Thursday, July 21, 2011

Online degrees (and the perils thereof)

One of the reasons I have been horribly slacking on the blog is that I'm currently constructing a number of online courses for future semesters.  I've taught them for two semesters, and found them rather enjoyable for myself and my students.  So when I'm confronted with stories of the how bad these courses can be, particularly as taught by for-profit colleges, I feel an instinctive need to reexamine my own course construction to make sure everything is up to the rigor of my institution.  For the record, I teach out of an established, public university, and rather resent the perceived monopoly that for-profit "colleges" have on the medium.  For some quick background, here is an amusing yet informative bit from Cracked Magazine (I've always thought of them as a sad MAD Magazine wannabe, but funny is funny).  I came across the bit via Amy Hale, who relates some of her experiences teaching for a for-profit institution (hint: not pretty).

All this came back into my mind lately when I chanced across a story from the Albany Times Union, in which a police recruit was fired a day after he was hired due to questions about his online degree in criminal justice.  Apparently, the degree was from Ashwood University, a rather obvious diploma mill that awards degrees based on "life experience."  I suppose I could take the easy and obvious route, wag my finger at the phony degree holder and intone Caveat emptor, but I have to wonder just how informed high school guidance councilors are about online colleges.  Did anyone warn the student about these scams when he was a junior in high school?  Or has the proliferation of for-profit institutions become so widespread that quality control only goes into effect after the checks have been cashed and a hapless graduate finds himself the subject of media ridicule due to his useless degree?

And yes, I have heard rumors of online, for-profit institutions that don't offer shoddy courses ending in useless degrees.  By all means, show them to me.  I'm always up for new experiences.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Surnames and Vikings

Just finished reading Leif the Lucky to my 2 year old, who sat with very un-bedtime like, rapt attention through the whole thing.  This reminded me of a recent article in Molecular Biology and Evolution regarding the covariance of Scandinavian-derived surnames and Y-chromosomal signatures in northwestern England.  Lest I begin to sound like a broken record, here we have yet another example of how classic marker studies are being validated by modern molecular methods.

Bowden, G et al., 2010, Excavating Past Population Structures by Surname-Based Sampling: The Genetic Legacy of the Vikings in Northwest England.  Molecular Biology and Evolution 25 (2): pp. 301-309.