical consultant is once you have a topic and you have done some preliminary literature review. Otherwise, you run the risk of unnecessarily complicating your study. This could result in the consultant being unable to help you, unless you are willing to start over with the problem statement, purpose of the study, research questions, instrumentation and data analysis plan.

As stated above, many students hit their dissertation "brick wall" when they encounter the statistical considerations. Frequently, a student will struggle for months before they seek a consultant to help them. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates. (The number of Ph.D candidates not completing their program is staggering)



If I were to name a single reason why a Ph.D candidate, doing a quantitative or mixed-methods study gets off track in their program, it is the statistics and their fear of statistics. So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much?

I don't know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisors take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help:

To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good, however, the student will be unable to defend his/her dissertation.

It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. This is not accomplished in just one or two emails or a single telephone conversation. It is a dynamic process; one that calls for unending patience on the consultants part and perseverance on the students part.

The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to his/her understanding of statistics. It is the consultant’s job to see to it this occurs.

When their defense is successful, the question "was the help too much" is answered.

If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may wish to review the referenced sites below:

Boyd

Reference sites:

http://www.statisticallysignificantconsulting.com:80/Statistically-Significant-Ethics.htm

http://www.usdla.org/