I’ve taught on-ground, blended (on-ground and online), and fully online courses at three universities over the past 30 years. I knew the differences in the type and amount of work that each approach meant for the teacher but not until I experienced online education as a student did I fully understand online learning from the student’s perspective.
Changing with the Times
I started my doctorate in a fully on-ground program. I completed about 90 percent of the coursework when, for life reasons, I had to put things on hold. Several years later, when I explored re-enrolling in order to complete the degree, I learned that the program was restructured and had moved from the school’s business department to the engineering department. I knew immediately that what was being offered wouldn’t work for me. The program chair suggested that I look into finishing the degree at another school that he knew to have accepted the credits of other students who were in a similar situation. “But,” he cautioned, “you’ll have to do it online.”
OK, how much did I really want to finish the doctorate that I had already put so much time and energy into? The answer was clear, so I transferred the credits and charged ahead to a learning experience that was much more than my field of study or my dissertation. I learned first-hand the realities of online education.
Most important, I learned that I had to be really disciplined about managing my time, while making sure that I still gave 100 percent to my “day job” and another 100 percent to my family. A friend and mentor who had recently completed his doctorate suggested that I get a cooking timer. I wasn’t sure what that was but found myself asking for it on my next visit to Macy’s. I bought the timer, a powder blue little device that sported Martha Stewart branding and cost just $6.99. I kept it on the desk in my home office—the place where most of the work for my doctorate happened. On my friend’s advice I would select an amount of time that I was willing to devote to my doctorate at that moment. Sometimes it was 30 minutes, but it was usually 60 minutes per session. This time was “sacred” which meant no interruptions. No phone calls (I actually put the phone in another room—that’s also why I couldn’t use the timer on the phone). No mind distractions … but knowing that my mind wouldn’t always cooperate with that rule, I kept a small notebook on the corner of my desk so that I could quickly jot down things to address later. My family was totally onboard and supportive of my sacred time. I “borrowed” a “Do Not Disturb” sign from a hotel I had stayed at and put it to good use on the door of my home office. Everyone knew that to interrupt me when that sign was on the doorknob, the house had better be burning!
Time to Celebrate
Needless to say, I survived (and my family did, too). I proudly walked onto the stage at commencement enriched in many ways, including those well beyond my field of study.