I can only speak of my personal experience. The purpose of this is to help the consumer think about what they are looking for in an online degree program because they are not all the same!
Having attended classes in both American Intercontinental University (AIU) and University of Phoenix (UoP) online programs, I thought it would be good to give some personal feedback about the two.
What one might expect from an online university should be closely modeled to that of an on-site campus, with limited campus visits for professionals who are working a full time career. Accelerated on ground campus programs that I am familiar with have can have as few as two campus visits per week, one of which are a meeting with your designated workgroup. Given this schedule, a student would have another 5 days during the week to complete assigned homework.
Going to Class
UoP sends a CD ROM of Microsoft Outlook Express, configured to work with their program. Outlook Exress is used because of it's capability of supporting message boards, a technique heavily leveraged by both colleges. At the change of each class, UoP students need to go through the process of setting up the message boards for their new class.
AIU used a portal web site, with the message board built right in. All you need to do is log into the website, and everything is in front of you, in a single environment. When your classes change, your personal portal is automatically updated with the new class.
Another feature that I really like about the AIU Online environment is that each student knows how they are doing in a class when compared to the total points possible and to the average score of the class, via a grading grid (no student names are shown, just an average class score for each assignment). When attending UoP, I had to track my own information in Excel and I never knew where I ranked in the class.
Realtime Classroom Chat
AIU offers Realtime Classroom Chat. This is very effective for students to learn from the instructor and ask questions about the material. The chat occurs 2 times per week and is not required due to the schools sensitivity toward the working professional. The chat is archived and you can review it at a later time if needed.
UoP - At the time of my attendance, chat was not a feature at the school. If you got stuck on a problem or needed input from the instructor you could send him or her and email or post the question to the discussion board and wait for the reply. I had one instructor who would ask me questions back to try to help direct me through the text and where to find the information that I was looking for. This went on for a series of a few days until I finally had to explain that I did read the text and there was an area I was trying to understand (for the cost of the classes you would think that asking an instructor a question should be acceptable). I find this method time consuming, especially when you take into consideration that you need to get assignments completed each week.
Timeliness in the response/grading of turned in assignments
When you turn in your assignments at a brick and mortar school, you get feedback in a timely manner to make adjustments to your deliverables during the period of a class.
The amount of time it had taken UoP instructors to respond to your turned in assignments was significant enough that you had already turned in several assignments before getting feedback on the first assignment. If you were heading off in the wrong direction, you would not know it until you were well into assignment 3.
AIU has a turnaround of just a few days at the most, along with feedback!
Getting Text Books
UoP sends an email indicating your next class and text books required for that class with information on how to contact the bookstore. Order the books yourself, select shipping method.I also had cases where the bookstore would comment on how they thought that I needed an additional book for the class and I would find myself ordering yet another book that I didnt need.
AIU sends a confirmation email to confirm a current address of where to send the books. Click "Approve" and the books for your next class arrive in a timely manner.
Message Board ("Class Participation")
The UoP Online Program could be perceived as quite demanding, when compared to its on-ground campus counterpart. While the program is marketed as a program for working professionals, the frequency (three dated deadlines/week) of required participation in the class discussion board could make you feel uneasy, considering that you also need to make "quality" comments a few of the other classmates postings. I found this to be a time drain in itself, trying to think about a quality comment to another student who was rushed in their posting.
The AIU Online program truly backs up its position as an online university for working professionals. Unlike the heavy frequency of discussion board deadlines previously discussed, I have personally encountered one post required per week, with only a few follow ups to other classmates postings. I have found more depth/fulfilling discussion to this method as students are not racing to post message after message to fulfill dated requirements. This approach also seems to allow more time for reading text books and learning.
Homework Assignments and Workload Distribution
Both Universities assign study groups and expect these groups to collaboratively work together to deliver assignments. Where both institutions differ in this area are the quantity of group assignments due for each class. Your success in each class weighs heavily on these group assignments at UoP when compared to AIU. While UoP assigns 3 - 4 group assignments for each class, AIU assigns 1, allowing your grade to reflect your work - not a that of your groups. There are more Individual assignments at AIU, which offsets the high number of group assignments.
At UoP, if the team leader does not turn in the assignment, you get a "zero" - even if you have done your part.
At AIU, each student is personally responsible for the team assignment to be turned in. Teams also rank fellow students and their contribution to the assignment. If you are planning on riding on another students coat tails to arrive at your degree - do not go to AIU!
When evaluating what one might expect from an online university, the AIU Online program has been my selection that lives up to the marketed "For the Working Professional" message. The simplicity of attending classes, changing classes, ordering books, and grading that is weighed more on the abilities of the individual student, made this college the best selection. I have absolutely no doubts or regrets about the decision I have made to attend AIU.
San Ramon, California
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