Tuesday, March 24, 2009

UMUC Prior Learning

University of Maryland University CollegeLast semester (Fall 2008) I enrolled in University of Maryland University College's Prior Learning program (EXCL 301). The purpose of this class is to earn credit for learning that was done outside of the classroom. While I've never met anyone that has gone through this class, I had heard of a couple people that completed the EXCL class and earned credit. What I heard was that the class was very difficult and would require an incredible amount of work.

I started working on my degree after graduating from high school in 1992. I started at the University of Maryland at College Park in the fall of 1992 in the Electrical Engineering program. At that time, the kind of work I wanted to do (system administration) wasn't very clearly defined (at least not to me). After some semesters taking Electrical Engineering classes, I kept wondering: where is the computer work? So, unsatisfied, I switched to Computer Science. There, all I got were stupid programming classes. I was pretty good at the classes, but was uninterested and put the work off to the last minute (a couple times missing major project deadlines).

Then, I got a job offer. I was working at Bell Atlantic Corporate Television almost full-time while taking classes. I enjoyed the work I was doing. I set up and managed a multimedia lab and assisted in managing (and then took over) the network systems. I loved the work, so I stopped going to school (intending to go back) and took the job. Then, I got a Network Engineer job at NCI/NIH and then the US Mint and my career took off. Before I knew what was going on, I had my MCSE certification for NT 4.0. Then, the CCNA (Cisco) certification and upgrades to Windows 2000 for Server and Pro (certifications but not MCSE 2000).

A couple times I tried to go back to school to finish my (programming) Computer Science degree. I just wasn't into it.

Then, last summer (2008), I finally decided to just do it. I had to get that piece of paper. So, I took a writing class that satisfied requirements for my Computer Science degree. I took the class on-line through UMUC and was happy with the web interface. The class was a technical writing class. It's the type of writing I do for my website, The OpenBSD Journal, and at work every day. I got an "A" in the class and decided to continue on my degree path.

I decided to enroll in the EXCL 301 class to earn credit for the work experience I've gained in my career. I also signed up for a Java class that satisfied a (freshmen) CMSC requirement. The Java class was pretty easy and I got an "A". But, the EXCL class was not easy at all. Like all UMUC WebTycho classes, there is a weekly "Conference" that, depending on the class, requires interaction. At the very beginning of the class, the assignments were easy and centered on the Conference. Then, it was up to the student.

Several of the early assignments were geared towards figuring out what of your experience applied to EXCL 301 and what classes they related to. I had intended to complete a Computer Science degree, but with my experience, I just couldn't target classes in CMSC that related to my experience. Then I found CMIT (Computer Information Technology). Many of the classes related directly to certifications and experience I had. Then I had to document my learning...

Wow. What an incredible amount of work. I am 35 years old and have had a 17+ year career dating back to 1991. The point of the class is to demonstrate classroom learning that occurred outside the classroom. And, you have to target specific classes to get credit for. So, targeting the Windows Server 2003 class for credit is difficult when I have never taken classes about Windows Server 2003. But, I did start using Windows NT 3.1 -> 3.5 -> 3.51 -> 4.0 -> 2000 -> 2003. So, I demonstrated that. I even started with DOS -> Windows 3.1 -> NT 3.1...

I targeted these 3 credit classes:

  1. Network Essentials

  2. Windows XP Profressional

  3. Windows Server 2003

  4. Interconnecting Cisco Devices

  5. Unix Administration

  6. Advanced Unix Administration

  7. Writing in the Computer Industry

  8. Advanced Computer Applications


So, 24 credits is quite a lot from what I've heard. I started writing and it was wrong. My professor gave me advice how to make my writing honor the requirements of the course. Instead of writing how I know stuff, I had to show I know learned stuff. I had to write as if I were writing a lesson plan.

So I started from the very, very beginning. At seven years old, I wrote a program on our Vic-20 to emulate a Unix login process. Then, I had the luck and opportunity to work with my dad. He taught me the fundamentals of how computers work and gave me my start. From there, I became the Systems Administrator I am today. I had to document the whole process. To add to that documentation, I requested managers/co-workers at each of my previous jobs write a letter documenting specific learning I did on the job for each of my classes. Five of the requests were honored (including my dad, my friend Steve, my co-worker Andy, my Epok manager Chip, and my other Epok manager Jerome). They helped me demonstrate the on-the-job learning that I've achieved in my career.

Again, my career spans 17 years. Demonstrating how I learned that Windows 2003 has file security requires me to discuss when my father and I sat together and installed Windows NT 3.1 on our slow computer with 31 floppy disks and each step forward. So, I took the path of writing which technologies in NT 3.1 directly related to Windows Server 2003. Then, I went to NT 3.5, NT 3.51, NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and then Windows 2003. I wanted to show that through years of experience, I learned how to use Windows Server 2003. I had to take a very similar track with Windows XP Professional and the other classes I targeted. I used screenshots and real examples of output from machines I work with today for supporting evidence. I even included a detailed Visio diagram of my home network.

I wrote every night during the semester for the class. The deadline was December 14. My work-work also became crazy around the same time. I got very little sleep. I had work deadlines that also centered around the December holidays. I felt like I worked day and night between work and class. Luckily the EXCL 301 deadline included a 10 day grace period. So, I used those 9 days to finish writing my narrative to describe my learning. I compiled my narrative with UMUC forms, certificates, and documents of learning from five of my previous managers/co-workers to create a CD for delivery to UMUC Prior Learning. At the same time I delivered my CD to my professor, I sent the CD using UPS (overnight) to UMUC. My professor informed me that he had to sign a form that was to be included in my narrative CD for it to be accepted. So, at the zero hour, I submitted a second CD with all of the required documentation for credit through the EXCL 301 class.

As the deadline approached, I realized I wouldn't be able to document learning for the Writing in the Computer Industry class or the Computer Applications class.. So, I settled on 18 credits.

...

We were told that it could take four months to learn of the level of success from the class. But a few weeks ago, I was billed for 18 credits for Prior Learning. Yay! And, switching to CMIT meant that I met all but 9 credits for graduation. So, after this semester, I have to take 3 classes to graduate. This summer I'm taking Network Security. In the fall, a grammar class and Advanced network Security. And then: "Where did you get your degree?" "Maryland!" Horray!

Next a computer related masters.