Born and raised on a university campus, Florida native Henry W. admits to being “extraordinarily privileged to have been around the best and brightest” his entire life. To this day, Henry has a deep appreciation for knowledge and intellectual curiosity.
Henry started his professional journey after graduating from high school in 1966, when the Navy decided he was good prospect for a security clearance and computer work. When his enlistment was up, he took advantage of the GI Bill to continue his education in a two-year course in industrial electronics. From there Henry worked for several NASA and Department of Defense contractors, steadily moving up the corporate ladder as far as he could without a college degree. At the ripe old age of 48, he was ready (and financially able) to retire.
Says 58-year-old Henry, “For the past decade I’ve been heavily involved with Linux, GNU, and free and open source software.” More recently, Henry has conducted corporate training and taught a number of introductory college courses without the need of a college degree.
“I wanted to go back to college, but not sit through dull, boring lectures by disinterested professors or teaching assistants.” After he made the decision to earn a degree in business, Henry evaluated and compared different programs amongst several schools. He made his decision to study at Western Governors University.
“Going back to college would have been completely out of the question without the competency-based model at WGU.” Henry expects to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in business administration in July of 2008 and fully intends to continue on to the MBA.
"As much as I would like to go on to a Ph.D., that part is still up in the air.”
What factors did you consider before choosing distance education?
Study after study has consistently indicated that there is no difference in the end between traditional seat-time and distance learning. I think for all of us enrolled in a distance learning program, the main factor is convenience - being able to fit coursework into our schedule, and not the other way around.
At the same time, this is also the main reason distance learning is NOT for everybody. Unless you have the motivation and self-discipline, you can quickly lapse into chronic procrastination, last-minute marathon sessions, and inevitably not following through on your obligations, skipping readings, rationalizing that you are somehow justified into cutting too many corners and racing through assignments to meet a deadline rather than gradually, routinely, and systematically building a solid foundation for future studies.
Indeed, this is a classic instance where you get out of it in direct proportion to what you put into it.
Western Governors University is a very unique school because it does not award degrees based on credits, but rather competency assessments. Have you found this kind of academic model works for you? Do you think these assessments are accurate?
The assessments are defined and developed in conjunction with the Business Program Council and Assessment Council, so there is constant review and revision to what industry says it's wants/needs and what experts and specialists within academia recommend as the most effective and efficient way to get there.
Some of the assessments are traditional multiple-choice exams, others are essays; these will be proctored and generally have a 3-hour time limit. The bulk of the assessments are performance based tasks and projects. There is a capstone project appropriate to your major and you have to prepare a portfolio in your final term.
I would say that this is significantly more accurate and predictive of what you actual know and can do than the usual traditional grading system. One of the chronic complaints I've heard for decades is that graduates simply cannot do what their degree indicates they should be able to handle with relative ease. That cannot happen with the competency-based system at WGU.
Has having an academic mentor benefited your academic experience? How?
All Western Governors University students are assigned a mentor who has an advanced degrees in their chosen discipline. They represent a model of expertise, someone who has actually 'been there, done that' and is ready to help you through all your academic studies from learning how to learn, 'what' to learn, what is crucial, what is important, where to find things, as well as answering your questions about the course, offering counsel and advice, and perhaps more importantly than all of this being a prime source for encouragement.
At the beginning of each term, your mentor will work you to develop your individual 'academic action plan' recommend courses and other learning opportunities to help you progress through the program and refer you for the assessments when you are ready. (Many of these assessments also have a 'pre-assessment' which will give you an excellent idea of how well prepared you are for the real thing - as well as specific areas where you might need more study.)
As Dr. Robert Mendenhall, President of WGU, said in his 2003 PhD dissertation: “In today's era of almost unlimited information, the teaching of content knowledge has transitory value; the real value of education today is in learning to distinguish what's important, where to find it, and how to analyze and apply it.” WGU follows that model.
What technologies/tools are used to deliver your program?
The technology used in the curriculum is varied, but I would say that almost anyone with experience with the ubiquitous Microsoft® or Macintosh® multimedia applications will have no problem.
Depending on the option you choose, you may be mailed a set of CDs to study on your own, or you may take an online course which will require login to their variation on WebCT/Blackboard (the WGU student portal does, too), and you may have links to streaming audio and/or video, as well as teleconferences throughout the program.
My advice - for WGU or any distance learning institution - is a reasonably fast CPU, lots of RAM, and the fastest Internet connection you can afford. Actually, anything considered to be 'state-the-art' during the past three or four years will be more than adequate; there is no need to rush out to spend a couple of thousand dollars before you even take your first course!
Also, textbooks can be outrageously expensive, and for people like me who like to keep them, it can run into serious sums very quickly.
One way around this is to buy used textbooks, and resell them when you are finished with them. You'll get a better resale price if they aren't marked up with highlighter and ink; use Post-it® notes and a conventional 3-ring binder for taking notes and keeping them organized and together.
What is worst aspect about distance learning and what advice would you give to prospective students who are considering distance education?
The worst thing about distance learning is the nasty little gremlin of isolation and loneliness, and the frustration of asynchronous communication. While you're fretting yourself into an early grave, the [individuals] who can and will be there to help you are at work, asleep or off to grandmother's house for the weekend or holiday.
Make no mistake, making it through a distance learning program to completion is going to be much, much harder on you than taking the traditional brick-and-mortar route!
You're going to have to set your own schedule and make sure that nothing interferes with your studies! Aside from the contact with your mentor every other week, there is no one to remind you - daily - that you need to work on your assignments.
If you don't have the motivation and self-discipline to take on this enormous responsibility, forget about distance learning entirely!
You'll either drop out or drive yourself a little crazy with endless last-minute marathon sessions to turn in assignments by deadline, and you'll generally have only the barest, superficial knowledge of what you could have learned had you gone at it gradually, routinely, and systematically.