400 is not 1500. Not even in the new digital economy…

Generally, if something seems too good to be true then it probably is- Hence my concern with the new online honours digital degree thing offered by the Digital Skills Academy. The Digital Skills Academy,  henceforth the Academy, is a commercial venture.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s located in the digital hub (remember when this was going to be the creation of the equivalent of Stanford?),  And has a history of delivering a variety of training courses and upscaling courses around things digital.  So far so good, we need more of these kind of things.

It has recently announced a new initiative, the delivery of a Honours level degree in digital technology design and innovation.  This is to be delivered online, part-time, over one year… That’s right, an online one year degree.  In everything about to say I have no intention of suggesting that there is anything untoward with this.  The degree, as much else in the Academy, appears to be  accredited by the Dublin Inst of Technology.   DIT  has history of delivering really high quality courses, and is an incredibly credible academic institution.  I have to assume therefore that the Academy program has been vetted and approved by DIT.  They are in fact awarding the degree

An honours degree in Ireland, from whomever, is a level VIII qualification.   Full details on the qualifications framework is available here.   Having been involved in a number of accreditation, validation, and revalidation panels over the years, one year of a degree is typically taken as 60 ECTS credits. 5 credits  are the standard base from modules, and a five credit module has to achieve 125 hours of learning, made up of classroom contact, seminars, examinations, students study etc.  60 credits therefore require 1500 hours of work.  This is explicitly recognised by the Academy.

The problem with this is that the marketing of the course suggests that the degree can be achieved in as low as eight hours or so per week.   This is is explicitly stated in the frequently asked questions.   1500 hours equates to 30 or so hours per week, a long way away from eight hours.  Either the program is grossly understating to prospective students the required time they will have to input into it or something is missing… It seems to me that asking people to do 30h pw on top of a fulltime work committment is tough (and yes, I do know something about this as I have done a pg degree parttime). It can be done, but its going to be tough. Its not clear that a lot of time or mental capacity for reflection and cogitation is going to go on in that year.

The programme also seems to be unique, to my knowledge, in undergraduate honours degrees in Ireland – it has absolutely no examinations.  Now examinations are one way of assessing student learning. They are neither the best nor the worst, but they do provide a well-established structure within which one can assess the extent to which students are able to reproduce and address the learning outcomes which they are being asked to achieve.  examinations are also useful way of ensuring that the student achieving the qualification is actually the student that has done the work. Peer assessment, project work, there are a whole pile of other approaches, none of which, in my personal opinion, should be used exclusively.  At an honours undergraduate degree the learning objectives should be such complexity that no single assessment method can adequately insured at the students are able to demonstrate their achievement.

Finally, the entry requirements suggested an ordinary, that is to say a level VII, degree is required.  There is a note however, in that “recognition of prior learning” may supplement, or supplant same.  It’s not clear how such prior learning will be mapped across to a level VII qualification, but one assumes that this has been worked out by the Inst of technology.

Lots of questions, hopefully some answers will come out.

Edit: in response to some queries, it seems to cost between 8-10k. So that is 24-40k for a ‘regular’ degree equivalent.

12 thoughts on “400 is not 1500. Not even in the new digital economy…

  1. Derek

    DSA also use students as lecturers: take notes developed by experienced (some doctoral level lecturers) and get previous students to deliver them.

  2. Derek

    Moreover, I would imagine that the relevant people in DIT are not aware of this chicanery, and the 1 year, part-time degrees. Thing to look at is: what where the DSA validated by the DIT to carry out? It may be that they were validated for one thing e.g. a standard duration degree, but now offer the 1 year off the back of that (without DIT’s knowledge). Other thing to examine is are DIT fully aware of what DSA are up to: academic council for example?

  3. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » 400 is not 1500. Not even in the new digital economy …

  4. brianmmulligan

    You are right to draw attention to this – there seems to be huge variation in workload requirements in institutions. My own daughter in 1st Engineering in UCD reports that their workload is the heaviest in that institution even significantly more than medicine. In my own institution it has been noted that an add-on level 7 course in engineering contains much more content than an equivalent level business degree. It is probably worse in continuing or part-time education, often justified on the basis that adult learners, having had life experiences, can learn much more quickly. However, all institutions may be doing this. You can get a 180-credit degree in computing from Trinity part-time over 3 years. (I’m sure they don’t claim as little as 8 hours effort per week – in Engineering in Sligo we cover 30 credits per year part-time and tell students that the effort is approximately 18 hours per week). Update on Bologna – all degrees are equal but some are more equal than others.

  5. Leon Quinn

    I’m doing the ordinary level online part time degree with the DSA at the min and there have been a lot of complaints about the actual workload compared to those 8 hours we were told to expect. 8 hours is the actual lecture time each week roughly but assignments, workshops, team meetings etc take up far more. I ran a poll in our course Facebook group to see how many hours people were doing on average and it’s about 25 – 30 hours. So a lot of us are not happy with the initial lack of clarity over time commitment but having said that, I’m personally finding the course very thorough, relevant and useful and I’m learning lots of up to date stuff and gaining valuable team skills.

  6. Dave Cheevers

    This isn’t actually an Honours degree as you describe. It’s explicitly stated that it’s an Ordinary degree. With regards to time required; the FAQ actually says

    “How much time do I need to give to the programme?
    There is a minimum of 8 hours a week online learning time required on our programmes.

    ****In addition to these online teaching and online team-meeting hours, participants are expected to undertake readings, research and project work****.”

    I’m doing this course as well and I have to say while there is a lot of work involved (assessments and projects take the hours to well above the 8 hours of delivered material), it’s not onerous and can be done.

  7. Dave Cheevers

    I’m also doing this Degree. The course linked to in the article (and the one I’m doing) is not an Honours degree as stated in the article, it’s an Ordinary degree. There is an honours degree available, but that’s not this.
    With regards to the amount of work hours required, it was always stated to me that the *delivered* material would consume 8 – 12 hours per week, but that we would be doing assessments and self-study on top of this. As is stated in the FAQ.

    [How much time do I need to give to the programme?
    There is a minimum of 8 hours a week online learning time required on our programmes.

    ****In addition to these online teaching and online team-meeting hours, participants are expected to undertake readings, research and project work.*****]

    I have to say, it’s hard work; but then it’s a degree in one year – I’d be suspicious if it was a walk in the park.

  8. current DSA student

    I am a current BSc (Hons) student at DSA and I cannot believe how badly organised and amateur the entire experience has been so far. It’s by far the biggest waste of money I have put toward any form of study. Anyone considering DSA as an option… seriously do yourself a huge favour and keep looking because you will be majorly disappointed with this joke of an option.

    1. Leon Quinn

      A lot of us thought that too at the start of ours “current DSA student” but things improved. I personally came to the realisation that the biggest cause of poor organisation were the students themselves. Between dropouts, constant whinging and stupid questions, no one checking the forums or reading briefs properly and personal/technical issues the organisers really have their work cut out keeping it going smoothly. Maybe online is a flawed system?

  9. Niall Smith

    I’m a student of DSA too and FYI, we were all given the figure of 24 / 26 hours a week. Online material and at info sessions.
    Also, you are only eligible if you are within 60 ECTS credits of a degree. It isn’t a one year degree from scratch, it’s add 60 ECTS to what you have to get a degree.

  10. Jay

    This article is missing very important point. In order to start this add-on/top-up Honours degree you already need to have Oridinary degreen or equivalent work experience.
    So you already got your first 3 years of degree done somewhere else or through your work experience. And this course is like doing an extra Honours year which normally takes what… one year. What’s wrong with that?


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