Pros and Cons of Online Classes

I finished all my finals for Spring 2013 last week, meaning that I only need 6 hours to graduate with my MBA! I’ll be completing those hours online from the University of Texas at Dallas and graduating in August. HUZZAH! I’ve had quite a few people ask me about my experience with online vs. face-to-face classes, and I have to say bluntly that I hate online classes. This may be largely due to my personality and functional area, but several people have found my insight to be helpful, so I figured I should share it with all of you πŸ™‚


Accessibility – Clearly, the most obvious pro of an online class is the ability to study anywhere. When I lived in Texas and started my MBA program, I knew that moving back to California prior to graduation was a possibility. Thus, it was very important to me to be able to easily finish my hours online if necessary. I’m able to access my classes during my normal routine, and I didn’t have to miss class during business travel.

Flexibility – Flexibility is enabled by accessibility. Since I can access my classes anytime, anywhere, I can re-arrange my schedule to accommodate studying as needed. Need to stay late at work on an emergency problem? No worries, I can push my lecture to later in the week. Happen to have an evening free? I can put in more discussion posts now.


Flexibility and Accessibility – These two pros are a double-edged sword, as professors are much less understanding about conflicts with scheduling. In theory, you should be able to find 2 hours SOMEWHERE in the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that exist. I didn’t really struggle with this, except when I was on my business trip to SXSW. We were literally working from 7am to 2am (yep, not a typo, 2am!) for 7 days straight, meaning that I had to push to complete my lectures ahead of time. Some classes lock down the lectures to make sure students pace through the class, so you can’t work ahead. For on-campus classes, you simply miss the lecture, miss the quiz, and you’re allowed a certain number of absences. In online classes, you don’t get this kind of leeway.

Discussion threads drag on – In a normal classroom setting, you have class discussions that run their course pretty quickly. Either you participate and get your points, or you sit quietly and the professor docks your grade. Unfortunately, many professors require a certain number of posts per topic to receive a full discussion grade. Thus, threads drag on far longer than they should or would in a face-to-face setting. Plus, responses like, “I agree” or, “Good point” often clog up the discussion boards, and in real life, these types of responses would be ignored or not happen at all, since most people know better than to raise their hand to say something with no value. Further, in an attempt to ensure the students are engaged, some professors put silly rules about logging in every other day, only contributing a certain number of posts per day, etc., which means that you can’t just jump in any time, you must schedule time to log in and contribute. This type of requirement defeats the pro of flexibility!

Project and case study coordination is frustrating – You never meet your team, and you rely on email or the group discussion boards. Often, projects are less cohesive and lower quality in online classes because you don’t have the usual back-and-forth collaboration that results in more creativity and effort. It’s also difficult to “present” a PowerPoint deck on the eLearning platform, so students end up straining their eyes to read terribly-designed slides to contribute to the discussion. (See con #2 above)

Lectures are boring – Sure, lectures can be boring in an on-campus setting, but man, lectures are BORING online! There’s no discussion, no body language, no interesting side notes, just monotone voices and text-heavy slides. I should acknowledge my own bias on both of these points. I work at a presentation design firm, so my threshold for bad slides has been significantly lowered. My functional area is creative, so the engineers and scientists probably don’t mind dry lectures, as the subject matter is very straight-forward. But yeah, I have trouble keeping my eyes open, no matter what time of day I tune in.

Scope creep – Again, this one might be specific to me, but I find that my degree is “running in the background” in my mind much more frequently with online classes vs. face-to-face. This is largely due to the fact that I don’t have a set time that requires me to go to campus, sit in a chair for 3 hours, and only focus on that. All other times, I can’t focus on the lecture because there is no lecture. It happens once a week for 3 hours, and that’s it, so it’s pointless to think about whether I should do the lecture now or later, eat before or after logging in, etc. I find myself logging in or feeling pressured about posting and scheduling much more frequently than I did when I attended class on campus. I was able to plan my weeks much better because the schedule was rigid. I try to stick to a rigid schedule, blocking out time for each class on a specific day, but with the posting requirements and lecutre release variability, it’s much more difficult.

Clearly, online classes are not for me, and I would not choose to do it this way in the future. I was only willing to do it for the last semester or two because I landed a position in the “dream job” category, but I would recommend against online training for an MBA. Anyone else have counterpoints to share?

