Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Courses at the Graduate School of America

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 30, 1999

Posted to WWWDEV 30 April 1999

Tom Abeles wrote: 1) how important is the certification if you could get an equivlalent experience with the same or an equal instructor with a money back guarantee, for example?

I personally face this question. As readers of my web page know, I did not complete my PhD - I completed my coursework and candidacy but not my dissertation and am therefore classed as 'All But Dissertation' (ABD).

Some people have suggested that I return to complete my PhD. This is based on the suggestion that I would need a completed PhD in order to obtain an academic appointment at a Canadian university (or, at least, a permanent one).

Yet - and this is my humble opinion only - I have acquired the knowledge and experience one would expect from a completed PhD. My completed coursework and candidacy, my years of teaching experience, my writing and publications, and my practical experience in the field all lend credence to this opinion.

My view here is that obtaining a PhD will not earn me greater respect or approbation from my colleagues. Any respect I am due accrues from my body of work, and not my certification. People in this field and elsewhere have heard enough from me to determine for themselves whether my work is worth reading or not.

From an employment point of view, it seems to me to be clear that the only environment in which a PhD is essential for employment is in the university environment. Given that employment in this environment is unstable at best - very many PhDs bop around the country from one sessional appointment to another - then the amount of time and money spent to earn a PhD does not equal the additional financial advantage I would obtain from having that designation.

I think that similar points could be made regarding other levels of education. If a person can acquire and demonstrate knowledge in a field - especially information and technology based fields - then for the most part the certification is not an issue. Only in disciplines where the certification granted by a university is *required* for employment - such as in teaching or medicine, for example - is the certification an essential part of an education.

2) As a student, what is a "reasonable" price you would pay based on the above? Be reasonable- perhaps $500? what determines your price point?

As a student, the value I would receive from a course - and therefore my willingness to pay for it - depends entirely on the content of the course and the quality of the instructor (and delivery system) in delivering that content. For 40 hours of instruction appropriately paced and relevant to my interests or career, I would willingly pay $500. Very few of the courses I actually took, however, met that standard.

I have taken many poorly taught and irrelevant courses through my college and university career. I can think of some mathematics courses, where the instructor was incomprehensible, for example. Or the 'technical communications' course I was once required to take, which was taught at roughtly a Grade 9 level. Or the graduate seminar, in which the instructor's participation was limited to placing a number (no comments) on my final essay. In none of these cases would I consider $500 a fair price.

I recently attended a 5.5 hour seminar on XML, the Dublin Core and RDF presented by Carl Lagoze and Stuart Weibel. It was clear and concise, the lecturers interested and engaging. The notes from that seminar are now well-thumbed references in my work. I spent $100 (Canadian, about $67 US) on that seminar and consider it to have been a bargain.

By contrast, about a year ago I took an online XML course that consisted of a set of links to publicly available web pages, some long and opaque emails (one of which arrived six months after the course because it "want't ready"), and a non-functioning list server. I consider the $40 (US) spent on the course to have been wasted.

I don't think I'm unique. We are entering an era where it will no longer be sufficient to say that a course was taught by a credentialed professor, or that it originated from a prestigious university, for it to be considered to be worth $500 or even five cents. In most people's books, $500 is a lot of money, too much to be frittered away on a course the only value of which is three credits toward a credential.

3) As an instructor with full credentials, what would you see as reasonable compensation? would you want a guaranteed minimum, a fixed fee per course, a fee/student or a percentage of the revenue (what percent?)

Well of course now we have to question what constitutes 'full credentials'. Some professors with full credentials may not have cracked a book in the last five years. What would you say about a professor of distance learning, for example, who has never logged on to the internet and still teaches audioconferencing as the state of the art? On the other hand, there may be people without a PhD who are engaged in day-to-day work and research in the field. It seems odd to say that the former ought to receive a higher rate of compensation, let alone a 'fixed' or 'minimum' fee or percentage.

That said, in my opinion, the rate of compensation ought to be based on (a) the amount of work an instructor performs, and (b) the level of expertise required to perform that work.

The former is most often measured on a per-student basis. Different courses require different amounts of work per student. A highly interactive and discussion based English course, for example, may require that the instructor spend 20 hours per student talking with students and marking essays. A lecture-based psychology course with computer-marked multiple choice exams may require only two hours per student. Thus, for each course, an average, based as much as possible on existing data, should be calculated. This is one side of the grid.

The latter also varies on a course by course basis. We see this in university courses where a graduate student is deemed able to teach some courses, such as introductory logic, while a full professor is deemed necessary to teach others, such as a graduate seminar in economics.

In other disciplines, similar gradations apply. A non-credentialed but experienced instructor can teach basic computer skills, but a certified and experienced CNE is probably needed to teach advanced networking applications. This is the second side of the grid.

To calculate the rate an instructor should be paid on a per-student basis, multiply the values of the corresponding grid elements. For example, if a full professor is required, compensation is probably on the order of $50 / hour. If the graduate seminar that professor teaches requires five hours of instruction per student, then compensation per student in that seminar should be $250.

Or for example, if a BA or BEd in English is required, compensation is probably on the order of $35 / hour. If the introductory English course that instructor teaches requires 20 hours per student, compensation should be $700 per student (which should make you rethink the workload being required of that instructor, even if you're getting away with paying him or her $150 per student).

Now of course the actual rate per hour of any given instructor should not be measured merely by credentials - indeed, such a measurement deliberately does not take into account the quality of their teaching or the currency of their knowledge. This more difficult calculation can only be addressed on a case-by-case basis, though again there is no reason why a matrix could not be developed.

It would be ineresting to see someone set up an 'instructor market index' of actual instructors with actual credentials, experience, quality ratings, and rates of pay per hour per student. Most people, I think, would be appalled by the results of such a calculation.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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