UoPeople Student Review 2nd Term

I promised that I would give a final review for my last term at UoPeople. There is a lot of good to say about the institution, and with it’s noble cause, it’s difficult to say anything bad. However without pointing out the shortcomings that I’ve experienced is to say the school does not need to improve; no institution can say this.

It should go without saying that all institutions should be finding ways to better the quality of their services. University of the People has demonstrated the ambition and drive to continually better the quality of the education provided, and a part of the influence for change comes from the students themselves.

At the end of each term there is an anonymous survey where students can answer questions about their experiences in the course. My favourite section is where you can post any extra comments in as much detail as you’d like, and I’m going to share my thoughts about CS1101 openly here on my blog. It’s the specifics of the course where my concerns are, and not the overall structure or experience.

Before I review the actual course in detail, I’d like to offer a student review and give an overview of my overall experience at UoPeople during my second term (term 5 of the 2014-15 academic year).

Term Overview

The Good.

I’m happy to say that the overall experience has been very good for me. Not only have I felt like I’m learning a lot of new things, I’m given the opportunity to apply my knowledge and explore my ideas further with classmates; some of which are already experienced in the tech industry as programmers, and IT professionals.

There are a number of different points that I’d like to touch on about life at UoPeople, all of which have been a crucial part to my overall experience. No order of importance here; they are:

  1. Community
  2. Peer-to-peer learning
  3. Instructor feedback
  4. Flexible hours, and
  5. Opportunity

Of course I’m leaving out the cost here, but I feel like there isn’t anything I can add as a student to that topic that you can’t already decide for yourself simply by visiting the website. It’s basically free, what else can I say?

Community

One fallback of attending an online school is lacking the face-to-face interaction one would get while attending a traditional college or university. Thankfully the network that UoPeople has organized on Yammer and in the class forums, solves a lot of these issues. Possibly it’s even an advantage over traditional schools.

The community of students and professors at UoPeople encircles the entire globe, and is made up of many highly motivated individuals who are eager to change the world and their lives. What ever you’re interested in pursuing you can bet there is some student(s) who has the experience needed to help get you started.

I’ve had two major experiences related to the community along with many other meaningful ones that have made a huge impact on my pursuit as a programmer.

The first is meeting a fellow student who is already an established freelance web developer. He is currently working on building his own blog for tutorials on the subject, and when it’s ready I’ll be sure to link it here.

Since I met him he has assumed the responsibility as mentor and has guided much of my learning that takes place outside of the classroom. It’s been a huge help in discovering technologies that I didn’t know existed, and realizing the direction I want to take. Just having someone to relate to and talk to about coding and other interests has been a complete game changer in my quest for knowledge.

The second is becoming a part of a project lead by one of the instructors at the university. We are working on an open source project that aims to gamify the APA format used in all of our academic writing at UoPeople.

The project has been slow I’ll admit, but learning to work, organize, communicate and code with others is an experience essential to my development as a professional. It also gives me the opportunity to work in game development which is an area I really, really enjoy!

The community at UoPeople has been amazingly positive and encouraging. Everyday students share stories, pictures, articles or other resources for learning and for leisure. Everyone is at this school to help each other achieve, and to do great things!

Peer-to-peer learning

This is the foundation, and most important aspect of the UoPeople learning model. It’s a big part of what makes the school financially feasible, but it’s also a very powerful learning experience as well; one that when used properly is more advantageous when it comes to retention and application than traditional teacher-to-student models.

Don’t be mistaken though, there is still one-on-one feedback with instructors which will be my next point, however peer-to-peer is where the bulk of learning takes place.

The model allows a student to receive much more detailed feedback on assignments than would happen in a teacher-to-student model. For each assignment you will receive three assessments from your fellow students. The assessment process not only gives you more than one view on the quality of your own assignment, but also provides you the opportunity to assess others.

This assessment phase in your assignment allows you to see different ways of doing the same thing, often showing examples of how you could have done better.

Peer-to-peer learning also takes place in the discussion forum, which I’ve talked about in previous posts. The discussion forum is like an assignment that is a little less formal and is designed to generate discussion on a topic the students are learning in class.

