Monday, February 1, 2010

what i've been up to when i wasn't here

You know how sometimes you put off doing something because it makes you really, really nervous? And then you finally bite the bullet and, hey! It's not so bad! You can't figure out why you put it off for so long to begin with? You should have been doing this all along! Your life is changed in so many wonderful ways!

Taking college classes online? Not one of those things. For me, anyway.

I really thought that I would struggle with online classes. I like to have a flesh-and-blood teacher who can answer all my questions. I like to sit in class and take notes that I never look at again. The simple act of writing what I am hearing and seeing helps me remember. The idea of not having that scared the tar out of me. How would I learn anything?

I have a couple of problems with the face-to-face classes, though. My husband works a ridiculous amount of hours and has a completely unpredictable schedule. He sometimes does not get home until 9 PM; sometimes he works nights. I can't make plans to do anything on one evening a week beforehand, let alone multiple nights over the course of two months. Paying for someone to watch the kids is pricey and just not in the budget. It's not a convenient time for night classes right now.

In addition, I am a mom to four kids: Two of them are school age, one is a new toddler, and the other is a hell-on-wheels pre-schooler. (I love him, but it's true!) A lot of people think that having kids gets easier once they go to school; after all, they are gone six to eight hours out of the day. How hard can it be? To those people I have a few words of warning: Homework. Band. Yearbook. Homework. Friends. Homework. Teacher conferences. Did I mention homework yet? And even if that were true, I do have the little ones all day anyway. So, yeah. Free time? Not so much.

Anyway. The point is that face-to-face classes just aren't an option for me right now; however, I really want to finish my degree! I think we can all agree that it is obvious that I have to figure out a different path or put my plan on hold. Enter: online classes. I was going to have to get over the fear.

The truth is, it wasn't that bad. I was most scared of the coursework; I didn't need to be. It was easy enough once I got used to the formats of the online classrooms. (Two classes; two different formats. Somehow, I did not see that coming.) I had my books, I had my online reading, and I had weekly assignments. It was relatively organized, really. The problem that I never considered was the interaction level with the other students.

When I take a class I like to really discuss things. I like to debate. I like listening to the viewpoints of the other students. It's another form of learning and I get something more than just knowledge out of it. Each student in the class has had a completely different life; it only makes sense that we would all see the world through different eyes. The neatest classroom moments for me are the ones when someone says something about their point of view and it becomes clear to me why they see it that way. Not that I change my mind, you understand; just that I can see where they are coming from when I couldn't before. I think that is one of the most important aspects of schooling; if not the most important.

It never occurred to me that there wouldn't be a good interaction level online. Had you asked me, I probably would have said that it would be better than face-to-face. Boy, would I have been wrong! The people in my classes weren't interested in learning for the sake of learning. They just wanted to check off a box on their transcripts. Most of them dialed in the effort--and it showed. People turned in their individual assignments and then everyone would post under them "Hey, great job!" in order to get their participation points. There was no debate to speak of--and there could have been great debate! It was so frustrating for me.

I can certainly respect that some people just aren't interested in certain topics. I also understand that a lot of people dial in the effort in a face-to-face class too. I just don't see a lot of discussions going on in a regular classroom where one student says, "Well, I think this" and then everyone else in the room says, "Oh yeah! Me too. I think that exact same thing." Had the same people been in a "real" classroom setting, I think things would have gone very differently.

If it is the only, best option that someone has I think that earning an online degree is not a terrible thing, but I can tell you that I won't be returning to an online setting. Luckily for me, I have the option to wait a year or two and then go back once the youngest is in pre-school. We may also be in a better place a few months from now; there's no telling what kind of job Jason might get. It's possible that he could get a steadier schedule, which would allow me the flexibility to take a class here and there. One can hope, anyway.

For now, I'm just glad it's over.

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