I've written numerous letters with suggestions for improvements hoping to get a response from someone, anyone. Nope. It never happened. I never even got an automatic email reply.
Task 3 of the Capstone is really two papers in one. The first half requires you to work with a business and try to solve one of their problems using all of the knowledge that you've acquired through WGU.
The second part of the task asks you to reflect upon your time at WGU. It basically wants you to tell the grader how you learned so much and now you're going to change the world! If you know anything about me, you know how I hate clearly biased questions like these, especially when their only purpose is to pad someone's ego.
I knew that the grader would have to read what I wrote so that I could get a grade. I figured that this would be the time that I could finally get someone to notice me and maybe even respond. I had uploaded my draft when my husband, who usually doesn't interfere with school, talked me out of it. I spent the following afternoon re-writing that section. As I wrote it, I thought of how one of my classmates would write it. I met her during one of my group classes. She seemed to think that a degree from WGU was going to going to be the answers to her problems and that she'd be rich. (I hope she's right! She was a very nice person and I wish only good things for her.)
Ugh! I felt horrible. I had to drink Pepto Bismol to settle my stomach. I'm a horrible liar and that's all I was doing. I knew my husband was right, but I really wanted to make a point.
I thought there was a possibility that I might not get my degree if I did send that version, so I opted not to. Instead, I'm publishing it here. The irony is that the lie that I wrote about was one of the only sections I passed on the first try.
Here's what I wanted to say in my Capstone/Task 3:
*I've paraphrased the questions.
1. Tell us how you applied the lessons you learned at WGU to solve the client's problems.
I suggested that the owner create an app for microcomputers. I thought that since he had only created the app for mobile devices that work on iOS, Android, and Windows, he was missing out on a large segment of the population. In speaking with the client, however I learned that microcomputers do not support apps and have been phased out since the early 1980s, when personal computers became more popular. (Supply Chain, Strategic Management)
2. Tell us what your SMART goals are, given what you've learned in your program.
- Finish WGU MBA by January 30, 2013.
- Attend all GMAT prep course sessions that start on February 2, 2014.
- Take GMAT in Spring of 2014 with a goal of earning a score of 700 or better.
- Apply to McCombs Business School at the University of Texas-Austin by the Round 1 application deadline.
- Start MBA program at the University of Texas-Austin in Fall of 2015.
3. Tell us how you'll be able to achieve your professional goals, given the lessons you've learned at WGU.
I take offense to this question. It is biased and makes assumptions that it shouldn’t. This question assumes that I did, in fact learn something. It further assumes that I learned something that I can apply to my professional goals. It assumes that I have professional goals. And finally, it assumes that I’m willing to share my professional goals with the grader. Maybe they’re personal.
Why should I have to compromise my privacy to pass a class? So much of WGU is about anonymity. When I submit my papers my personal information is (supposedly) left off. When I receive a grader’s feedback, I know nothing about that grader. Yet in this instance, I’m supposed to share my professional goals. Is this more evidence that grading at WGU is subjective and not objective?
When I applied for WGU, I had no idea what I was going to do with this degree when I was done. Here I am, two years later and I still don’t know. I do, however, know what I’m not going to do with it. I’m not going to get a promotion at work. I’m not going to be able to claim on my résumé that I know anything about economics, types of business ownership, business metrics, Agile versus Waterfall project management, negotiating labor relations, marketing or emerging technologies. None of these topics, which seem to be fairly standard for business professionals, were ever covered in the program.
If I ever use the lessons I learned at WGU, the only thing I can think of is to assist any of my friends who happen to be teachers. I’ll be able to advise them how to write rubrics that students can actually use. I would encourage them to try and make them as objective as possible. I would also encourage my teacher friends to write questions that they want students to answer, not force them to either guess, or repeatedly watch “Getting Started” videos for clues as to what the questions are actually asking and what qualifies as “sufficient detail”.
In all fairness, though, I can’t say that I learned this lesson from WGU. Perhaps I am most critical of the WGU rubrics because I used to write behavioral based exams and scoring criteria for a large state agency. If the rubrics I’d written looked like the ones used here, I’d have been fired. They are absolutely useless because of their subjectivity. I don’t believe that the graders use the same rubric that the students use, but if they somehow do, I can’t imagine how there is any inter-scorer reliability. In HR there is a saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t evaluate it.” The same should be true for grading papers.
