Sunday, July 08, 2012

O'reilly School of Technology review

Computer based teaching is a very to get just right. Sometimes you may presented with too little information while other times, it's too much and hard to follow. I found some of the online classes I taken in the past for work was a 30 page slide show with a short quiz at the end. By the time I was through the first chapter, I was dulled by the information given and lack of interaction. On the side, a class presented me with one or two paragraphs of text and then expecting me to complete an assignment with no outside information.

But computer based training that is based on-line has many benefits. The pricing of classes is usually cheaper than attending a physical classroom. Also the classes are available 24 hours a day, which works out great work people with changing work hours. Combined with the information you have available anywhere, the benefits are welcome for anyone.

Recently I took it upon myself to take a class with O'reilly School of Technology, which is part of the O'reilly book publishing company (the animal tech book publisher). The class I enrolled with is the first Linux/UNIX class for their System Administration certificate. The class focuses on the file system which includes user/group administration, cron jobs, hard and soft links, plus more. It's a general overview of the system, but not too in depth as there are three other classes (four classes are required to complete the certificate).

From the start, you work the entire classroom from a web page, which includes accessing the lab server and the lessons. This makes it very handy as you can access your class from any computer with a web browser. Here I tested mostly Google's Chrome on Windows and Mac which no problems. The lab access while handy, does cost an additional monthly fee but going with this during a normal pace you should be done within two months of light weekend work. On the side note, you can also complete the work without the lab but the work will be harder to present to the course instructor.

When you login to your virtual classroom, you are presented with the following as seen below. You have a file explorer on the left side. Followed by the class lessons and reading in the middle, then on the right is the reading page. Below is the console login for your lab host. The simple method of presenting information worked well but I did noticed from all networks that I connected to, there was a delay in working with the lab console. Also a big plus is the lack of any Adobe Flash on the site, a huge thanks!

The work is typically as follows. You are presented with a small chapter of information on a subject, which includes steps how you can do this in your lab console. Then you have a few assignments where you complete the work by either providing proof to the instructor (edit a file on X host) or by answering the question correctly. Then you are presented with a quiz, in a similar manner. It should be noted that none of these questions are multiple choice, and they are graded by a actual human. 

After you submit the homework and quiz, the turn around time for the corrections is about 24~48 hours, but I saw much faster times especially during the weekdays. If you're answers are correct, then you move on to the next step but if they are incorrect, the points where you are incorrect are marked and notes are provided why. It's important to note that the questions do not change as far as I know. This means that if you fail the question on the first time, when you return to answer the question, it's the same. 

The total amount of time to complete the class was about a month for myself, and that was taking my time, working on it as I wanted. For someone who was more focused, I'm sure this class could be done in a week, but I'm not sure just how fast the turn around for corrections could be completed.

The biggest question I had before attending this class is the pricing and what I would get from this. I personally dislike on-line classes, and I have taken classes from physical fitness, IT and math based subjects. All of them I felt lacked personal interaction and you mostly received generic answers and replies from the instructor. Also the lack of working with peers in the class also makes it more difficult to interact with other students for additional help or studying outside of the classroom. 

With the O'reilly school, I felt that it was a good amount of information and the interaction was much better. While the subject matter felt less than what I expected I did learn from the assignments and also it forced me to really think about my answer since it wasn't just answering a random multiple choice quiz at the end. The depth of knowledge required for this class was entry level into the world of Linux/UNIX and I feel like it was a slightly below my skill level but I still came away with some details I didn't know. 

Now if you are more focused on your own studying and can follow along in a book, this might not be the best value for you. You can find books and other learning materials available either free or for under $50 that offer much more information. But the big difference is that instead of working by yourself, you have someone to correct and assist in the labs with O'reilly. This doesn't sound like much but for some (especially myself) the contact with a instructor was extremely helpful. This also helps get you working harder and staying towards your goal since it's a live person you are working with, assigned to you. 

From my experience with this first class in the series, I am not sure I would continue with the other four classes. This is mostly based upon a few factors, one is the cost (at current pricing they are $400 per class plus lab time) and the other is subject matter. I'm currently focusing to complete my LPIC-1 certification this summer and the  classes offered by O'reilly while complete do not fully match the requirements of the exam. Also I want to further go into scripting and small amount of Python.

Personally I would recommend anyone who is interested in the O'reilly school to take advantage of the trial service which gives you limited access to the classes within seven days. If you don't like it, you can get a money back refund, but only if you do not go further than a set amount of lessons. Read the fine print before going too far in the class work as I heard it's something like 5 assignments (about two hours of work). 


John Alex said...

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Unknown said...

Thanks for the review, Rob. $400 is a lot of bread, and now I can make a more informed decision.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review, Rob. $400 is a lot of bread, and now I can make a more informed decision.

Zac said...

I have had a miserable experience with the O'Reilly School since Day 1. The courses are comparable to every course you see on Udemy or Lynda, only 20 times the price. They have a lot of hidden things in their "Enrollment Agreement" that you will need to watch out for. You will also be liable for outrageous "lab fees", which you cannot take the course without. I believe they are around $60 and you have a limited time frame to complete the course or you are withdrawn and you have to re-pay the $498. All around awful experience.