As more people turn to the internet to start and finish higher education degree programs, one software and web developer has created a web site in which people can both post and read reviews of online degree-granting institutions.

OnlineDegreeReviews.org, created by Steve Rawlinson, launched its beta version on July 25. The site lets users browse reviews by subject area and college, and it features a user forum and blog.

“There are lots of web sites that list online degrees. But none help you decide which colleges are good or worth your time or money,” said Rawlinson, speaking with eSchool News from Canada. “In my own search for an online degree, I was frustrated by the lack of information, so I created this site where people can share their experiences.”

Rawlinson said he left the beta label on the site to let users know that it is still a work in progress.

The site encourages current and former students of online degree programs to post reviews of their experience and rate the programs based on several criteria, including professors, educational materials, use of technology, and overall value.

Ed-tech leaders who spoke with eSchool News said the resource could prove helpful as students look for alternative ways to pursue a continuing education.

“Web sites that empower students, parents, or providers to find [high-]quality, accredited programs are helpful to increase access and equity to education regardless of geography,” said Susan Patrick, president and chief executive officer of the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL).

Giving students more choices about “their own education–courses and programs with high-quality teaching and content standards in online as well as traditional education–will help all students prepare for success in the 21st century,” she said. “We should hold all educators to the same high standards and then make access to these rigorous courses, excellent teachers, and quality programs seamless, regardless of place or time.”

One challenge for the web site is receiving reviews and contributions from students. “Getting people to write reviews has … turned out to be more difficult than I expected,” said Rawlinson.

“For this web site to be useful and help people, it needs to have lots of reviews,” Rawlinson wrote to visitors on his site. To that end, Rawlinson said, he will pay $5 apiece for the first 100 reviews posted to the site. Payments for the reviews, limited to three per person, can be donated to a charity or can be deposited in a user’s PayPal account. In the future, Rawlinson said, he plans to contact online schools’ alumni associations to see if members would be willing to contribute reviews. At press time, just 15 reviews had been posted to the site.

Currently, more than 130 colleges are featured on the site. If users do not see their college or distance ed program, he said, they are encouraged to add it.

Potential students also have a place to voice their concerns and to get advice from their peers in the web site’s interactive community forums. The forums not only help people communicate their knowledge of online degrees and experiences with them, but they also help potential students consider whether or not distance learning is a viable way for them to obtain their degree, Rawlinson said.

The web site states that it offers “unbiased online degree reviews,” and one necessary action is to distinguish between legitimate reviews and unnecessarily biased or harsh reviews, according to Rawlinson.

Recognizing that not all online degree-granting programs are effective, or even legal, Rawlinson wrote that “only colleges that are accredited by a respected organization are included&if a degree mill or disreputable college somehow managed to get on the web site, I would hope that it would get poor reviews and its nature would be revealed to people.”

The site includes both U.S. and foreign reviews, although for now foreign reviews are limited to the U.K. and Canada.

“The site is still relatively new,” Rawlinson said. “But I think even a small number of quality reviews are very useful. As time goes on, I hope this site becomes the place for trusted online degree information.”

He added: “The quality and authenticity of the reviews [are] paramount. The success or failure of the web site depends on people being able to trust the reviews. I take it very seriously, and I personally approve every review submitted. There are several other measures in place to ensure that each review is legitimate, including verifying eMail addresses and network IP addresses.”

Rawlinson said he was not impressed with what he found while personally searching for online degree programs and said that, as far as he knows, his site is the only one of its kind.

“My goal for the site is to create a place where people can get trustworthy information about online degrees,” he said.

Links:

OnlineDegreeReviews.org
http://www.OnlineDegreeReviews.org

National Council for Online Learning
http://www.nacol.org

Currently, more than 130 colleges are featured on the site. If users do not see their college or distance ed program, he said, they are encouraged to add it.

Potential students also have a place to voice their concerns and to get advice from their peers in the web site’s interactive community forums. The forums not only help people communicate their knowledge of online degrees and experiences with them, but they also help potential students consider whether or not distance learning is a viable way for them to obtain their degree, Rawlinson said.

The web site states that it offers “unbiased online degree reviews,” and one necessary action is to distinguish between legitimate reviews and unnecessarily biased or harsh reviews, according to Rawlinson.

Recognizing that not all online degree-granting programs are effective, or even legal, Rawlinson wrote that “only colleges that are accredited by a respected organization are included&if a degree mill or disreputable college somehow managed to get on the web site, I would hope that it would get poor reviews and its nature would be revealed to people.”

The site includes both U.S. and foreign reviews, although for now foreign reviews are limited to the U.K. and Canada.

“The site is still relatively new,” Rawlinson said. “But I think even a small number of quality reviews are very useful. As time goes on, I hope this site becomes the place for trusted online degree information.”

He added: “The quality and authenticity of the reviews [are] paramount. The success or failure of the web site depends on people being able to trust the reviews. I take it very seriously, and I personally approve every review submitted. There are several other measures in place to ensure that each review is legitimate, including verifying eMail addresses and network IP addresses.”

Rawlinson said he was not impressed with what he found while personally searching for online degree programs and said that, as far as he knows, his site is the only one of its kind.

“My goal for the site is to create a place where people can get trustworthy information about online degrees,” he said.

Links:

OnlineDegreeReviews.org
http://www.OnlineDegreeReviews.org

National Council for Online Learning
http://www.nacol.org