Class Isn’t a Democracy

The summer session for my MBA is in full swing, and I’ve been a little frustrated with one of my professors. He’s an adjunct who recently attained his PhD, and this is his second or third semester teaching. He brings excellent practical application into the classroom, and he generally cuts out the academic jargon to get straight into what we’ll need as managers in our post-MBA positions. However, in an effort to treat us like professional adults, he wants to run the class like a democracy! Now, I’m all for giving team members a platform to collaborate in the office, but in the classroom? I’ve gotta support a monarchy (not quite dictatorship, there should be some give and take!).

The first night of class, he asked us what format we would prefer to be quizzed. In a class of 40 people, some wanted online, some wanted in-class, some wanted essay-style, others wanted multiple choice… and on and on and on! You can’t really put the format to a vote in a classroom situation. The timing of the quiz has also been the subject of debates and an actual vote-by-hand-raising in last night’s session. This drives me nuts, largely because everyone has some excuse about why they can’t take the quiz at this time or that. “I’m working, can we move it to Friday?” “I travel for business, can we do it in class?”

Here’s the thing: you’re in grad school, in a part-time MBA program, as in, you have multiple priorities right now. And, if you’re not going to put a high priority on your degree, you might need to re-consider your choice to attend business school right now. I’m not saying people don’t get busy, emergencies don’t happen, or homework isn’t an inconvenience, but if graduate education were easy, everyone would do it! In addition to the knowledge you gain in the classroom, the MBA is about time management, juggling priorities, and choosing the most profitable projects. Notice any parallels between your personal life and professional life? I certainly do. Sometimes I don’t want to crunch the numbers in a spreadsheet for the marketing budget, but that’s part of the job. Sometimes I don’t want to read my textbook or attend class, but that’s part of the program. Are you going to make excuses in your day job? If not, don’t start that habit in grad school!

I understand that the professor is trying to be fair, but I think it’s a much more valuable and true-to-life experience to realize that sometimes life ISN’T fair. Sometimes we have to take projects we don’t like, on a timeline that’s too tight, and a budget that’s too lean. Sometimes the office is a creative, collaborative place, but sometimes the head of the organization needs to crack down to make sure that projects are delivered in top quality for customer satisfaction. If I’m voting, I’m going to cast my lot in favor of a stronger leader, at least in the classroom!

Should You Even Go To College?

I’ve had some interesting conversations and read some interesting articles recently that made me wonder if you should even go to college at all! Obviously, I value the piece of paper, as I’m currently working on my MBA, so I’ll end up having more college than the average person. And, that’s the point, right? To make myself “above average” so that I can have a higher paycheck, more prestigious title, cooler work environment, and generally more awesome career! But in today’s economy, should you even go to college?

I will say that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that Americans put way to much value on college degrees. Or, at least, all the people I’m surrounded by put a lot of emphasis on it. I admit that I’ve always kind of looked down on people that chose not to attend college, that somehow, they just couldn’t hack it in the real world. This is actually quite false, as several people I know were more than able to hack it, they just opted out. Our generation has been told to “do something we love”, and quite frankly, not everyone loves a desk job. Not everyone gets warm fuzzies from a glowing computer screen. Not everyone wants to exercise only their brain every day. Some people enjoy… gasp… working with their hands! Or exerting their leg muscles! Or being a starving artist in a garret! How dare these people choose to forgo a boring class that lends nothing to their practical daily lives because it is required by a degree plan? How dare they accept hourly wages over salary, muddy boots over patent pumps, and wrenches over a briefcase? Sometimes I look out my office window at the gorgeous 70 degree day, and think that maybe I’m the crazy one. I could be out mowing a lawn in the sunshine to make a living, or taking tourists scuba diving to earn a wage, or heck, staying inside making cards to sell to pay the rent. There are plenty of people that make a living wage doing blue-collar work, and many of them love their jobs. What’s so wrong with taking a job that allows you to feel good about yourself while to make a paycheck?