The discussion forum is the best opportunity to really learn from others. It grants the perspective of many different points of view and ways of thinking about one topic. It’s a way of really exploring a topic deeply and discovering any fallacies in your thoughts on that particular topic.

Peer-to-peer learning is very powerful and used extensively at University of the People, but like I mentioned earlier, the school does not neglect the importance of having a qualified instructor available for close moderation and feedback.

Instructor feedback

I’ve noticed on many web 2.0 sites such as Reddit, Quora, YouTube and others that people mistaken UoPeople for a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course), which is simply not true. You will not be thrown into a classroom of a thousand and left to fend for yourself.

The actual truth is that you will be placed in a classroom of 20-40 students, and will be able to contact your instructor directly through e-mail anytime you don’t understand something clearly.

In my experience instructor feedback has been very positive and has helped me gain some insight on expectations in the field of programming. The instructors I’ve had so far have all been very hard workers and always willing to give me extra input and encouragement, often without being asked.

Being that instructors are volunteers at UoPeople they deserve the utmost respect and a huge “thank you” gets thrown out to them for all they have and are still doing!

Flexible hours

One of the biggest benefits I enjoy by attending an online university is the flexible hours. Thanks to everything being online and asynchronous, I don’t have to worry about what hours I work, or where I live.

If I attended a “brick and mortar” school, I would have to either commute, or think about moving my family. I would also be limited in the types of jobs I could work while in school, because they would have to be flexible enough to work around my class schedule. These are simply not problems at UoPeople.

What’s even cooler, is that if I land a good job that requires me to move, I don’t have to change schools. I can keep studying at UoPeople no matter were I live in the world as long as I have an internet connection. My school works around my life, not the other way around!

Opportunity

Last but not least is the opportunities that students at UoPeople are showered with. The first is obviously being a part of an institution that aims to bring higher education to all!

You can become a student ambassador as I have, which gives you the chance to help promote and represent the university in any way you can. This involves answering questions on social media, helping applicants go through the application process and being a panelist on webinars hosted by the university.

This comes full circle to the community aspect, but just being socially active at school gives students the opportunity to get involved in many different projects started by other students and instructors.

Another style of opportunity comes in the form of internships. As internships become available e-mails are sent out to students who are interested. Remember that the companies seeking interns are companies such as Microsoft and Hewlett Packard among many more.

That’s not all.

There are plenty more great things to say about this school, but in my opinion these are the major points that have had a big impact on me.

I try to be unbiased when sharing my thoughts about UoPeople, but as you can probably tell I’m very proud to be a student here, so it can make critical thinking difficult. It’s hard to critique something you are personally fond of, but I make notes about areas I’d like to see improved none the less.

So I’ll start with some of my concerns that effect the school as a whole. I’m not going into to grave detail here, because I’ve already brought these concerns up before. However I feel it’s worth mentioning until I have seen solutions to the problems.

The not so good.

Peer-to-peer is not always perfect.

The first is in regards to the peer-to-peer learning model. As I mentioned up top, it’s very powerful when used well. The downfall is when you are assessed by students who either lack the typical drive found in many of the other students, or are simply struggling with the course.

The problem isn’t that you might be graded poorly. This is resolved simply because instructors still review assignments, and assessments. So, if you get graded poorly because you lucked out on a few students who did not grade you professionally, then there is no real concern because your grade will be assessed accurately in time anyways.

The issue I have is that in these situations you are not benefiting from the quality feedback that makes peer-to-peer learning so beneficial in the first place. Yes, the instructor will give you feedback in situations like this, and it’s very valuable. Still though, it could become a detrimental factor if you get unlucky and end up in a class of under-performing individuals, who do not provide you with the quality feedback necessary in a peer-to-peer learning environment.

Another sub-issue that extends this concern is in regards to how perfect assignments are assessed. I work very hard on my assignments at school and so I often get graded perfect scores. However I rarely receive constructive feedback, which is disappointing as I always provide constructive and meaningful feedback no matter what the grade is.

Simply saying “Good job” is not constructive. As an assessor, I will explain the individual parts that I appreciate and then share some of my personal taste as a way to offer an alternative view. It’s common for me to say something along the lines of “Although I don’t think it’s worth docking marks, your assignment could have been made more clear (or stronger, or whatever) if you had done x, y, and z…“. That’s constructive.

