My husband just finished all the requirements for an M.Ed. in Instructional Design from Western Governors University. He will be receiving his diploma through the mail in a week or two. He could go to an actual graduation ceremony, but it's in Georgia in less than a month, so he's going to pass on "walking." It's such a relief to have him finally done with the degree. This is his second time working towards a master's degree in this field; the first time he did all the coursework for an master's degree in Educational Technology at a brick-and-mortar university in the Philippines but was unable to finish the final project due to our having moved from Asia to South America. (That's a long, expensive trip.) Because he has both online and classroom experience in seeking very similar degrees, I thought it would be interesting to interview him about his studies.
Q: How long did you work on your master's degree from WGU? A: About two years, but I took two breaks.
Q: How long did you work on your master's degree at the university in the Philippines? A: About two years.
Q: Which program required more effort from you? Please elaborate. A: I would say probably WGU did because the assignments, as far as I remember, were more difficult. Well, there was one assignment at the Philippine university that was difficult--it was the design and creation of educational software; all of the others were less memorable and not really challenging. Several of the WGU assignments, especially those leading up to the capstone, involved doing more work and things I'd never done before, such as task analysis and conducting a research study.
Q: Did you think the WGU graders were too easy or too hard or just right? A: I think some of the graders may have been too light, or maybe I'm just too hard on myself. One of the graders did return an assignment saying it was missing a component, which was in the appendix where it was supposed to be per the instructions, so I just resubmitted it and it was approved then.
Q: How much time each week did you put into your master's degree studies and assignments during the periods when you were enrolled? A: It varied from 0 hours some weeks to 3-5 hours a day, so 18-30 hours other weeks. [WGU students enroll for six months at a time, and students go at their own pace but must complete at least four classes per term.]
Q: How much did your WGU master's degree program cost in total? A: A little over $12,000, most of which was paid for by my employer.
Q: Who are the people that you work with at WGU? A: Each course has a course mentor, then there is a student mentor who stayed with me through the entire program. Previously, some of my colleagues who did degrees through WGU were allowed to change mentors. The student mentor's job was to communicate with me on a regular basis, weekly at the beginning, to ensure that I was making goals and making progress. The mentor has a set of questions to ask each week. The student mentor was supposed to answer questions that I have about processes and offer encouragement and assistance. There was also the capstone advisor, who was also the capstone content evaluator; that is like a thesis advisor. There were also the task evaluators, with whom I didn't really have contact except that they evaluated my assignments for correctness.
Q: Did you miss having physical classrooms, interaction with peers, and personal interaction with instructing professors? A: No, not really. I didn't have a lot of friends in college [undergraduate]. I had people I knew, but not that I really hung out with, except for roommates, who I really didn't choose.
Q: Do you think more socially-inclined people would have difficulties with WGU's online nature? A: Perhaps, but WGU does have online communities for each of the courses and each of the programs, so students can post in forums for a bit more social interaction. I did not use them; I found them to be less helpful initially, so I did not visit them again.
Q: What kind of students would not benefit from an online education program? A: Slackers. People who need a teacher following up on them. People who need handholding or cannot work independently may not have as good of an experience.
Q: But you had a mentor....? A: Sometimes I can be a bit of a procrastinator, and knowing that I had a phone call at the end of every week or two helped motivate me.
Q: As a person who sometimes makes hiring decisions yourself, would you consider a WGU degree a better qualification than one from a brick-and-mortar school? A: Not necessarily. If the job called for skills that one could attain through social interaction at a brick-and-mortar school, I think that would be more beneficial than an online degree. But a WGU degree shows that a person is more likely to be able to work independently on projects and not need as much handholding.
I've told the kids to call their daddy "Master" once in a while now that he's got the degree. :)
ADDENDUM: My husband says I didn't ask him what he liked about not having to be in a brick-and-mortar school. He liked not having to deal with drama from classmates who thought assignments were too hard.