This is not to say that everyone with a college degree is miserable, while all the non-degreed people live a life of rainbows and roses. In addition to “passion” you do have to be practical and realize that most college-educated professionals earn more over their lifetime. I would also say that there’s a lot of skills you can learn in school that will improve your ability to move up the ranks, which is difficult to do without outsourcing in a blue-collar job. And, since many blue-collar jobs take a higher toll on the body, you might face physical limitations that force you into retirement earlier than a white-collar profession (we’ll save the debate about stress-induced heart attacks when you’re 40 for another blog post!). For example, take landscaping or construction work. Both require significant physical labor, and to move up in the ranks or start your own business, you’ll need management skills, accounting skills, marketing skills, and possibly engineering skills. For many of those, you’ll need a college-educated or licensed professional, so if your aspiration is to move into management, going to college earlier might have been the better choice.

I do think that post-high school education is necessary to ensure that the US (and the world, since it’s a global economy these days) has an effective workforce, but I think we should make a path for technical or vocational education, the way we’ve done for college. For example, the aviation industry is facing the real concern of a shortage of trained, qualified technicians, because all the youth are heading to college, instead of mechanic school. This article details vocational programs in Arizona high schools, and mentions that in addition to training students for immediate work after high school, the vocational programs are actually encouraging students to attend and graduate from 2- or 4-year colleges! It mentions a shortage of welders and auto mechanics, noting that you can make great money in either of these professions. It’s unfortunate that many high schools are unwilling or unable to offer these types of programs to their students, and that many parents are unwilling or unable to allow their children to take advantage of these programs if they are offered. My cousin went to an ag-centric high school, complete with animals and farm land on the school property. She mentioned that some transfer students made rude comments about the smell surrounding the school. Her response? “That’s the smell of money! You smell cow manure and hay… I smell dollars in my pocket!” Note that my cousin went to college for poultry science (you know, the people that engineer a better chicken for power players like Tyson?) on scholarships from her winnings at county fairs and FFA shows!

So, who’s making the better choice? Me, with my MBA, and my sister in her pursuit of a doctorate? Our one-class-shy-of-a-bachelor’s degree friend, that’s currently working 7 days a week as an electrician, making $20 per hour? Or, a family friend whose son skipped college altogether, went to a trade school, and is now working as an auto mechanic? The word is that he loves his job, he’s contributing to society, and he’s paying his own way these days! I’m not saying that college isn’t important, and I definitely have a hard time accepting alternative paths. But, the more I read, and the more people I meet, the more I realize that a fancy piece of paper isn’t the only way to have a fulfilling, well-paid, successful career.

Mid-MBA Professor Recommendations

This post doesn’t really apply to the majority of my readers, but after several conversations with fellow class mates, I figured I’d post up a list of recommended professors to point them to for summer/fall session planning. So, here’s my list of great professors in my program thus far:

Prof. Richard Bowen (ACCT 6202): I had Prof. Bowen for Managerial Accounting, and I thought he did an excellent job with organization, time management, and applicability. He explained the concepts with clarity, and his examples and test questions seemed like reasonable situations for managers to face. He didn’t try to “trick” us, but gave us challenging problems to illustrate the material. He also has first-hand insight into the Sarbanes-Oxley ramifications and the whistle-blower laws, which he’ll share with the class if you ask him. And, for an accountant, he’s actually a pretty humorous fellow, so the 4 hour class doesn’t seem so ridiculously long and boring.

Prof. Abhijit Biswas (MKT 6310): I took Consumer Behavior with Prof. Biswas during my first semester as an MBA student, and his class made me excited to be a grad student! He presents thought-provoking case studies and interesting statistics, and he makes everyone question their own behavior as a consumer. He reaches across a number of marketing fundamentals to show how each is relevant to consumer behavior, and he opens engaging class discussions. Every student that takes one of his classes recommends him and chooses to take him again. He teaches classes on all areas of marketing, and makes himself available to students for career advice, marketing ideas, and generally lending his wisdom to his students. He’s passionate about his subject, and his passion is contagious when he teaches. Most students find his exams to be pretty difficult, because heΒ  requires you to remember a lot of details from the material.

