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Teaching History For The University of Phoenix

May 30, 2008

A friend of mine, trained in history, applied to teach part-time for a sub-unit of the University of Phoenix—Axia College—a few months ago. Below are some “highlights” excerpted from his correspondence about the position. I left enough of his exchange to show you its legitimacy, but cut enough to get to the grimy details faster. Here goes:

——————————

Hello _________,

Thank you for your interest in teaching for Axia College of University of Phoenix! …

Best regards,

___________,
Axia College of University of Phoenix Online
4045 S. RiverPoint Parkway| Phoenix, AZ 85040 |

AXIA FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. What is the Online Faculty Hiring Process? There are three stages to the process:
—1) Preliminary Evaluation: The preliminary evaluation may include an online interview as well as a phone interview, a resume and/or application review, a review of the campus’ instructional needs, and a review of specific course approval requests by the Deans.
—2) Functional Evaluation / Faculty Training: We provide intensive training on our conferencing software. We measure competency in the use of this software as well as appropriate online tone, online facilitation skills and Axia College policies and procedures. Candidate participation is the key for success during this stage. Pending a positive recommendation from the training facilitator, candidates are invited to continue the hiring process.
—3) Instructional Evaluation / Internship: In this “coaching” stage, instructional coaches evaluate candidates abilities to combine both course content and Online processes while facilitating an Online course. Pending a positive recommendation from the coach, candidates are invited to become faculty members of Axia College.

4. Do I need to be online at specific times during the functional evaluation (training) stage? No. Our online classroom software utilizes asynchronous communication.

5. What is the time commitment for the functional evaluation stage? Although many candidates spend an hour or so learning and interacting per day, some spend up to three hours a day on the required activities. Active participation is expected five out of seven days each week for the duration of the evaluation and may average about 15 hours each of these weeks.

6. What is the cost of the training? The training received during the hiring process is free of charge.

7. What are the expectations of Axia College instructors? The following is a list of points that outline the instructor expectations:
a. Manage the classroom to an appropriate level for entry level college students.
b. Use the materials provided without alteration.
c. Create a classroom environment that is focused on course content and detailed, timely feedback.
d. Instruct students on course content versus facilitating discussion every week.
e. Required Hours: Monday-Thursday, 4-8pm and Sundays, 5-9pm via email, newsgroups, and voice to voice contact to assist students with questions, provide support, and participate in brief classroom discussion.
f. Respond to checkpoint assignments and short answer assignments within 24 hours.
g. Email students proactively when they are late submitting assignments and/or are struggling in the class.
h. Provide individualized instruction to students who require additional assistance in their personal course newsgroup.

8. What is the time commitment for an Online course? Axia classes are 9 weeks in length. First time instruction requires an investment of preparation time reviewing the curriculum and organizing course notes. Initially, new faculty can spend from 15 to 20 hours per week facilitating a course. However, time spent in subsequent courses will be less as proficiency is developed.

9. What is the structure for each course? The courses are structured in a way so as not to overwhelm the students with assignments and discussion each week. They are designed to be challenging and meaningful without over-burdening the students or the instructor. The work required in each course will alternate between reading/discussion weeks and work weeks. During a reading/discussion week, students will have required reading and a multiple part discussion question. There may be 1-2 short assignments due during that week for which the University will provide an answer key to the instructor. During the work weeks, the students will be working on larger written assignments and will also have checkpoint assignments. The checkpoint assignments are short assignments to show that the student is progressing and gaining knowledge in order to successfully complete the larger written assignment.

10. What is the instructional model for Axia College of University of Phoenix? The following are a list of points that outline the instructional model:

Classes are 9 weeks in length.
Classes run Monday through Sunday.
New courses start every Monday in this year round program.
No learning teams.
Short answer questions will be built into curriculum.
Discussion questions will focus on content, not work experience.
Written assignments will be an integral part of the curriculum.
Some knowledge-based tests may be developed in future versions of the curriculum.

11. Am I limited to the amount of courses I can teach at one time or in a year? Instructors are limited to teaching 4 courses at one time. The University reserves the right to limit an instructor’s schedule based on performance and necessary coaching, but the current maximum is 4 courses. Should an instructor be able to meet all contractual obligations and perform at a high level, that instructor will be eligible to teach more than one class at a time.

