Online Education vs. Military Deployment

I’m an instructor for the University of Phoenix Online, which is an interesting experience unto itself, but this morning the Powers That Be issued an interesting note that I thought I’d share with you:

“Dear Online Faculty,

“Quite a few of our students are in the military, and during this time of readiness, are deploying to points around the globe. Just a reminder that we are not to work around the attendance standards for our campus. It’s important that we not tell these military students that they can submit their work early before they deploy and still earn a letter grade. That’s not what will happen. If they miss attendance, these students will be auto-dropped, and then they will be eligible for only a W or a W/F grade.”

I’m actually cheered by this message because one of the cornerstones of online education is that participation is critical. It’s one significant difference between the old correspondence courses and the new, modern online education taking place through the Internet: you don’t just turn in your assignments and pass the class. Instead of the 1:1 relationship between students and the instructor, parodied in as unlikely a place as the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, e-learning involves an intensive discussion between students, often only self-directed.

The University of Phoenix Online requires students to participate in discussions five days weekly for every week of the course, and to participate “substantively” (defined by each instructor, usually at least 1-2 postings of 1-2 paragraphs. No “me too” messages count!).

Given that requirement, students deployed to the Middle East clearly cannot participate and experience the full breadth of the learning experience, so my kudos to UPhoenix for taking what might well prove to be a politically risky step and state that deployed students cannot just “slide by” with assignments only.

8 comments on “Online Education vs. Military Deployment

  1. Way to support your military! I am sure that the soliders that are being deployed did it just to get out of attending class. If you think turning in assignments before leaving is skipping out on the learning process you should try to experience all that needs to be done before deployment. I can assure you that it is not an easy task for a student to complete the assignments while preparing for deployment. But worry not the United States Military protects all US citizens grateful or not.

  2. Way to misunderstand my point! I am plenty supportive of our military, but I am not supportive of them getting a ‘free ride’ in a situation where everyone else is expected to perform to a specific level. In this case, the University of Phoenix has a stated requirement of a certain level of participation for students to receive full marks in a class. If a student cannot attain that level of participation, they need to drop the class, defer the class with an incomplete, or accept that they’ll get a lesser grade than they otherwise could. Quite from being unfair, I see this as being the most remarkably fair approach possible.
    This isn’t about whether people should be deployed, and it’s not about whether we should support them. It’s about how you assess educational accomplishment and how you ensure that everyone who receives a certain grade / degree has achieved a similar level of subject mastery.

  3. Dave, I’d love to chat about your UoP experience. My firm is a large investor in the company. Let me know if that’s cool with you. Thanks.

  4. Dave, how does UPhoenix administer the HEROES Act, a federal law that mandates that colleges and universities hold military students academically and financially harmless when they get orders to deploy? Does UPhoenix pay back the tuition when military learners are given a leave of absence? Does UPhoenix allow a military student to drop a course after the drop date without it affecting his or her GPA? Many colleges and universities obey the letter and spirit of the HEROES Act — does UPhoenix? That’s the *real* way to support military students…

  5. I think what UOP is doing is illegal. This violates the HEROES Act in a huge way. I looked up the SOC which is a group of schools that fight to uphold the HEROES Act and UOP is a member. How can they even justify this? I hope I never come under your instruction Dave because you don’t appear to have too much support for what our troops are doing.

  6. I’ve gotta chime in here, I am a Soldier deployed to the middle east and while I am not currently taking online classes I have before with my local community college. I defend Dave’s position, while I would hope that this information regarding participation in class and “free passes”. I can’t in good faith say that if a Soldier is deployed he or she should not maintain the same standards as a student stateside. The military is built on standards and regulations and every service member knows the consequences of their actions if they do not adhere to them. The position that one finds themselves in while deployed can and certainly at times will make online learning difficult. Unreliable Internet service alone causes frustration in my world and that’s just for email purposes. All I’m saying is that just because a Soldier is somewhere other than the U.S. the standards that he or she is expected to maintain should not be relaxed if they decide to continue their learning in a combat zone.

  7. Maybe we’d all be better off to just let them few poor disabled UOP students get thier Degree’s….just like everybody else! What did you say when you were sayin’ it? I’m sure them few soldger’s will be a’right. By the way I’m a disabled fire fighter. Attending UOP after 20 years of sitting on my injuries. Gissgruntled about some of your post? Yup, lets see I’ll start with my leg hurts! Military life is hard enough, cut ’em some slack………..

  8. Wow, so I’ve read all the comments so far and I can understand everyone’s point of view. Yes soldiers need to follow rules of online education and be held to a standard because we are talking about college here not highschool; but with that being said the rules should be adjusted so that they are still fair to the soldiers according to the HEROES act unless they want a lawsuit/bad publicity. I am currently a soldier about to deploy but also a student at a traditional four year university. So I think soldiers shouldn’t get free passes but online courses require alot of discipline and are just as difficult if not more than campus courses (i’ve taken both).So if they can manage to get done all their work done early and get everything ready for ‘war’ then i think that warrents them not only a valid reason for exception but also kudos, because someone who’s not in the military will never fully understand how difficult and time consuming the sacirifice soldiers make in order to protect them and their rights. But in the view of demorcracy UOP can make their own rules and enforce them but they better be prepared to deal with the consequences of losing alot of good students. I know that I was looking at UOP for classes while deployed but this has certainly changed my mind. I’m not risking my time and money to end up with a dropped class or bad grade solely based on my ability to ‘attend’ online discussions 5 times a week when i’m out there risking my life to save others at the same time.

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