Dr. John Wiorkowski (OPRE 6301): Dr. Wiorkowski is a great statistics professor! He made stats applicable to a variety of functional business areas, and used applicable scenarios. I liked that he understood that we needed a managerial base for stats, not a theory or PhD approach. Sometimes stats professors get so caught up in their own expertise, they forget that we don’t know (and for most of us, don’t care) what they’re talking about! Dr. Wiorkowski makes the material approachable and relevant, and he explains each concept in a logical, understandable manner. He also has some hilarious quotes, and keeps class pretty entertaining for a stats professor. His bow tie is his signature, so if you can’t remember his name, just look for the guy with bow tie!

Dr. Tracey Rockett (OB 6331): I took this Power and Politics class online, and I wish I’d had it in person. It’s a discussion-oriented class, so facilitation is much easier face to face. However, the information is sound, and Dr. Rockett presents some thought-provoking scenarios. The lectures, readings, and discussion boards were well-organized, and I enjoyed the articles and book requirements for this class.

Dr. Laurie Ziegler (OB 6332): Dr. Z is a passionate professor with a lot of interesting perspectives to offer. Her Negotiation and Dispute Resolution class focuses heavily on role playing and discussion, so I would recommend taking it in person. Her class forces you to take a look at your own biases and strategies when negotiating, and she keeps class lively with her own stories and discussion questions.

Prof. Scott Sanderson (FIN 6301): Prof. Sanderson is an excellent finance professor. He’s an adjunct, currently working in the real world, so he brings practical knowledge and scenarios into his examples. He does an excellent job explaining the historical and cultural significance of many of the concepts, so you understand why things are done, not just how. He uses several different types of examples to demonstrate the use of equations and logic, and he clearly explains a lot of complex ideas. His exams are straight-forward, and he keeps you until the end of class. He makes himself available to answer questions, and he genuinely wants his students to succeed.

Though some of the subject matter is not my favorite, I appreciate professors that use examples and test questions that we might actually face in a managerial situation. If you have the opportunity to take a class with any of the above professors, you won’t be disappointed!


The Countdown

Well, readers, it’s that time of year… the end of the semester countdown! Although, I’ll be completing 9 hours of class this summer, so my countdown-to-summer also doubles as my countdown-to-school-starting πŸ™‚ However, I will be taking a vacation on my “summer break”, so my posting schedule will be pretty sporadic through the end of May. I’ve scheduled a few wonderful guest posters, but if you have a topic you’d like to share, send me a note, and we can try to set something up!

I took 9 hours of class this semester, including two OB classes and a finance class. I’ve got a final in my Negotiation and Dispute Resolution class, and a finance final. I started studying for the finance final last night, and it’s going to be a brutal few days of prep work. I just don’t. like. finance. at. all. I’m literally trying to find any excuse to procrastinate on my study time, including cleaning! You know it’s bad when I’d rather clean than study. However, I buckled down and started working my way through practice problems, and I feel confident that I can solidify my B in that class.

Now for the fun part: VACATION! A friend from college is getting married in El Paso at the end of May, so my husband and I decided to turn the drive into a road trip around Texas. We’ll be hiking, camping, and staying in remote hotels for about 10 days. My husband has been itching to go to Big Bend National Park, but the ~14 hour drive has been a huge deterrent. However, we’ll be spending a few days there during this road trip. The plan is to spend a night or two at Pedernales Falls, San Antonio, Big Bend, and Monahans. I’m pretty excited to get away for a while, as I think I’m starting to approach the burn-out point!

So, please pardon the odd posting schedule while I conquer finals and attempt to conquer relaxation (note that I’m not a failure at many things, but relaxation is on the list of perpetual failures!). Get excited for a few new voices through the end of May, and I’ll be back in action regularly in June.

Social Loafing

There’s a concept in Organizational Behavior that you’re all familiar with: social loafing. A social loafer is the person that joins the group and never actually works, the person that ruins the fun for everyone by breaking the rules, the person that mooches off you for free food and a couch to crash on… for MONTHS. In short, the social loafer is just what it sounds like, someone that loafs through life on other people’s hard work. As a type-A overachiever, I hate these people. And, it’s the immature-make-poor-decisions-just-on-principle kind of hate*, where I have a hard time getting past my frustration long enough to actually address the problem with the social loafer. Now, the social loafing has hit home, and we’ve got a real conundrum on our hands!

