For this student, it's all about the sauce

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

"Free online university classes!"

Sounds great, right? Well, maybe. But anyone wanting a red-hot deal on a university education might do well to weigh whether "free," next to "university," sounds perhaps too good to be true.

Just ask James Schriner.

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"I took an online fiction writing course from an unaccredited online university that was a disaster," says Mr. Schriner, an Orlando resident and retired professor. "You check in and begin the class, then they say - three weeks later - 'Oh, by the way, you need this text-book,' " he groans. "By then they've got you hooked and you've got to buy."

But while there is often abuse, there is also the potential for real learning.

"We believe [company] brands can be a great teacher," says Seppy Basili, vice president for content at LearningBrands.com in Westwood, Mass., which custom tailors corporate brand information for online courses. "It can be just like a great teacher you had in school."

Perhaps so. After his initial sour experience, Mr. Schriner is as pleased as can be with the free "Classic Tomato Sauces" cooking class he just took online from Cook's University - a new online offering from "Cook's Illustrated," which doesn't accept advertising and bills itself as "the consumer reports of cooking."

"I learned how to make two kinds of tomato sauce," Schriner says. "They're doing a very good job of it." So he signed up for a $39.95 four-week class (textbook included) titled: "Everyday Saut." Only the introductory "sauces" course is free.

"Some sites are selling cooking classes but their real idea is to sell a product or magazine," says Barbara Bourassa, Cook's Illustrated's managing editor.

She admits Cook's Illustrated hopes future students will subscribe. But the central point is to educate while making a profit, she says.

"We've tested everything and feel our educational material is very objective," she says. "We are uniquely positioned to be like a university."

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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