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Interview with Jessy Keiser
Former Adjunct Instructor at the University of Phoenix

By Lisa Gualtieri / August 2010

TYPE: INTERVIEW
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Jessy Keiser is an organization development professional whose career path lead her to teach for the University of Phoenix, the for-profit learning institution best known for its online presence and open-enrollment policy. In this interview, she spoke about how she came to teach at Phoenix, what kind of training and assessment was required, and some of the pros and cons of its system.

In addition to teaching, Keiser consults with private, public, and not-for-profit companies in health care, high-tech industries, the government, and pharmaceutical companies. Her expertise is in large-scale transformational change, change management, team building, facilitation, performance improvement, and instructional design, which accounts for much of what she taught in Phoenix's MBA program.

— Lisa Gualtieri

Lisa Gualtieri: How did you start teaching at the University of Phoenix?

Jessy Keiser: I started teaching at the University of Phoenix toward the end of 2001. I taught Organization Behavior in the MBA program for about four years. When I first considered working for Phoenix, I was still at EDS (Electronic Data Systems, now part of Hewlett Packard), and I saw an advertisement for faculty practitioners in my field. I have always loved teaching, and it seemed to be a great opportunity to give back to adult graduate students what I had learned through years of my own professional experience.

There were rumors that layoffs were going to hit at EDS, especially after 9/11, which perhaps contributed to my decision to apply for the teaching job — but I would have inquired any way.

I applied, went through some phone interviews, and had a written evaluation. I started teaching my first class online about 4 months after I first inquired.

LG: What type of training did you receive?

JK: Prior to joining the University of Phoenix, I had more than 15 years of experience teaching and training in the corporate sectors, but not in higher education.

I was quite impressed by the rigorous training that the school required as part of the on-boarding process of new instructors. It took about four weeks. I took online courses offered asynchronously and sat in on an online course as an observer. I had a mentor who developed a comprehensive syllabus with me, and who evaluated my overall readiness to teach. He was a great resource and role model, supportive and committed to excellence.

LG: How did they decide you were ready to teach?

JK: There was an evaluation process. I had to have my syllabus and lessons ready. My mentor was involved, auditing my first courses and providing feedback. Overall, I was very impressed with the caliber of the training I received for the Online University teaching program. I later also taught in the FlexNet and traditional classroom programs, and my observation was that the online teacher preparation was comparatively very rigorous and thorough.

LG: Did they provide you with materials for your topic?

JK: Yes, they provided templates with the core text and skeletons of lessons. They also provided examples, text books, and simulations. It was up to me to customize and flesh out the lessons.

At the instructional design level, I was most impressed with their emphasis on clear learning objectives with concrete performance criteria.

LG: What did you like best about your experience at Phoenix?

JK: I liked sharing my experience and knowledge with other students. I also liked the diversity in my students. They came from across the U.S. and other parts of the world, from very different backgrounds... I also liked to think that I was indirectly impacting many different organizations in a positive way, by helping their managers and professionals, who were in the graduate program, understand and apply Organizational Behavior research.

LG: What did you like least?

JK: As a faculty practitioner, I did not always feel supported in maintaining certain performance standards, especially when students complained that other instructors were not enforcing the standards as rigorously as I was. I think that the for-profit focus of the university conflicted with UOP's otherwise solid and innovative curriculum design.

UOP's recruitment website claimed that as an instructor, you can expect to work about 10-15 hours per week. In actuality, I found that each class took more like 25 —30 hours per week. To do a decent job of teaching and to uphold academic performance standards, it takes more than 15 hours per class each week.

Financially speaking, it is to an instructor's benefit to teach more than one or two classes. I can understand why some instructors might not have felt inspired to take more time to uphold the standards set by the program, especially if they were trying to earn a decent income. Also, UOP began to push for larger class sizes. Cramming more students in each class meant more work for instructors, with no additional support or compensation. In any case, I wanted to provide a high quality education. If I couldn't do that, I didn't see the point of continuing on as a faculty member there.

I decided to stop teaching at UOP and re-focus my energy on teaching in other arenas. I began to teach yoga part-time and am now a certified RYT, or registered yoga teacher. I would love to teach Organization Development to working adults again in another college setting, while I continue to work as senior-level OD professional. I'm currently working in high tech again on a large scale change initiative within the company's Corporate Social Responsibility arm. In fact, the initiative involves local academies around the world. Somehow, I find myself continuously drawn to innovative matrix organizations in the healthcare or high tech industry!



Comments

  • Mon, 29 Nov 2010
    Post by Craig D. Howard

    I've been teaching in college contexts since the mid 90's; most of those have been somehow blended situations, and some completely online. What has struck me about the UoP design is that, being 100% online as it seems, how do they deal with the larger character development issues? From what I have experienced, there's the crux of it, the perpetual wrench in the system that cannot be overcome. When so much about education is developing the person beyond the performance objectives, how could this design overcome the obstacle of the "lean" communication format? A degree, as opposed to simply imbibing content in the form of skills competencies in courses, is so much more than just getting the content right. I am yet to come across any discipline where objectively written performance objectives, however well attained, can trump the greater goal of learning the way a certain group of people think, and being able to replicate that form of thinking. Synchronous or asynchronous, I am yet to see a format where there is enough give and take to learn these types of more nuanced pragmatic competencies. Where do you see UoP going in that regard, and for that matter, the future of all online programs who are charged with creating *better people*?

  • Tue, 17 Aug 2010
    Post by Allison Rossett

    I didn't know that UoP did such extensive and long lasting development of its instructors. Bravo to that. Much there for brick and mortar institutions to emulate.

    UoP responses to financial pressures, or to pursuit of more profit, or both, is not unfamiliar. More students crammed into classes. More pressure to "please" students with good grades. More squeezing of faculty salaries. We have seen all of this before-- and expect to see it going forward.

    Quality and efficiency. How to do both? Doesn't sound as if UoP has it figured out, not yet.

  • Tue, 13 Apr 2010
    Post by Terry Freedman

    Reminds me of a notice I saw in a section of a school a few years ago: "You are now entering a learning zone". It made me wonder what all the other 'zones' were in that case.