My husband and I own a rental property that has 4 units, so we put a trash bin with weekly pick-up out for our tenants’ use. This trash can is large enough to accommodate our 4 tenants, but apparently, the fourplex next door also thinks that they can use the trash bin. We’ve contacted their landlord, sent them notices, and most recently, put a lock on the trash bin. Our tenants are the only ones that have keys, and they’ve all been respectful and diligent in keeping us updated on the trash situation. Last night, a tenant called to tell us that there are six bags of trash sitting next to the trash bin. Sigh… freakin’ social loafers! So, you clearly are not allowed to put your trash in our trash bin, so your solution is to just leave it sitting out in the parking lot next to the trash bin? We’ve contacted the other landlord and sent notices to the other tenants, to no avail. Our other option is to go to curb-side pick-up, but none of our tenants want that, and it makes the area look terrible, as trash ends up flying all over the place. Don’t people take pride in their living space these days?

So now we’re in a bind, because upgrading to a larger bin or increasing the frequency of the trash pick-up is a significant cost. And, on principle, I don’t want to reward these people for their bad behavior (insert rant about how these people’s attitude is what’s wrong with America today!) My husband and I want our tenants to have a nice area and convenient life, so we hate to go to curb-side. But if we keep letting the trash bin overflow, we’ll get a fine from the waste company.

Is our only option to let the tenants at the other property ruin it for everyone? Do we give in and upgrade the size of the bin or the frequency of pick-up, thus reenforcing the bad behavior? There’s just no winning against social loafers, because they have nothing to lose! As I mentioned in my post about negotiation, they have a much better BATNA than we have, mainly because they just don’t care like we do. While I love to be able to apply concepts from my classes to my daily life, I really wish it wasn’t in this situation. Any suggestions are much appreciated πŸ™‚

*My suggestion was to booby-trap the trash area, so that whenever people set a bag down next to the bin, they would get an egg thrown in their face. Can you imagine someone stumbling out to the trash bin first thing in the morning, in the dark, only half awake, and without their glasses? They set their trash haphazardly near-ish the bin, and then, BOOM, and egg just slams them in the face. BEST. SOLUTION. EVER. My husband’s equally bad suggestion was a sign that reads, “If you have a key, put your trash in the bin. If you don’t have a key, throw your trash over the wall.” There’s a fence with a lock right next to the bin that belongs to the other landlord, so essentially, they’d be trashing their own property. I was on board with this one, until I realized how terrible it would smell, and the effect it would have on our tenants. So, as you can see, we aren’t making much progress!

Join or Die… That’s Your Pitch?

I’m taking a negotiation class this semester, and last night the presenting group chose to utilize clips from the AMC show, Mad Men. The episode they used focused on the sale of the Sterling Cooper ad agency, and its main players deciding to start their own agency. One clip showed power play Bert Cooper trying to convince another power player, Roger Sterling, to start a new agency. His argument, “You’ve seen the guys my age, playing golf and vacationing, and they’re dead in 3 years. You’ve got to have something to live for, and this is it!” Roger’s response, “Join or die? That’s your pitch?” This morning, my boss mentioned the American Airlines protesters at DFW Airport, and it made me think about last night’s discussion of the “join or die” pitch.

The labor union disputes with American Airlines have been on-going for several years, but late in 2011, American Airlines declared bankruptcy. In my opinion, there’s fault on both sides for the failure of the negotiations, and I’d say both sides are in a “join or die” situation. We talk a lot about dependency in my class, and how that creates power for each party. We also talk about the Best Alternative to the Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), and the fact that when neither party has a strong BATNA, it’s in their best interests to come to some kind of agreement.

While no one wants to work for unfair wages or unfair hours, there comes a point that standing your ground actually means NO wages and NO hours. If the unions keep pushing for more at the negotiation table, there won’t even be a table to come to! American Airlines has made some poor decisions that are unrelated to the union issues, but the union demands (and meeting those demands) are partially to blame for the bankruptcy. So, the BATNA for both parties is that everyone loses their job, instead of having lower wages, fewer hours, and fewer benefits. Sounds like a pretty terrible alternative to me! Of course, this is also problematic if the big executives are receiving huge severance packages while the lowly front-line worker is getting screwed. But essentially, both parties are in a “join or die” phase: either you get together and work out some kind of wage agreement, or the whole company goes under, and no one gets any wages at all.

