Inroduction to PHP, Perl Programming 1: Introduction to Perl, and PHP/SQL 1: Introduction to Database Programming in 2010 and early 2011. Here is what she has to say, and my response to her:

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PC World review of O’Reilly School of Technology, and my response

Hi Everybody,

Thank you for stopping in to read the blog. My sincerest apologies for being away from it for so long. To say we’ve been busy lately is an understatement! There are many big changes on the horizon for O’Reilly School of Technology, and an enormous amount of our energy is dedicated to implementing them right now. Please bear with us and stay tuned. In the meantime, I’ll make a concerted effort to blog more frequently and keep you informed of the latest O’Reilly School of Technology news — feel free to nudge or even nag us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/OReillySchool) or Twitter (http://twitter.com/OReillySchool) to keep us on our toes.

For this blog, I’d like to share with you a recent PC World review of O’Reilly School of Technology by Sharon Machlis, who completed Inroduction to PHP, Perl Programming 1: Introduction to Perl, and PHP/SQL 1: Introduction to Database Programming in 2010 and early 2011.

http://www.pcworld.com/article/216812/free_and_low_cost_tech_classes.html

Here is what she writes:

O’Reilly School of Technology

I’m finishing up my third class with this partnership between the O’Reilly tech publisher and University of Illinois. The school offers certificates in skills like programming, database administration and Linux/Unix administration, although classes are offered individually as well.

I can’t vouch for how much sway this training holds with would-be employers, since I’ve yet to apply for an IT job. But I can say that the skills I’ve picked up have helped me solve real-world problems, such as automating drudge work with scripting and crafting database queries using SQL.

You take these classes at your own pace — a mixed blessing for those of us who need flexibility but also tend to perform better on deadline than “whenever you finish.” Classes are text-only (no video or screencasts), but also include a lab environment/development sandbox where you can practice coding without installing software on your own system. After each lesson, there are quizzes and/or coding assignments to hand in to demonstrate you’ve absorbed what was explained. Assignments are graded pass/fail.

The course mentor who does your grading is also available to answer questions by e-mail. I’ve found this ranges from “won’t help unless the question is directly related to the syllabus” to “way above-and-beyond helpful.”

Classes come with a free e-book related to the subject of your course, although the book isn’t a textbook to use in conjunction with your instruction.

The courses are definitely useful, even if they occasionally move too slowly at some times and too quickly at others for my tastes. I do end up with new or improved skills, which is of course the point.

Courses are usually around $300 or $400, although there are occasional sales such as this month’s 25% off.

Advantages: Access to an instructor so you can get questions answered, graded assignments make it more likely you’ll do needed work to absorb what was taught, certificate series allow you to build on what you’ve learned in other courses.

Disadvantages: Interaction with instructors limited to e-mail, no interaction at all with other students, fairly pricey for static text classes.

Since most reviewers tend to skim through our materials without trying any examples, let alone completing three full courses, I have to give full credit to Sharon for a thorough and fair review. However, I was taken aback at a few things — especially her reaction to our instructors, in each of whom we take immense pride. It compelled me to respond in her comments section:

Hi Sharon,

Thanks so much for an honest and thorough review of the O’Reilly School of Technology. Although I agree with many of the points you made, I’m hoping to get clarifications of a few.

The one that worries me most is the description of your instructor interaction ranging from “won’t help unless directly related to the syllabus” to “way above-and-beyond helpful”. OST’s biggest source of pride has always been the close relationship that each student enjoys with his/her instructor. Therefore, if you were ever refused help at any time because the question wasn’t related directly to the syllabus, this is a big problem to us that we would want to rectify immediately. If you’d rather not post the details here, you can email me at info@oreillyschool.com so that we can make it right for you and future students.

You are correct in that as of today, there is not enough student-to-student interaction. We are working hard to improve this situation in a meaningful way, ie. without resorting to tired concepts such as plain discussion boards or chats. Please stay tuned in 2011/2012 as these solutions come about.

Finally, I do respectfully take issue with the idea that O’Reilly School of Technology’s courses are “static text classes”. We certainly shun video and simulations in our IT courses; however, this is deliberate in order to focus on learn-by-doing using the Sandbox practice methodology. This way, rather than watching someone else talk about programming, you are doing the actual programming yourself (in a guided way of course), and gaining valuable experience in the meantime. The real-world projects can even be kept beyond coursework as a portfolio to show potential employers — something that has landed more than a few of our graduates good jobs in IT.