I understand that the assessment process itself is graded as it’s own assignment, and so that should encourage students to submit a high quality remark. Sadly it doesn’t seem to work in most cases, at least in my own experiences.

I wish I had a solution for this, but I think it’s a problem that will take some serious thought and possibly time to change significantly. If I come up with any tangible ideas on my own I’ll be sure to share them, trust me 🙂

That’s really as far as I’m going to go with that. Any other details of concerns I’ve had, have already been mentioned in prior posts, and for the most part they are trivial. However, my last concern is specific to CS1101 but has also been seen in one other course I’ve taken. So, this one falls somewhere in between being specific to a course and the school as a whole.

Some exams are poorly made.

The concern is in regards to exams, and graded quizzes. There are two courses that have disappointed me, CS1101: Programming Fundamentals, and POLS1503: Globalization.

In defense of both of these courses one is simply an elective, and the other is basically an introductory to the introductory. They are both not proctored exams, and I’m sure once I take a proctored course there will be a significant difference in the challenge.

By the way, proctored means that the exam will be supervised by an authoritative figure who can confirm your identity and ensure that you did not cheat.

As you can tell by my tone, the problem is that tests were far too easy. Even though I was very well (over) prepared for the Globalization exam, I still stressed about it as I do with all tests no matter how prepared I am. When I finally sat down to write it I completed it in literally two minutes. I had an hour…

A very similar but slightly better experience happened with CS1101. But the disappointment was still the same. Both courses suffered from recycling questions from all of the practice quizzes into the final exam.

Don’t get me wrong, one here and there is nice to see just for sake of a gimme, but the whole exam? The majority of the questions should be original, even just some could be original and I wouldn’t have been as disappointed. It pains me, but I scored 100% on both exams not because of what I learned, but because of the Q and A’s I memorized.

Now, although both the exams and graded quizzes fell short in these courses, it’s worth mentioning that there is no way you could have passed either of them without understanding the material.

The assignments were built well enough that they forced you to apply your knowledge. I definitely felt like I learned a lot in both courses, and I still feel like they are worth your time. I just hope that down the road there is more testing material that aims to create a more realistic challenge in non-proctored courses such as these.

CS1101 was not inspiring to me.

Firstly before I share any negative thoughts I want to shout out Mr. Curtis Vance for being an amazing instructor in this course. When I talk here about not being inspired I’m not referring to the instructor. In fact any element that would be considered inspiring and uplifting at all is 100% due to his efforts; he really did a fantastic job!

I also want to mention, before I delve into this, that I realize UoPeople is possible because of it’s many volunteers dedicating their own time making such a solid curriculum. The school has constantly improved even in the short while I’ve been attending, and I’m sure that in time everything I’m about to mention will be figured out.

Now, why would it matter if a course is inspiring at all, you might ask. Because no real learning takes place when people are not intrinsically motivated, that’s why. To intrinsically motivate people, you must inspire them!

It’s an easy cop out to just assume that if someone is studying CS that they must already be intrinsically motivated or else they would not be here. My argument is simply that programming and everything related to computer science is hard. Really hard.

It’s not an easy field to get into, even if you do have an interest in it. I feel it’s important that the first CS course a student takes at UoPeople leaves them inspired and in awe of the wonders of computers. This inspiration is what could become the deciding factor between success and failure.

When you leave a lasting impression on someone, that impression stays with them through their struggles and doubts. And there will be many on the journey to a BSc as well as a career in its field.

An introduction to computer science should show students what is possible, what has been done, and what hasn’t been done. It’s not just about the amount of money that can be made (which is potentially very, very high), but the amount of change that can be made.

People from computer science backgrounds are constantly shaping the world we live in. It’s possible that the students at UoPeople will one day be involved in the next big innovation. The hardware and software they design could completely revolutionize the way society works, and what a shame it would be if one of those would be’s ends up breaking down in the struggle of pursuing a degree and fails.

