NAU - Northern Arizona University - Personalized Learning Degree

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Thatch, Jun 17, 2014.

  1. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    I was wondering if anyone has any experience with the relatively new program at NAU; Personalized Learning Degree. I am getting quite close to signing up for a BA in Computer Information Technology and would like to know more from someone that might already be in the program.

    For those not familiar with the program, this is what I know so far... it is a self paced, assessment based online program through a regionally accredited state school with (and this was one of the big parts for me) actual grades on your transcript. This will be a big help for those wishing to proceed to grad school. The 'classes' are broken into smaller lessons which might be worth only 1 credit hour, but at smaller chunks they are easier to then test on. Assignments aren't graded and are simply exercises to assist you in passing the assessment. To pass a course you must either pass the pre-test at 80% (thereby passing through the entire class/module (not sure what their naming system is yet)) or by passing the final at (I think) 86%. If you don't you study and take it again until you do. The end result of this is you will not graduate with anything less than a 'B' average. I believe if you pass with a 95% or better you get an 'A' and that you can also proceed into a 'mastery' section after you pass the final with a B or greater in order to up your grade to an A.

    So, the program is by design self paced, if you know a lot and test well you can shoot through a number of subjects fairly quickly. The program costs $2500 per 6 months and all books/materials are included in the course so there is no additional costs other than the $2500. Add to this that they now accept financial aid, if you earn more than 12 credit hours per 6 months, this makes the program pretty attractive to me. Oh, and apparently the conferred degree says nothing about 'Extension', 'Online', or 'Personalized Learning', it is simply a NAU degree.

    Now, what I don't know is 'What are the classes/content actually like?'. I asked the admin counselor but got general vague answers that didn't really satisfy. I have done a few straighterline courses and found that the content in the course wasn't enough to teach the material. I had to seek outside content to learn most materials... especially the math classes. While I don't mind using outside sources it became frustrating when you'd then have the test and it concentrated on areas that you didn't yourself concentrate on in your outside studies... (this should be less of an issue with NAU simply because there is a pre-test and the post tests can be taken as many times as needed ... so surprises should be kept to a minimum and easily dealt with).

    I also don't know what the learning environment is like. I've been in some school systems that seem to be a collection of high end tools, but high end tools that don't really talk to each other... Office365 + PeopleSoft + Blackboard, might all be good tools, but the environment isn't exactly coordinated. It would be nice not to wrestle the system while getting the education.

    And finally, it would be nice to just know what the attitude / personality of the learning environment is like. I know you get a 'mentor' type person (again, unsure of the particular naming conventions used at NAU) that assists you. I'm sure there are forums as well, but how does that play out for the learner? I've seen forums be just another checkbox you had to fill in to prove your 'social learning', and other times that it was actually a community. I've seen mentor systems work, and others that seemed to just be empty promises of help that never comes.

    So, long post to ask, but what are the opinions (if any) of NAU's program? Any personal experience would be greatly appreciated. Any educated outside opinions would be helpful as well. To me it seems like it has most all the boxes ticked, certainly for those with lower (or no) credits to transfer, but it never hurts to hear other perspectives.

  2. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    No, although unless you live in Northern Arizona, anyone with half a brain can figure it's by distance. The good news is that most people won't care.
  3. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Personalized, self-paced learning towards a bachelor's degree? It's nice to see a 45-year-old concept catching on. (See UWW.)
  4. jumbodog

    jumbodog New Member

    One of my graduate degrees is from NAU. I was actually part of their first cohort where graduate distance learning courses were being offered fifteen years ago. At that time, however, they didn't have a completely on-line degree. (Which in my view was a good thing since Flagstaff is a great small town.)

    It's a decent school, in my view the best of the three state universities--from an academic point of view--even if the other two schools are bigger names. So if NAU is running the program I have some confidence that there is at least minimal quality control.
  5. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    Thanks for the responses so far. I have learned a bit more about the system now that I've gone through the initial "Readiness Assessment". They test on reasoning, writing and math to determine your readiness to attend the school. They also take in any previous college coursework (to a limit) and/or high school transcript and resume. There is also a demo of the learning 'Dashboard' which is how they organize your lessons, which are the various competencies you have to learn. I could try and explain it all but I found these two articles on Educause that do a better job explaining it that I would.