What I learned at WGU was that having objective criteria cannot be undervalued. By having clearly stated expectations, you give students the opportunity to give the graders exactly what is needed to pass a task. This is not the same as giving them the answers. No student should ever receive a graded paper with a grade that they are surprised by. It also gives the graders concrete feedback to give to students. It is extremely frustrating to consistently get the canned response of “needs more detail”.
Lesson: Should I ever find myself in a supervisory role. I wouldn’t want my employees to not understand exactly what I expected of them and how they were being evaluated. Just as no student should ever be surprised by a grade, no employee should ever be shocked by an evaluation.
I learned after successfully completing 11 courses, all while receiving the highest score possible for articulation, that I am in fact, not actually articulate. I received 0 points for articulation for Task 2 of the Capstone. This came as quite a shock since the grader was apparently able to muddle through my entire submission despite my inability to write coherently.
From the comments, I gather that I received the 0 because I hadn’t put the submission in the correct document format. She cited that this was stated in a conference call that I’d been on. That may be true, it probably was mentioned on the call. The call, however, took place over three months ago. It is unfair to expect students to remember some mundane detail from so long ago. Was this meant to be a “Gotcha!”? I especially have trouble remembering things that I was never told. This grader made an incorrect assumption that I was on the call. I recall distinctly telling my team members that I was unable to attend the conference call because I was going to be on an airplane at that exact time.
Moreover, this grader insulted my ability to communicate clearly because she had a box to check. A box that had apparently had no impact on her ability to actually read my submission. I submitted my task the way I have been doing for each and every class up until now. Why did the rules suddenly change? Why was I never actually told? What difference did it make if it was in PowerPoint or PDF?
Why, if submitting something in a particular file format is so important, was it not noted in the rubric? The rubric says, “The candidate provides adequate articulation of response”. Furthermore, why isn’t there an actual prompt in the rubric that states which format something should be submitted in?
I am offended that given all evidence to the contrary, I did in fact meet the articulation requirement yet I still received a 0 on that portion. Clearly she was able to read my submission; she graded it! I think it was typical for WGU; require students to play a game, have a secret set of rules, include rules that make no sense and have no impact on furthering the game, and then penalize the students when they don’t follow them.
Lesson: I’ve learned to further question things that don’t make sense. I don’t really blame the grader in this scenario, I blame the system. She had to mark me down because I didn’t do something in a way that someone else said that I was supposed to. She was doing her job. If she hadn’t done her job, she could have been penalized. I understand that. What I don’t understand is why the box was there in the first place. I’m hoping that this inquisitiveness will serve me well at the University of Texas.
I learned that there is truth to the saying, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”. Before I applied for admission to WGU I thought I had done a thorough vetting of the school. I liked the idea that it was nonprofit, affordable, was 100% online, I could do it at my own pace, I didn’t have to take the GRE, and I could start as soon as I wanted. I’d read other student’s reviews and most said that it was a quality university. It's safe to say that I have a different definition of "quality". I was excited by the fact that there was a branch of WGU opening in my hometown. I thought I’d be proud to wear my Night Owls shirt.
Initially there may have been a few signs of what was to come (the ridiculously easy entrance exam and the fact that WGU would not accept any of my credits from a previous MBA program at a private university) but I was so excited to be a student again, that I brushed those hesitations away. Later I discovered that my admissions counselor was incorrect when he said that I didn’t have the experience needed to be admitted in to the MBA-IT program. Thus I entered the MBA-Strategic Management program and, after asking my student mentor about it, switched to the MBA-IT program. This was not, however, before I nearly dropped out because I took a class, Supply Chain, that I didn’t need for the IT program. Supply Chain was by far the least organized and worst course mentor that I encountered.
Lesson: I will use this experience as an example of why trusting my gut and having the courage to ask additional questions is so important.
From Decision Analysis, I learned that course mentors have no clue how to provide reasonable accommodations to students. They also don’t realize that not all students can hear or hear well enough to watch a video without seeing a head shot of the person so that they can try and read lips.