Again, thanks so much for your honest assessment, and looking forward to your comments.

Trish

So far I haven’t received a response from Sharon, but I sincerely hope I do. It’s important that our students are aware of the great respect and appreciation we have for them and their opinions about our courses. If a student feels they aren’t receiving adequate attention, then we need to fix that! All student criticism, positive or negative, is extremely important to us, and may alert us to ways we can improve our courses. That’s why I met with Sharon’s instructors myself to review their interactions with her. From all I was able to gather, it seems that a good rapport was established between the student and her instructors and she progressed really well in the course with their help.

Even so, I want to make it clear to everybody that we take your constructive criticism seriously. We welcome your comments, especially those that direct us into areas of our courses and methods that may be improved upon. We are constantly seeking ways to make O’Reilly School of Technology better, to ensure the utmost in quality of our curriculum, teaching methods, communications, and services. Most importantly, we strive to create and facilitate the best learning experience possible for each of our students.

So my question to you is, what can we do to make the student experience better? I welcome any and all comments, suggestions, and questions. Let’s talk!

Thanks,
Trish

  • http://nonprofitable.org Dave Chakrabarti

    I’m glad to see you following up on publicly-posted feedback. My main suggestion for O’reilly at this point is one I’ve shared with your team on the phone a couple of times; get the paperwork done so we can use workforce development funds for this.

    There are private, for-profit, and nonprofit institutions currently accepting workforce development vouchers for courses in IT all over the US; the vouchers are about $5k in one-time funding per person, which means there are a lot of $5k classes out there for A+ certifications and the like. At your pricing, workforce development funding would cover several certifications, which would be *hugely* beneficial to a prospective employee vs. what’s currently available.

    From my initial research on this, I could probably help get these courses approved in IL by doing some of the legwork; for unemployed techies like me looking for new gigs and new skills, this would be *invaluable*. Interested?

  • Frank Baird

    I have to agree with Trish in just about every way. It is good to see a well-researched review, but the “disadvantages” simply don’t hold up to inspection.

    The instructors may be only available by email, but they are always available (usually answering in a day, not counting weekends). Try getting that type of availability with a university professor, who sometimes are not available at all.

    As far as no interaction with other students, that’s simply in error. I have interacted with other students in the forums many times. Granted, there is more interaction in a classroom, but in this case, if you put effort into it, you get rewarded.

    And lastly, the price. Comparing the value you get, I have paid far more for a university class and gotten far less on several occasions. I have never found a value per dollar ratio anywhere else that even comes close to O’Reilly/Useractive. IMO, the only way to get a better education is in the advanced courses in a full degree program at a good university, which costs WAY more.

  • Shaun Taylor

    I’ve taken 2 classes with O’Reilly and am currently working on Intro to PHP. One of the things I’d critique is fixing the dead links within the content and also re-reviewing the content as I have found a syntax error within one of the examples of the PHP course.

  • http://www.oreillyschool.com Trish Gray

    Hi All, and thanks for your comments so far…

    –> Dave, we are most definitely working on this, although I can’t discuss that much publicly. We certainly want folks to be able to take our courses when they need them the most. Call Georgia at 707-827-7187; she’d be happy to work with you in any possible way to make this happen.

    –> Frank, thanks so much for your kind words! It’s great to hear that we’re doing something right. :-)

    –> Shaun, thanks so much for your critique, and I’m so sorry for the overlooked errors. If you wouldn’t mind emailing your instructor or Georgia (info@oreillyschool.com) with the errors you found (or perhaps just the lessons in which you found them), I will pass your report on to our team for immediate prioritization. I hope you’re enjoying the courses otherwise.

    I would love to hear more comments, suggestions and critiques of our course, so please keep them coming!

    Thanks,
    Trish

  • Marty Hines

    I love OST. I got my IT job because of them!(in the process of writing a testimonial)

    I have to agree with Shaun about the dead links thing. It’s something I’ve encountered as well.

    Although it’s not really the end of the world, it should be fixed.

    Instead of just griping about, I’d like to help. Even if it meant testing every link in every course.

    The fact is OST has changed my life, it would be the least I could do to show my appreciation.

    Trish, please do contact me if I can help in anyway.

  • Jose Campo

    I’m MS-SQL DBA learning new MySQL skills. I do love and like the PHP/SQL course, but I do miss additional student interaction a bit. The company I work for (the biggest in the world :-) won’t mention names) uses Virtual Rooms to share desktops and/or phone. A Toll Free or even local numbers plus the VR sessions would be a nice interactive tool.