12. Describe your compensation plan for active Associate Faculty.
Online faculty members are paid per course. Please refer to the following matrix for examples. Instructors will be compensated based on their teaching experience with Apollo Group (Axia College, University of Phoenix, and Western International University). All instructors that are new to the university or have taught for less than 3 years will start at Level I faculty. All instructors that have taught for 3 or more consecutive years with Apollo Group will be Level II faculty. If you are new to Apollo Group, you will start as Level I faculty. Faculty pay will be disbursed in 2 separate payments of 66% and 33% respectively. You must post attendance (which is taken automatically from your normal postings to the classroom newsgroups) for the first week to receive the first installment and you must post your grades in order to receive the second installment. The pay schedule will be posted on the Axia College faculty website. Axia College reserves the right to change the plan with notice to the faculty. The current compensation plan is as follows:

Axia College Course: 9 weeks, 3 credits
1-3 years: $1,235
After 3 years: $1,462

13. Can I teach with only a Bachelor’s degree? No. Axia College, in order to maintain its accreditation, requires that all instructors have an advanced degree.

14. I have not taught at a college/university. Am I still eligible? Yes. What is most important is that candidates are currently working in their field of study.

15. Do I need to be a resident of the US? Yes. …

16. Will I need to use my own Internet service provider to access Online courses? Yes. …

——————————

Here was my friend’s informal, philosophical response to the situation:

“I’m increasingly disheartened by what is happening in higher education and I really do believe that our talents as instructors and the like are slowly being devalued by distance learning just as the skills of artisans were devalued by industrialization in the 19th century.

The means of production have been consolidated in the hands of a relative few, and we are forced to fight amongst ourselves for the scraps they are willing to dole out. Academics even contribute to this by ensuring the creation of an oversupply of new profs, which means that jobs will remain scarce and wages will remain low, and creating the pool of labor from which the ever-growing number of adjuncts can be recruited.

In this way, the bourgeoisie is creating the proletariat and leading to its own destruction. (said in funny, ironic, academic voice) The parallels are eerie, and I’m not even a Marxist in real life. but it certainly fits into the pattern that he described. None of my friends feel forced to apply for jobs in places they’d rather not live; instead, they are able to dictate terms to their employers and are recruited at ever-higher salaries.

I’m young enough that I’d rather not spend the rest of my life watching what I do erode around me and defending it to increasingly hostile administrators, parents, alums, and trustees.”

——————————

Thoughts? Reactions? – TL

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13 Comments
  1. I'm not sure I could imagine a worse teaching situation which didn't involve whips or chains.

    And the University of Phoenix has some of the highest growth of any university right? Yikes.

    Like

  2. Tim,
    Thanks for posting this. It was really interesting. I seem to remember seeing a thread about University of Phoenix somewhere else that had anything but glowing things to say. From a faculty/teaching point of view, I can see that this is justified. The University of Phoenix model makes me cringe. The degree to which they require teachers to tow the party line, so to speak, is disturbing. UP seems more like a glorified high school than a rigorous post-secondary option. PhDs be warned, indeed!

    Like

  3. Grim facts indeed. Because academics see their profession in a rose colored light they often miss the fact that the job market is indeed a market and subject to market forces. Too many workers + few jobs always puts power in the hands of employers. Have you seen how much the average university president makes?

    Like

  4. WHB,

    Presidential salaries, compared to standard staff and low-level faculty, are ridiculous. Their salaries have followed the general CEO trends of the past 25 years or so.

    – TL

    Like

  5. Anonymous permalink

    I myself am a current UoP student and while I was impressed with the format they use for classes, I rather quickly realised the strictures placed on professors with regards to class material and the fact that most of my class members need a refresher course in basic language skills. Apparently, no one stressed the importance of something as simple as spell check.

    Like

  6. Sorry about such a late comment, but I just found your blog.

    I work for a Large National For Profit University (LNFPU) as a pseudo-librarian. I have also taught at another LNFPU. This experience is the same across the board for all of these like institutions. (I am familiar with how most of the rest work because of the way we aggressively recruit students here requires us to know exactly what other for profits are doing. Think corporate spies.)

    There is no academic freedom, and classes are routinely taught by “working professionals” rather than academically trained professors. You can really tell this hurts the student in the long run, as most are just told “war stories” of when Prof X was a CEO of Cheeznips or something, rather than learning about basic business strategies. In history, like the other humanities and social sciences, the situation is worse. These schools prey on MAs and desperate PhDs to spout their rhetoric without second guessing course content. In the last class I taught at my last institution I was let go from the adjunct pool because I refused to pass a person who did not come to class or do any assignments. The student was given an A and I was let go.