    This one is an overview of the program...
    Northern Arizona University's Personalized Learning (EDUCAUSE Review) |

    and this one breaks down a bit of information on the competencies and shows the dashboard...
    From Badges to Breakthroughs: Unleashing Learner Potential through Competency-Based Achievements (EDUCAUSE Review) |

    They offer up a demo course to go through, though it isn't a full course and still leaves a few questions for me, but in general I've had the majority of my concerns relieved. The combination of self-paced, included instructional content (no over-priced books to buy), low cost, state school, fully accredited and letter grade transcript makes this look like a good solution for me. If there is interest I'll report back with any other information I gather.
  6. Pelican

    Pelican Member

    Thanks for the details. I tried to learn about this before, but little information was available.
  7. cdw

    cdw New Member

    I'm a student in the MA English program. I've been very pleased, and the above program is an unbelievably good deal. Our last will be a junior in high school, and we are looking at this for his summer school experience for next year, as a head start. So, yes, go for it!
  8. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    Well my goal is to eventually end up in a Masters program. We'll see if they expand the personalized learning to eventually have Masters level courses as well when the time comes....

    As for now I know they are about to expand and offer a BS in Computer Information Technology in September. This move allows them to remove the language requirement that exists within the BA program. Since they only offer Spanish online I will take this option as I am currently studying German and don't wish to make the change to a new language at this point. I didn't ask but I assume there might be more degrees released in September along with the CIT degree. If I remember I'll ask my rep when I speak with her next.

    I'm trying to get started as soon as possible, but I just found out my high school is shut down for the next month, with no way to get my transcript out to NAU until they return. No idea what might be able to be done in the meantime. Because I was out of work all of last year I qualify for financial aid this year (I realized that when I was filling out aid forms for my son who is going off to university in August) and I'd like to get started as soon as possible to make use of that for at least this fiscal year. I went back to work the last week in December so next year I won't qualify for anything .... the longer I wait the less money I can use towards my degree, so I'm kind of itching to start. (on top of the fact that I just want to get this step behind me as graduate school is what actually interests me)

    So, I've passed all the readiness assessments and provided resumes, financial info, letters of recommendation ... only waiting for a transcript and/or OK to start and I'm in ....
  9. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    So, I've now been attending NAU for a week and I thought I'd check in and give you an idea of my initial thoughts, and explain how the school works (at least so far)

    First off, because of the government shutdowns and budget issues of the last few years, last year was a horrible one for me career-wise. This turned out to be, if not a good thing, at least a mixed blessing. I have a son that is going off to University in less than 2 weeks, with significant financial aid, and now I have all of my education paid for at NAU due to the same. The cost of NAU is such that grants alone pay for the entire thing, plus, since there are no extra books needed (all content is included in the class) I have no extra expenses. That's a real benefit.

    The program itself is made up of lessons inside competencies, inside areas, which in total make up your degree. It sounds more confusing that it is (or I just explain it poorly). You take tests to prove competency for each lesson. If you pass the pretest with an 86% or higher, you pass that lesson. If you don't pass the pre-test you can then go through the learning materials themselves. The materials consist of textbook reading, videos, slides, as well as assignments. One you feel ready to try the test again, you give the post test a try and again, you must get a 86% or higher to pass. Lessons range in value from .1 units / credits to 3 credits, depending on the breadth of the topic covered. Typically these lessons are in the .3 - .6 range.

    This is where it can be a bit confusing; the lessons are part of competencies, but they are also aligned with a particular course (e.g. Math 114) and you can look at your degree from the competency view or from a class/transcript view. It takes on average 6 lessons to make a course depending on their breadth. There are some with as few as 1 and some with as many as 11 lessons) The system is a bit confusing when you first start, but it becomes pretty clear shortly thereafter. The connection to the course view is important as that what allows you to both have a grade transcript (often times important for graduate school ) and for transfer credits, but also have a competency based system. Only completed courses could be transferred and while you might have 3 lessons completed out of course, if you don't have the whole thing, you won't be able to get credit for that work if you transfer out. But progress in your course is clear, either through the transcript view, or the competency view. Since all completed courses are a collection of completed lessons, all passed with an 86% or higher, the letter grade you end up learning for your transcript is a ‘B’. An ‘A’ can be earned by performing mastery assignments in at least half of the lessons within a course. These mastery courses range from in-depth explanation of math rules applied to particular problems to essays and case studies.

