Tuesday, November 21, 2006

eCollege ET61 History of Animation Online Scam

So far, we've written three articles on Santa Monica College's Online History of Animation course (ET61), offered through smconline.org and eCollege. We have discussed how AET Professor James (Jim) Keeshen tampered with online quizzes, concealed vital public records regarding the webpages that linked to the overpriced required CD-ROMS, and how Professor Keeshen is no longer allowed to teach the course due to repeated copyright infringement legal issues. We've even made two handy charts, which you can view HERE.

The course is now taught by SMC Professor Nancy Paris Poirier, who had traditionally taught the class during the Winter and Summer intersessions. As a stockholder of eCollege (ECLG) and a former teaching assistant to Jim Keeshen for many semesters, I am very knowledgeable about this course. Rather than take the time to improve the course, Professor Poirier (in my opinion) has completely abandoned her professional academic responsibilities to her students and, as a result, the course is a complete sham.

Paris Poirier and SMC ET61 History of Animation Online Together as a team, Professor Jim Keeshen and I improved the course for the students so that they would have a rich online educational experience and we even worked together on a ground version of the course that was highly popular among the students at the Academy of Entertainment and Technology (AET). Rather than be grateful for our efforts, SMC's self-serving administration would rather pit us against each other at the expense of the students. SMC's administration, however, despite drastically lowering the quality of this online educational experience, doesn't blink an eye as they rake in all those online fees they generate from this course. In fact, through deceptive advertising, SMC is able to get a good number of students, both internationally and locally, to enroll in this course, as a creative and underhanded way to recover its
failing enrollment. Remember that in the article we did about SMC's enrollment recovery efforts, that the school mentioned its aggressive marketing efforts via online course offerings.

As usual, we've made a handy
online chart so that you can see for yourself what you would get for your money as a prospective student interested in this class. These screenshots were made between August 28, 2006 (the first day of the course) and November 21, 2006. All links and references to screenshots refer to this online chart.

The ET61 online course for fall 2006 (section 2125) is advertised as a 16-week course, starting on August 28, 2006 and ending on December 16, 2006 (screenshot 01). Historically, it has been offered as an 8-week course. Despite the promise of a full semester, the student still receives only 3 units. For Spring 2007, SMC advertises online that its ET61 online course is an 8-week course, starting mid-semester on or about April 16, 2007 and completing on or about June 8, 2007.

This fall semester, approximately 35 students signed up for the ET61 class. In order to keep those enrollment numbers high, SMC gives the illusion right off the bat that this course is in fact legitimate. The course also can't be too difficult, as SMC does not want students to drop until after the administration locks down those enrollment numbers on its course roster. So, the first week is a nice easy assignment where the students simply respond in a threaded discussion about themselves and their interests in animation. Most of the students complete this assignment within the first week and Professor Poirier responds with quick comments to the students' threads. So far, so good. The students are pretty eager to interact with their professor, as is expected in any college course, online or otherwise.

Each week in the course corresponds to one unit, with nice little tabs to the left. Students are expected to complete the coursework within that week's time. Since Professor Keeshen tampered with the online quizzes, providing unlimited time and unlimited chances to take the quizzes as well as answers to the tests, the quizzes have now been removed from the course. Less work for Poirier and less of a standardized criteria to measure student success. Instead of the quizzes, students post in an online journal about an animated television show they are expected to watch throughout the semester. However, by the fifth week of the course, this assignment has completely vaporized. The only thing really left is the threaded discussion.

After that first week, the course makes its slow and inevitable plunge into online oblivion. Professor Poirier has all but completely vanished off the students' radar, leaving them confused, unmotivated, and unstructured. As her announcements show, she only appears to make three directives to her students, to inform them that there is a film screening, to give them a midterm essay assignment (due October 20th) and to finally inform them of a final exam (due on the last day of the course, December 16th). Her most recent announcement was posted yesterday, November 20, 2006. (screenshot 02).

At this point, Professor Poirier was forced to crawl out of the woodwork after many students started posting in the Unit 5 threaded discussion about why they hadn't heard from their instructor and why they have not received any grades, except for the midterm (screenshot 03). Even this was a very feeble clarification on Poirier's part as these students posted these concerns in late October and it took Poirier a month to post an announcement about the final. To this date, 13 weeks into the 16 week course, Poirier has yet to respond to any of the other unit's threaded discussions nor has she allegedly graded the students threads or journal entries up to this point, leaving the students unsure of where they stand gradewise in the course. According to confidential sources, Poirier hasn't even returned students' email inquiries about the status of the course or their grades.