It’s a bad situation all the way around, but I think both American Airlines and the unions need to realize that they’re no longer talking about a “better” or “best” situation. If they could both step away from the table long enough to realize that you can’t win without the other party, they might just come to a solution. In the Mad Men episode, Roger finally opted to “join”. He was skeptical of the initial pitch, but he realized that death was a terrible BATNA. I wonder if American Airlines and the unions will choose to join… or die?


OB Student Observations

I attended my first week of classes for this semester, and I noticed some interesting patterns.

First, students in general are so much more open than people in the professional world. Maybe this is just the people I’ve met in the professional world, but I’m always struck by how quickly people show their hand and make assessments in an academic setting. Particularly in the Organizational Behavior class, all the students “get” each other pretty quickly. The ice breaker activity on the first day was to choose a partner that you didn’t know, and introduce them. The questions included asking about their biggest accomplishment or proudest moment, and their biggest failure or disappointment. Digging deep, right off the bat! I walked into that class without knowing anyone, and by the end of a 3 hour session, I’d formed a semester-long group that I already feel very comfortable with. This type comfort seems to take much longer in professional settings I’ve experienced.

Further, it was interesting that so many more people were comfortable speaking to the class than in my accounting class. It’s odd, because this OB class is required for most of the programs represented in the class, so there’s not a higher concentration of marketing nerds that just enjoy presenting. Maybe it’s the class setting, and the fact that the ice breaker was informal, as opposed to the accounting class with a formal presentation for a grade? Either way, most of the people in the class stood up to speak, made eye contact with the audience, and spoke loudly and clearly throughout their introduction. The accounting presentations involved reading a notecard in a soft voice, with heads buried behind the card or the computer screen. HUGE differences that made me feel more confidence in my peers after leaving class last Wendesday evening!

So, I feel this semester is going to get the gears turning in my head, and I’m excited for the synergy that I believe will happen between my classes and my work days. It’s good to be back in a class with people that are open and articulate, so we’ll see if my first impressions hold true as the semester progresses!

Grades Are Up

I finished my 3rd semester at UTD in early December, and grades are posted. I ended up with an A in Global Business, an A in Management of Information Systems, and a B in Statistics. The B in stats pulled my GPA down to a 3.817, which is slightly below my final GPA in undergrad, so I’m not terribly upset. I’ve budgeted a B in Finance, and As for the rest of my degree, so I should end up just under a 3.9 when I graduate.

I was not impressed with my Global Business class or my MIS class. I feel like both of them could have had some interesting things to discuss, but they both just rambled on with no point. In today’s globalized society, it would have been helpful to talk about different business customs and expectations around the world, and business “norms” in other countries. Instead, we talked about standard models and the history of the soviet union. My MIS class consisted of reading a Harvard Business Review case each week, and discussing it in a painfully boring 4 hour session. I was under the impression that this class would go into spreadsheets, project management software, and even some coding, similar to my information systems class in undergrad, but that was not the case. My stats class was actually pretty good, and the professor made a point to include applications for different areas of business, including marketing. I was pleased to see several examples that dealt with comparing the effectiveness of different advertising mediums, promotions, and atmospheres, and I can see how using statistics would be helpful in allocating my marketing dollars.

This semester of my MBA was purely required, and I don’t feel that my business acumen increased as a result of the semester. The MBA is supposed to be a well-rounded degree for future managers, but if you have your undergraduate degree in a business function, you’ve already taken most of these classes. Thus, if I was doing a graduate degree for the love of learning, I would choose the Master’s in Marketing, not the MBA. Because I felt my classes added no value to my knowledge, I was ridiculously unmotivated to do anything more than show up to class and submit my slides for the group PowerPoint. I’m generally really aggressive when it comes to academics, and group projects in particular, but this semester just didn’t strike me. However, it’s a good indication (and somewhat comforting) of how I will perform “at my worst”. I can’t be 100% all the time, so it’s nice to know that my 75%-80% is strong enough to get me through.

I’m taking 9 hours next semester, and two of my classes are electives. I’m hoping that these classes will bring back the creative stimulation of my Buyer Behavior class from my first semester of grad school!