The thing is, although I think UoPeople is a great opportunity, it’s also a very challenging one. It’s difficult to motivate people when you can’t make physical eye contact, or shake their hand. Motivating and inspiring through the sole use of the written word is a massive undertaking. But it shouldn’t be thought of as impossible.

The power of the written word should never be underestimated, and I believe our school can one day be compared to places like MIT, Harvard, and Stanford. Those institutions have all shaped what computers are today. And I believe that UoPeople can earn the reputation for shaping what computers will be tomorrow! It all just starts with a little inspiration 🙂


That was a lot longer than what I usually post. Congratulations if you made it this far! If you enjoy these long reviews let me know, so I can make more. Also if you have any suggestion to help me improve, please tell me. Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks everyone!

Cheers,

Dan

 

14 thoughts on “UoPeople Student Review 2nd Term”

  1. Thank you for this review. Last year I started the application process and my papers were rejected in conditions that were not informed while filling the application form. Yesterday I got an e-mail that my deadline for my application is in 40 days after my application ID was previously deprecated so I assumed that I didn’t have anything valid for my application and that I had to restart the process and pay the fee again. Seems like good news but it isn’t.

    I was reading this review and really like you being honest with the things that are not going well which I think are deal breakers. I think the internship part is attractive but after I think it through I really want to be good in software and have read about many aspects about it and software is not simply buttons and clicks. I don’t want a job in software engineering just for the bucks. I’m very passionate on this and don’t wish to land on a software team by pulling strings.

    1. Hi Carlos, glad you appreciate my honesty in these reviews. Sorry to hear you’ve had some troubles with the application process. Before you close the door on UoPeople, let me just say that this past year has been an overall good experience for me. The last term especially, I learned a lot of new things, that I didn’t learn on my own as a self-taught programmer. These things have helped me do well in my new job at Khan Academy, and it’s helped me solve a lot of coding challenges on various websites that I use for exercising my problem solving abilities.

      The course I review in this post, is only the very first CS course in the curriculum. It’s not meant to cover anything in great depth. It’s only purpose is to introduce students who have never written a line of code in their life to the idea of programming.

      One of the things I mentioned in this review was the quality of the exams. I can now attest that the quality does improve in future courses, as do the assignments. The last course I took – Programming 2, was very well put together. It was challenging, and required a lot of homework, but overall I feel like I came out of the course as a more knowledgeable programmer, and a better problem solver. I also had a really great instructor in that course which always helps 🙂

      Anyways, it’s not my goal to convince people to attend, or not attend UoPeople. I only wish to provide insight from the experience of an actual student so that others can get a more accurate idea of what they are getting into. In my opinion, it’s a great opportunity for a lot of people, such as myself, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. If you do decide to come join us, you’ll find yourself welcomed by a very tight community of students with all sorts of different backgrounds you can learn from. Many students are already experienced programmers, engineers, IT professionals and many other lines of work. It’s a great community to learn from.

      Good luck!

      1. I totally agree as a fact that getting into a program will help the learning process. And if UoPeople connects the right people together is a very big plus for the learning curve into programming.

  2. Hi Dan, Gabriel from Venezuela here. I’m also a CS student here (actually, I started as Non Degree Seeking Student, so I’ll start soon with the “real courses”. Just dropped by for saying thanks for your great blog!

  3. Hi Dan!

    Superb blog! I have just completed the introduction course in (UNIV 1001). Taking the Globalization module next term. I concur with you that the tests seemed too easy. Hopefully proctored exams will be much more challenging.

    Best wishes!
    Robbie.

    1. Thanks Robbie!

      Congratulations on completing your first term! I still can’t speak for the proctored examinations yet, but this past course I took (CS1102) had much more difficult tests than previous courses.

      Thanks for commenting on my blog, I’ll be posting another review like this soon 🙂

      1. Shared a link to your blog in my class. Useful resource to novices in computing (including myself). Keep up the good work!
        – Robbie.

  4. Thanks.
    Very encouraging my collegiate.
    I can send you a review on the importance of a UoPeople internship, that can be added as my contribution to this blog… Reach me anytime…

    Kolawole Oshiyemi,
    Graduating Student.
    UoPeople Peer Assessment Advisor.

    Kashproperties1@gmail.com

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