    My progress so far after only a week is that I have enrolled in 10 lessons, passed 7 of the pretests and gaining approximately 2.5 credits so far. I failed to pass one test by 2 points, another one by 7 point and the last I quit on about 2/3rds of the way through as I realized the content was beyond what I currently knew. So I now have 3 courses that I have to work through in order to prepare for the post tests. I have also performed 2 of the mastery assignments as well during this time. In general I think the course is really quite good. These tests have not been remotely easy and while I would love to be able to keep up this pace (that would see me at near program competition within the first 6 month subscription) I have been to some degree ‘cherry picking’ the lessons to test on and I suspect my progress will fall off shortly (though I hope to keep pushing as much as possible)

    The tests themselves are ‘writing identified’ by performing a handwriting analysis comparison to ensure the person taking the test is the same person. (handwriting is a misnomer as the ‘writing’ is done with a mouse) The system seems pretty accurate in comparing and I sometimes have trouble when I’m at another system trying to take a test as the performance of the mouse isn’t the same and it flags it as a non-match. Tests tend to be around 20 questions and you have 3 hours to complete them. This sounds like a lot of time, but the more complex topics usually start with an essay which takes a significant amount of time. There are typically a number of other short answer questions as well that require a bit of work just constructing the answer. There is the occasional multiple choice, but there aren’t a lot. Feedback on your tests is in written form only and doesn’t include getting to review the actual test (to limit sharing of the test I assume) This can be a bit frustrating, but understandable.

    The class content itself is pretty good. The books are held in the Pearson learning system which is designed to protect the books from being copied, but also makes them a bit less easy to use than a PDF version. The content seems pretty good, but in truth I’ve not spent too much time in the class work yet since I’ve been concentrating on testing. I will say that while there are assignments in the course and they are graded so you can test your abilities and see if you are ready for the post test, no assignments are required for passing, only the 86%+ test grade is required.

    Well, I’m probably giving way more detail than anyone is interested in. I just wanted to put this out there for folks considering the program. I know from my many year search, it’s hard to understand what these programs are like until you’re already signed up, and then it’s too late if it’s not a good fit. Hope this helps someone.
  10. jumbodog

    jumbodog New Member

    Actually, that's great information and thanks for taking the time to post it. If you would be so kind as to answer two follow-up questions to sate my curiosity. First, are any of the assignments/test proctored? I'm especially curious as to what they do about math and science course as these often have some type of lab requirement. I know at least one on-line school that requires such lab assignments to be proctored by an independent 3rd party at the student's expense.

    My second question relates to the mouse thingy. I don't comprehend what you are talking about. I am assuming that it is some type of authentication system but it seems strange to don't actually have to write out the entire essay by drawing letters with a mouse??!
  11. nyvrem

    nyvrem Active Member

    Is there a concentration you can do with in the IT program ?
    Like networking or programming etc ?

    Was thinking of either getting an AAS in IT from a CC or Test out at TESC or doing this.

    Sounds cheap for $2500/6 months if you can really chalk up the credits.

    Another question is, can you stop payment for the up coming 6 month block (to take a break) and resume later on ?
  12. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    Thanks, glad it was of use.

    As for your question about proctoring. I don't believe there are any proctored labs. There are a few practical requirements, but they seem to be handled differently. There is one that requires the building of an IT product based on your area of interest such as a website, application or a data analysis (as examples). So in this case it is the resulting product that matters, so no proctoring. There is another that is an 'internship' which requires a supervisor sign off. (they've altered this one recently to be more flexible for people already within their field so it does not require an outside internship. It can take place within the students current employment). Beyond that I am unaware of anything that might fall within what you are asking about. Of course I'm not that far into things yet, there could be quite a lot I'm still unaware of.

    The 'mouse thingy' probably wasn't explained well, so no worries there. NAU has an authentication system built within the website that analyses and compares a series of 4 letters or symbols that you draw on the screen (with your input of choice, in my case a mouse). The system then compares your 'writing' each time you log on to ensure that you are in fact you. It seems the way that people write is pretty specific to the individual, the direction we write a number, or the pauses we take, are taken into consideration to ensure identity. (this is on top of the log in information you provide when you enter the system itself) The essays are once you get beyond this and are typed in as normal.
  13. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    There are no concentrations like that, but there is a Small Business Administration minor or a Liberal Arts minor. In the early fall they are offering (and I will be changing to when it starts) a Bachelor of Science in CIT which will remove the language courses and replace them with science courses. The program information is here if you are interested . Computer Information Technology, Bachelor of Science

    While a specific concentration would be attractive, for me as someone with 20 years in the field it makes next to no difference, other than perhaps being a bit more interesting. One of my main goals for going to school is to pursue a graduate degree. The letter grade transcript was a key part of what drew me to the NAU program. That is where I'll be doing my concentration. Oh, I should note, that in a recent phone call with my advisor I was told they are working on a IT masters degree program. No idea on exactly what it will contain or when it will be available, but they are a very young (online) program and they are working hard to expand. I suspect we'll see more and more programs coming in short order.