    By the way, A+ for the teacher I have. They grade my labs quickly and always ready to help when I ask questions, even providing MySQL advices.

  • Ernest

    I am trying to figure out the time commitment need to complete a class on average. My guess, without anything to base it on is;
    a) If the class earns the student a total Number of CEUs (Continuing Education Units) = 4.
    b) Plus 2-4 hours of hands on time for each of the CEUs, 4CEUs x 2-4 hours = 8-16.
    c) Time needed to complete a 4CEUs course on average is = 12-20 hours.

    Is this a close estimate?

  • http://www.oreillyschool.com Trish Gray

    These are such great comments and suggestions — thanks again!

    –> Marty, it’s so great to hear your success story! Email me sometime, I’d love to hear more details about the job. info@oreillyschool.com

    We are currently in the process of performing a major overhaul of our editing tools and processes during the next several months; hopefully this will prevent dead links and other mistakes from slipping through from time to time. I will certainly call on you to help when it comes time to beta-test.

    –> Jose, I love the idea of virtual rooms. Would you mind emailing me with more details about this?

    Right now we’re working on Facebook apps that will allow students to interact by sharing files and code. However, I realize not everyone is a fan of Facebook, so we’re also researching all options out there to give students quality choices in how they collaborate. Any and all suggestions are much appreciated.

    –> Ernest, we base our CEUs on 1 CEU per 10 clock-hours of student work. So a 4-CEU course should actually take you about 40 hours to complete, give or take depending on what experience you bring. I hope this helps, but be sure to email or call Georgia if you have further questions on that.

  • Tom Robey

    I had enrolled maybe close to two years ago, for the DBA certificate program. I started on the first course, but was not content with the instructor feedback. To do an assignment and then just get a “Great!” on my assignment did not offer me much learning satisfaction, that I was doing well, and that I was having good interaction with the instructor. One time – which really frustrated me – was that the instructor (Gerry?) had graded an assignment, marking it as incorrect. I looked and looked, and worked on the assignment again trying to figure out what I did wrong. I even pulled in a co-worker, to see what he thought I needed to do. In the end, I emailed the instructor stating the above, and that everything looked right, what I had done the first time. What did I get in response? Something along the lines of “Great!”. So I had done the assignment correctly the first time. If the instructor had made a mistake in grading me, I would have been understanding that he had made a mistake. But he gave no reply indicating anything of the sort. No, “Hey Tom, I’m sorry, I overlooked such and such”, which would have been okay with me. He did not acknowledge anything. This one particular event is what really discouraged me, and I just lost interest and motivation in pursuing things. So I spent close to a grand for the four-course program, only to lose motivation and not follow through. Instructors I feel can really make the difference in the kind of enthusiasm you have for a course. At least this is what happens with me, and what happened here.

  • Lloyd

    I would like to see a biography for each tutor detailing their area of expertise etc. Of the courses I have taken/taking some tutors seem to have more experience than others. Also some of the content of the new courses (Python) seems a bit rushed and the output in some of the lessons was different from the actual output. However, in general I feel the courses are good.

  • http://www.oreillyschool.com Trish Gray

    Thanks again for the comments.

    –> Tom, I’m so sorry you became discouraged, and I do hope you’ll come back and finish your courses. Your instructor at the time I believe was Kerry — she is our head Instructor and a brilliant one at that. However, she also shoulders the burden across the board when we are swamped with student submissions, so it appears she may have miscommunicated with you inadvertently on that occasion. We have since brought in more DBA instructors, so if you come back we can get you set up with Terry, who is focused almost solely on DBA and is notoriously communicative. We want to make sure you finish these courses successfully! Please give Georgia a call at 707-827-7187 and she will take care of you.

    –> Lloyd, that’s a great idea, and one that I will bring up next time we have a website revision. I believe you were literally one of the first to take our new Python courses, so hopefully we’ve already fixed the content that you found clunky. However, if you’d like to email me more details, I will certainly make sure our editorial staff prioritizes the improvement of those sections. If I’m correct, you’ve enrolled in something like 14 of our courses, so I appreciate your honesty and loyalty!

  • Christopher

    I agree with Tom R, getting a one-word “Great!” in response to each solution was not encouraging. Do something to show me that you actually read & analyzed my code: eg, suggest how to improve it (use less memory, run faster, easier to maintain), identify possible bugs or bad practices, ask me why I did it one way instead of another.
    I had to ask several times to get instructor solutions to the problems. A known good solution should be made available immediately after they approve your solution as solving the problem.