But it gets worse. Although this course is advertised as a 16-week course with a final exam the last week, the course units mysteriously vanish after week 8. As the screenshots reveal, unit 6's threaded discussion instructs students only to return to units 1 through 5 and post comments. The journal assignment is no longer required. Week 7 and 8 shows even further deterioration, with only a link to a "lecture" for each of these units. (screenshot 04). By week 9 of the course, the students started posting their concerns about the lack of grading, the missing assignments, and the fact that there were no more units to explore.

Unit 8 is even worse than Unit 7 as the "lecture" link is merely a list of hyperlinks to the alleged lectures for the course. However, these links are not in fact lectures that the students can read, but dead links to the webpages that SMC had copyright infringed and deceitfully stolen and placed on their own server. Since they have been removed after a legal battle, the links don't work. Why are these webpage links even still online? Is SMC planning to once again infringe on copyrighted work? (screenshot 06).

Those aren't the only dead hyperlinks students will find throughout the course. The actual course lectures (created about six years ago) have not been updated, so many of the links within the lectures are broken and outdated. The real media player with streaming video of Professor Jim Keeshen talking about animation is also outdated, barely audible and visible. (screenshot 05). To add insult to injury, the students are expected to pay well over $100 (including tax) for a two CD-ROM History of Animation set (directed by none other than James Keeshen) along with the required textbooks. Suddenly, this course is becoming quite expensive when you factor in either renting the animation the student is required to watch or actually buying the animation.

And what does the student get for these overpriced ET61 CDs that have become little more useful than beer coasters? One gets to hyperlink to outdated flimsy webpages with more dead hyperlinks. Well, the links are exactly dead; they take the student to outside advertisements completely unrelated to animation. We've included one webpage from each of the two CD-ROMs as illustrative of our point. (screenshot 08).

So as a student enrolled in this online course, you've got streaming media that doesn't work properly, lectures with outdated hyperlinks, CD-ROMs with more outdated hyperlinks and webpages virtually devoid of any meaningful content, and a professor that provides no dialogue, interaction, or direction, along with basically no grades for your work. How motivated would you feel in that situation after all the money you shelled out for this course and all the online promises you were given that made you rush to sign up for the course in the first place?

As the Unit 1 through Unit 5 threaded discussions reveal, not very motivated at all. In fact, as the semester unfolded, the students progressively plunged into apathy. Let's break the semester down in a week-by-week playback as follows:

Week 2: Sept. 4-10: A handful of students respond in late August. However, many students respond in late September with students posting as late as November 9th. (screenshot 07).

Week 3: Sept. 11-17: Only 3 students complete the threads within the deadline. The rest post in late September and early October. Several students post in November. Some students post as late as November 19th.

Week 4: Sept. 18-24: Only 8 students complete the assignment within the deadline. Many post in mid to late October. Several students post as late as November 20th, approximately a month late.

Week 5: Sept. 25-Oct. 1: Only 1 single student completes this assignment on time! Many students post in late October and early November, with some students posting as late as November 20th.

As mentioned previously, by week 6, there are no more new threaded discussions, journal entry assignments, or CD-ROM assignments. It seems the CD-ROMs, despite their heavy price tags, don't even get the student through more than a few introductory weeks. With the advent of new technology, better computers and software, all the material on the CDs could have been placed online, saving the financially struggling students their hard earned cash. But it's never been about the students, but about what SMC's administrators can do to pull the wool over everyone's eyes and keep those enrollment numbers reeling in for the purpose of securing more and more funding for its outside consultants and project managers.

So, as a prospective student interested in the History of Animation, I would suggest not taking this course. Add up what it would cost you and go out and simply buy the animation DVDs (many of the classics can be found for a mere dollar at the 99 Cents Only Stores) or rent them and go online and do a google search for many websites that offer free information on the history of animation. You will learn equally as much or more about this fascinating subject and you won't feel that you've been taken in and scammed as some students now feel.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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