Saturday, September 23, 2006

Can Somebody Invite the University of Phoenix into the 21st Century?

Last year, about 2 weeks after my second son Caleb was born, I suddenly realized that I needed to make a serious decision about my future. I wrote a few weeks ago on Think TQ, which I had discovered and been reading their materials for a few weeks about the time I made this decision. I had been reading a lot of David Allen and Michael Hyatt and several other productivity personalities and they were beginning to have an effect on me. I sat down and set some goals, and the product of these goals really made me change my direction. Now, I have made thousands of goals in my lifetime, and I'll make thousands more and most of them will not happen at all. Goals are very important, and yet goals must be aligned with your values and long term outlook. I could write a goal to "learn to crochet", but it probably won't happen becuase I really don't have any talent or interest in it. That goal will gather dust until I face the facts and delete it. I have learned however, that when I do set a goal directly in line with my values, things start to happen.

I'll give a little bit of background before I go further. I became a Christian in May of 2002. Shortly afterward, I made an emotional sort of decision to go into the ministry. I pretty much jumped at the first distance learning Bible college I came across and enrolled. The school was not accredited, but I didn't know what that meant anyway and I figured if it was God's will then there shouldn't be a problem. I enrolled in the Biblical Counseling program. I'm sure it's a very noble field, but I soon found that I did not dedicate myself very well to my coursework. I ended up having to request (and pay for) an extension. After I changed jobs, I started to look to my career. I began to realize that a non-accredited Biblical Counseling really won't carry me far in my career field, would not get me certified to actually counsel anybody, and I really don't like people anyway so why did I think this would be a good idea? (Note, I am not a sociopath, I just mean that the world is a much better place with me troubleshooting computers instead of people).

I was having a fight with my wife about the program. Actually, we had several fights. She was rightly upset at the money we spent on the program and the little I had accomplished. I was trying to work on my class one night and kept getting interrupted. I blew up. The next day, the same thing. I finally said "Well, I'll call them on Monday and tell them I'm dropping out!" When my wife didn't try to stop me, I left the room to think. Could this be the right decision?

I had made a 90 day goal about this time to complete a certain milestone in this program, and I was making little progress. But this goal was forcing me to confront an unpleasant little truth: as noble as I thought this field could be, it did not seem like a good fit for me. I'm a computer geek/wannabe engineer. I like to work on computers and other information technology subjects. I really do enjoy it. After thinking for a little while, I sat down on my computer to check the websites of some of the adult education institutions that I knew about: Phoenix, Kaplan, and I forget others. I did a Google search for others. I then called a good friend of mine who had completed a Bachelor's degree from Phoenix to ask him what he thought of the school and ask him what he thought of me dropping out of the Bible college. I told him I spent a lot of money on it but we might be better off if I admit that I made an expensive mistake and try to move on. He told me that sometimes we have to admit that. I gave it a lot of thought and prayer, and looked at the programs that were offered. I found that Phoenix had the best all around IT degree. Kaplan had IT, but wanted you to specialize in one of 5 fields: network, database, design, and a couple others. I did not at the time want to specialize that far. Actually, I still don't. After reviewing some of the options and talking to my friend about his experiences in the IT program at Phoenix, I decided to call for more information.

Caleb was 2 weeks old when I took the High Speed Line (commuter train) into Philadelphia to meet with the admissions counselor. I must have been smoking crack to want to start a bachelor's program with a new baby, but I had to do something. I completed the paperwork and got my transcripts sent in, and then I sat back and waited for the program to start. I enrolled in a program called FLexNet. The on ground program meets once a week, but if you know anything about the Philadelphia area, you would not want to try to fight your way from the southern part of New Jersey to Wayne Pennsylvania (near King of Prussia) by 6 PM on a Wednesday night. My friend advised me not to take the online program because during his time as a hiring manager he felt that online degrees are too new and some older managers might think it is a degree mill. FlexNet seemed to be just about right. You attend the first and the last class sessions in the classroom, and everything else is done online. So far, I am very happy with the FlexNet program. It meets my needs well. I am able to attend class just about anytime that is convenient for me but I am also able to meet the instructor and my classmates in person twice a class. I can work on class during the day at work when I have time, or at home in the middle of the night. Last year, while visiting my grandmother, I set my laptop up in her kitchen and dialed into a 30 day trial People PC account in order to attend class. When my mom passed away, I was able to keep up with my coursework while visiting with my family. I was given some lattitude by my instructor considering the circumstances, but I did mostly keep up. I am very happy with FlexNet and would recommend it to anyone.

OK, with that background in place here is the point to my post. The equipment and services that University of Phoenix uses seem outdated. For FlexNet, we use an Outlook Express newsgroup. Seriously, I thought those went away after 1998. Another gripe I have is that our accounts only support an 8 Meg limit. I began this blog entry last night while frustrated because I could not get a 7 Meg database to upload in time for the deadline for the assignment. The newsgroup can be accessed through Outlook Web Access, but that's even worse than Outlook Express. You cannot reply to a post through OWA, at least, it won't stay in the tree. It shows up as a new post. During one class when several people had to use OWA, the newsgroup was a mess. Conversations could not be followed at all.

I can understand business or medical students having to live with this, but seriously, this is an IT program. Can't we actually use IT for our class? How hard could it be for an organization as large as UOP to broker a deal with Microsoft to allow students to use a web based version of Live Meeting? On the one hand, we are getting pretty good at document verison control through a newsgroup, but this causes a lot of problems. I can't tell you how many times, the night before a presentation, 3 people are working at the same time. I'll upload what I think is verison 5 of the team presentation, somebody else uploads version 3, and another uploads version 7. Which one is most current?

I've been so tempted to take out a free website from Microsoft's Live Office just so we have a place to store and access documents online.

OK, that's a lot of babbling for a short rant. Set goals, further your education, and if you decide on University of Phoenix (which I do recommend), ask them to actually provide some IT for their IT program.

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