    I was disappointed to see the instructor’s solution code with few comments and no test code, especially for the last assignment, whose solution was longer than the others. I spent much time working on tests and docs, & got no comments on that work. I don’t think they looked at it to see if it was correct. The tests were very helpful in my development process. It would have been good to have someone review them.

    The instructor did answer the questions I posed throughout the course.

    I found more than a few typos and errors in the material. I submitted my findings and suggested corrections, if I had any. It made me less confident in the accuracy of the material. I wondered about the errors that I did not catch.

    I asked for a list of known errors that were not yet fixed in the course material. They said I could not see that. Then I stopped spending the extra time reporting errors that I found (and there were more).
    It would help if it was easier to report a bug, instead of moving among windows to copy & paste from the material to an email message. Suggestion: Provide a link on each page that sends all or part of the current screen to the bug email, & gives you a box to add any supporting text. See blekko.com and their “file bugs here” link on the search results page for a smooth way to get data from users.

    I did learn from the courses, but have not pursued more at OST at this time. I think that spending time writing & debugging real code on a project will be a quicker way to learn.

    If OST provided more verbose feedback, eg, pointing out Perl idioms that I could have used & the +/- points of different approaches, like a knowledgeable mentor with time for each student would do, I would probably sign up for more.

    Thanks & good luck.

  • jame p

    I concur with Lloyd’s request to have the ability to see each tutor’s biography.

  • Mathieu P Bourgeois

    OST classes ? So far so good !
    My only problem, along with some other students comments I can read on this board, is the lack of comments by the tutor.
    My wife and I usually check my “grades” together, and we just laugh at how many “Great!” or “Nice!” there will be (with the occasional double-Great! (comment: great, grade: great).

    Some comments about how to improve the code and a way to see the tutor’s biography would be very interesting !

  • Lorri Coey

    Mathieu,

    Thanks so much for your very candid opinion. We count on students like you to let us know where we’re hitting the mark and where we’re falling down.

    My apologies for the lack of comments and feedback, that’s me on the other end of all those Greats. One of our goals is to make our courses a dialog between student and instructor. To be quite honest, that can be difficult with more advanced students, such as yourself. I’m always working on that.

    Giving students access to instructor bios is also something we’re working on and a great idea. We want our students to know who we are and how they can reach us.

    Thanks for taking the time to contact us.

    Lorri Coey

  • J

    I’m taking a course with OST. So far, I have learned quite a bit. It is much better than learning from a book because with OST you are required to actually type the code.

    There are a few minor grammatical mistakes in the text of the coursework in addition to some inconsistencies in the example code. The inconsistencies are not bad enough to have any significant impact on the acquirement of the knowledge of the course material.

    I feel that I have learned more with their sandbox learning environment than with a textbook. The biggest benefit I see in OST is the hands on learning that you don’t get from a textbook. You have to do assignments as well as reading the material. Your coursework is graded by an instructor.

    In conclusion, books may give you much more information; however, Oreilly School of Technology is superior for actually learning interactively and grasping the material.

    Hopefully they will have a 25% off promotion soon so that I can purchase another course.

  • Art

    Trish, 

    Two of the courses that I would like to take with O’Reilly, I already have the books and purchased them thru O’Reilly. Do you offer discounts…
    Art

  • Rob

    Would agree with Sharon on the instructor comment. They either help and explain to help you understand or do just the opposite.

    • Kerry Beck

      Hi Rob,

      Our instructors’ goal is to render helpful aid and guidance to each OST student. To those ends, I’d like to reiterate what Trish said earlier, please do share your experiences with us. We invite any comments, suggestions or other thoughts you have on your experience with us. We love hearing about our students positive experiences in our courses and ways we may improve.

      Thanks for taking the time to post here and please let us know how we may be of further help.

      Kerry

  • William

    I have completed two courses and have found what was said about the instructors to be true. I’ve had one great instructor but the other was no real help at all, I could have goggled my questions for a better more thoughtful and concerned reply.
    Just my experience.

    • Kerry Beck

      Hi William,

      Thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts. I’m happy about your one good experience, and I really hope you too the time to complete the exits surveys for both of your courses to give us your feedback, both positive and negative. All of it is extremely valuable to us and helps us improve as we go forward.