    This is the plight of all these “secondary” classes in the “unimportant” disciplines. History and the likes are seen as a two shot deal for these universities. 1) to make accreditation standards so they can sell their crumby degree to the public, and 2) to bring more students into the money making classrooms. Just give the student an A and they won't complain about paying for under-taught crumby classes.

    One last example from my last institution. Students paid 2000 per course to be in the class, I had classes ranging from 8 to 25 students. They paid me 1700 per eight week course. Take out 300 dollars for electricity and heat / cooling for the class(that's high I am sure) to even it up to 2000 cost to run the class. My smallest class they made $14000 my largest $48000. That pays one recruiters salary. Now they are running 8-12 classes a night on ground at their campuses. One night can pay more than the entire staff's salary. Now think of the money they are rolling in from online work, where there is no overhead besides infrastructure and adjunct costs.

    It is sick, exploitative, and our free market at its best. And, because students will buy their education because it is sold to them as “convenient” we are only in for worse affairs to come. Not to mention an even dumber populace full of fake degrees.

    Like

  7. Not everyone needs the ivory tower. Not everyone wants the ivory tower. I am an Assistant Professor at a private institution, so I'm no UP minion nor am I unfamiliar with traditional collegiate paths.

    My husband will be beginning at University of Phoenix Online. Taking into consideration the typical UP student, I see nothing wrong with this model. I see a larger travesty in forcing everyone into hallowed halls on expensive campuses with glorious pasts and fancy sport teams.

    I have to admit, I wish I had had some of the training when I was a Master's student that he is receiving now. As one who went the traditional path of earning a PhD and all that, I received little to no pedagogy or nuts-and-bolts strategies for handling a classroom. Yes, I am battle scarred and a better teacher for it, but UP's certification class is doing some things very right.

    Let's all back off our elitist high horses and face facts: not every student belongs in college, not every student needs or wants a liberal arts education. UP is simply filling a void that traditional colleges won't.

    Like

  8. And to add another point. The comment by h.i.p. about fake degrees is absurd. I've been at several large, traditional institutions and I have seen the degree mill at work. UP's degrees are focused on the workplace. That doesn't make them any less real that a shoved through BA from State U or Hallowed College. I have seen classes of students graduate that did not deserve to, but they paid their tuition at a traditional institution and as a result, they received a degree.

    Again, I see UP as just more open about the state of higher education in this country. I do find it funny, however, that they won't accept me because of my advanced degree. I lack the practical experience they so desire.

    Like

  9. Dear jkelsofarrell,

    Thanks for the coming by!

    I'm with you on “fancy sports teams.” That's no way to pick a higher education institution to attend.

    Better teacher training for masters/doctoral students is a must. I'm with you there too.

    I'm also with you on fake degrees being a problem all over. There seem to be corrupt administrators at traditional schools who are willing to give away credentials. That's a travesty. And I don't believe that UofP is, or has to be, a degree mill.

    Here's where we disagree: You said “not every student belongs in college.” True enough. But UofP is a college. If all UofP were doing is providing high-level job training, then I think there would be zero complaints here. But they're trying make a liberal arts/humanities education accessible online—without other humans present. While correspondence courses have their place, they shouldn't be the norm. They should be extra-ordinary. The ordinary should be a brick-and-mortar place where people meet face-to-face to discuss the issues of life.

    – TL

    Like

  10. Tim,
    True, you caught me there.

    I just want to say that UP, at least the one my husband will be teaching at, isn't solely online. They do have classroom time, too, just not as many as a traditional college.

    As I've said before, I'm very much in the traditional academic world and I hear my colleagues lament time and time again about UP and other schools like it, but in the same breath they will lament having to deal with students who work or are non-traditional, the very people that UP appeal to.

    And I find that frustrating. You can't blast UP for “stealing” (as I've heard it) students and then complain because not all of your students are ivory tower caliber.

    I'm not really arguing with anyone here, I'm mostly just venting.

    Like

  11. Anonymous permalink

    There is 20th century college teaching…much different than that of the 19th century…and UOP is the 21st century like or not. UOP is for students and faculty with high regards for integrity and the rigor of learning just without all of the fluff and hot air of tenure driven competitors. One would think people will make their decision on how to learn or where to teach with thoughtful consideration.

    Like

  12. Anonymous permalink

    There is 20th century college teaching…much different than that of the 19th century…and UOP is the 21st century like or not. UOP is for students and faculty with high regards for integrity and the rigor of learning just without all of the fluff and hot air of tenure driven competitors. One would think people will make their decision on how to learn or where to teach with thoughtful consideration.

    Like

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