The pursuit of education is becoming more and more accessible, especially with the opportunity to conduct classes online. Virtual classes through online program managers (OPMs) or homegrown online programs allow for students to pursue a number of degrees without having to see campus, past graduation day. For some, online education is a dream come true; others, however, believe that online coursework diminishes the educational experience. Talks of "my degree is better because I went to school on-campus" versus "my degree was more convenient to pursue because I went to school online" rage in Facebook groups and water cooler chats. Now that the recent COVID-19 pandemic has sequestered people in their homes, forced colleges and universities to send students home--and obligated learners to continue their matriculation online, there are mixed feelings abound. How can one get a full learning experience online? What will I do with a lack of access to certain resources? When will things be back to normal? The challenge faced by schools and learners: keeping the momentum when faced with unexpected changes.
Online learning has had its fair share of ups and downs. I remember the first time my professor told me to use Blackboard to submit an assignment... and being completely befuddled by the idea. Why can't I just email it? or What if the internet stops working? were but a few of my concerns. After a while, I thought it a fad of sorts--then again, most thought the internet was a fad, too. Fast forward a few years, I find myself in a completely online graduate school program: a Master's in Higher Education with Capella University. Instead of asking how my work would get done, I questioned the validity of a degree from an online program. All my friends were on-campus, at big name schools with resources I couldn't fathom. Assistantships and office hours and cohorts: oh my! Meanwhile, I had to post thoughts twice a week into a proverbial black hole of inquiry. The idea of online education then became one of the "haves versus the have nots" - and constantly fighting to prove that, despite the reputation, my online education has left me as educated and prepared as the on-campus equivalent. Online education has evolved vastly and the top schools around the globe are active participants... but that reputation still lingers.
Engaging in educational spaces, the argument that follows this question is quite fiery: "what degree is better, an on-campus or online one?" Now that all of us find ourselves online, my question: how do we make the most of this experience? First and foremost: embrace this change. When it comes to global pandemics, it proves difficult to try and project when students will return to their traditional campuses. Instead, learners and teachers have the common denominator present: do the best you can to garner the outcomes set at the beginning of the year. Next, make the most of the resources available. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Suite--and even Blackboard, for the detractors--allow for educational opportunity to spread, from campus to city to country to continent. Finally, and I think most pertinent: continue to be inspired and motivated. Grit is one of our favorite words in the higher education sphere; no better time than now to show it off. Finding that intrinsic motivation to combat the external circumstances inflicted upon us will be what separates successful transitions from difficult ones. The previous lines in the sand that divided on-campus and online students have been washed away by the wave that is 2020 thus far. When it comes to humanity versus Coronavirus, killer bees, late spring snowstorms and the like: how you received your graduate education is not high on my priority list.
Adjusting to online learning can be challenging, especially when unforeseen and not planned for. Between in-person conversations with advisors, recurring meetings with cohort members, access to physical resources and other qualities, learners have every right to feel gypped. However, with no particular end in site to this pandemic, the opportunity to continue towards our educational goals is one that we should not shirk. As students would on-campus: utilize those support systems, make the best of your resources, connect with your classmates and colleagues. Just... close your Instagram and Reddit tabs first.
Author: Suraju Jolaoso (he/him/his, they/them/theirs) is a doctoral student with Baylor University's online Ed.D. program in Learning and Organizational Change. Suraju also works as a student success advisor for online graduate students with 2U. When not in school or working, Suraju is known for a good conversation at any random time. Suraju can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @sojolaoso.