    As for stopping payment. I don't see why not. There might be some particular oddities to a course in progress, but I doubt it. You have no time limit to complete a course and no restriction on how many times you can retake a test. I suspect lack of payment would put a hold on your account so you couldn't accomplish anything more until the new subscription was paid. Of course that's just me supposing and I vaguely recall something along those lines being said, but certainly don't take my comments as gospel. I could always be wrong.
  14. nyvrem

    nyvrem Active Member

    The BS in IT sounds very interesting !
    Might wait for it to come out.

    Thank you for the insights !
  15. tyc1242

    tyc1242 New Member

    Thanks for the response to my pm. Are you planning on trying to get an A with the mastery assignment? If you do anytime soon could you post your experience? I'm gonna register for the program at the start of September and plan on using the mastery assignment for every course. Just want an idea of what it's like. Thanks!
  16. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    I don't plan on doing mastery in all my courses, because it will slow down my progress quite a lot. The assignments for mastery vary but most typically involve writing a paper of some sort. If you do the mastery in at least half of the competencies in a course you will get an 'A'. So, the best thing to do is get the courses finished then pick and choose which mastery to do and which to pass on. If you are getting financial aid you have to keep a full time status which is 12 credit hours per subscription. The only way you earn the credits is by 'closing out' the competency, by either declining to do the mastery (and receiving a 'B') or completing it (and receiving an 'A'). So you have to game it a bit to see what works best for you. I figure doing enough to get me in the 3.25 gpa or higher will be enough for anything I want to do post BS.

    Don't feel you have to wait to register. If you start the BA all your credits will be automatically brought over to the BS program. Just avoid doing any language work as that will be replaced with science base courses. Of course if the timing works better for you to wait, that's a another issue.

    Best of luck
  17. tyc1242

    tyc1242 New Member

    Thanks for the response! OH that's great to know you don't have to complete a mastery assignment in every competency to receive an A in the course. That's what I was worried about. I've completed 79 semester credits for a total gpa of 3.9. I'll be applying to grad schools so I don't really wanna end up with a total gpa under 3.8ish but I also want to finish as quickly as possible. I'm just waiting to register due to being on a bit of a break. I've spent the last year and a half, including this summer, taking huge course loads (I had zero credits Jan of 2013). I took late July to study for the GRE and took that last week so I'm taking a bit of a rest now. Anywho, thanks for your quick responses and I wish you luck on your academic goals!
  18. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    Glad to help.

    I'll probably float as many classes as possible (leaving them in an unfinished state without choosing to take the mastery or not) so I can decide after the fact. I'd like as high of a GPA as possible but also don't want to slow my progress too much.

    Good luck with your degree.
  19. Pelican

    Pelican Member

    Do you have any estimate of the average time you spend in total on a single course (e.g. per week or total)? Is it about the same as you'd spend in a 3 credit course at in a traditional program?
  20. Thatch

    Thatch New Member

    That's hard to say. The courses are made up of 'competencies', usually about 5-6 (though they range from 1-11). Aside from a few courses that are activity based (like an internship or similar) all competencies have pretests and post tests. If you know the material and you pass the pretest, the longest that one competency can take you is 3 hours (the max amount of time for the test). I have finished pretests from as little as 45 mins to as long as 3 hours. If you don't know the material well enough you can just submit the pretest with no answers and get on with the coursework itself. There are no required assignments, only the post test. All that to say, 'it depends'.

    If I know all the material and I take 3 hours a test for the 5 section tests, I can get a full 3 credit course done in 15 hours. That's unlikely for very many complete classes and my transcript currently looks like a shotgun was taken to it, with competencies passed in a number of different courses. I then have to go back and most likely take the actual class for the other competencies within those courses. It should be noted that often times the same competency is part of multiple courses. This will further reduce some of the time needed to finish the program.

    You'll move through the sections according to you familiarity with the topic, your speed at learning new things and your ability to pass the post test. And of course if you choose to attempt the mastery.

    Sorry I couldn't be more specific. I hope this helps some.

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