I posed a question in the forum and every question before and after mine was answered by a course mentor. Some of the videos (Tasks 2 and 3) in this class were so poorly recorded that they were impossible to understand.
When I initially emailed about transcripts or closed captions, a course mentor told me that they didn’t have something like that. It was only after I pressed the course mentors using the words “reasonable accommodations for students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing” that the location of the captions was revealed. The fact that that was not an easy question was surprising and disappointing to me.
I also learned that not all course mentors care. The mentor referenced above from Decision Analysis didn’t take the time to edit out a phone ringing, or the fact that, from the video of his computer screen, I could see that he had been changing the colors on his monitor, just prior to recording. This lack of attention to detail or apathy should be an embarrassment to the school. It reminds me of a quote from the movie “Office Space”, “It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care”. Why, if course mentors don’t care, should I as a student?
Lesson: As a manager, I will learn the rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act so that I can readily accommodate my employees should they require it.
I learned that it was only the classes in which I’d done well, that I received a link from the student mentor for me to complete an evaluation. That’s clear bias. I knew that I had the opportunity to go out of my way to give feedback, but as you can probably tell, that method seemed to go nowhere and was extremely time consuming. Perhaps the course evaluations also found their way to the circular file, but at least I didn’t spend hours contemplating whether or not to give something a 4 or a 5. I was usually most annoyed by the poor (biased and unclear) survey questions. Oh, and yes, I did comment about those as well, just to see the same questions turn up on another survey.
Lesson: I must always be on the lookout for bias. If all I receive are compliments, perhaps I’m not asking the right questions.
I know now that just because a business has a pretty website and lots of fancy-looking credentials, it doesn’t mean that it produces a quality product. Unfortunately, in this case, it took me until I was too far in to quit.
Lesson: When I’m making an important and expensive decision, I need to trust my gut and not be afraid to take some time to ask additional questions.
I also learned that large corporations tend to have similarities. Whether they are public, private, business or academic, the people who know the most and who can do the most good, despite their best intentions, are often ignored.
Lesson: Large companies will always reward the squeaky wheels.
I have sent several letters of concern about rubric, coursework, simulations, course mentors and not a single one of them was deemed worthy of a response or even a cursory acknowledgement. I sometimes spent hours crafting these letters, laboring over the wording, in the hopes that something would change. I sent them because I genuinely cared about WGU, its staff, its students, and its future. I cared because it was the name of this school that would be on my diploma.
You’ll notice that I used the past tense there because that’s the most accurate depiction of how I feel today; I used to care. I no longer do. Perhaps I’m pretentious for thinking that I have anything to offer this school beyond a tuition check. I certainly don’t have a PhD in education. I’m just some schmuck with a BA the number one Sociology program in the country. What do have however, have is first-hand experience in my role as student. This experience in my mind, is far more valuable than some initials after my name.
WGU appears to be a school that is ruled by committee rather than common sense. Most students who are unhappy will do one of two things; they will either drop out, or they will not say anything. I didn’t do either. I stepped up and tried to make a change. I’m so relieved that this chapter of frustration is nearing a close and I can move on to something else. What that is, I’m not sure of yet.
Lesson: Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and move on to something else.
Other things that I learned during my tenure at WGU:
- Citing Wikipedia and stating material from it as fact, are ok. (Various tasks.)
- Interviewing oneself and citing it as fact is acceptable. (Teammate from Leadership class.)
- Microcomputers are the wave of the future. (Supply Chain and Strategic Management.)
- It is better to not cite anything than to use incorrect APA format. The rubric states, “When the candidate uses sources, the candidate provides appropriate in-text citations and references accurately or with only minor deviations from APA style, OR the candidate does not use sources.” (Despite this, I have always cited my sources.)
- Repeating a question and putting it in BOLD capital letters will clarify to the student what is needed to pass a task. Apparently I’m the only one this doesn’t work for. (Misc. evaluations)
My hope is that someone from WGU reads this list and decides to do something about it. To paraphrase Ghandi, "I'd really like to be the change I'd like to see".