I am almost near the end of my Masters program and after the end of this semester, I will have only 3 credits left towards my final project, after which I will receive my degree. During the course of this masters program, the only class I had that was a face to face class, was a public policy class called Organizational Theory and Behavior, which my advisor at the time had thought would be useful to me.
Taking online classes had been a new experience and the very first online class I took was with a professor who was very obviously a professor who preferred taking face-to-face classes. I learnt from this class that without the physical classroom, the teaching tools used in a physical classroom proved quite ineffective in a purely online setting. The professor would have slides prepared and would drone on for 2 hours about the topic, leaving no time for discussion or deliberation. Then he would assign a chapter for analysis and a paper to be written on the subject matter. It was taught like it was in a traditional setting classroom.
On the flipside however, last semester, I took two classes on research fundamentals. One was called ‘Developing and Writing Literature Reviews’ and the other one was called ‘Fundamentals of Research’ and they were both taught by the same professor. What’s more, they were back to back 2 hour classes (4 hours in the same spot with the same professor). I had resigned myself to a semester of boring and heavy topics and droning lectures about research. For the first class, I made myself a giant cup of coffee before sitting down and I was sure I was going to need a lot more before the second class of the evening.
However, I was very wrong. This professor succeeded in taking the two most boring courses from my Masters program, and turning them into an absolute delight to study. He was a young professor and was not unaware of how often his subject of choice was turned boring by the professor. He also had studied how to best conduct courses that were purely online. He understood the need to create a sense of community among the learners and in his blackboard sessions, he would always insist (whenever possible) that everyone speak to each other using not just the mic, but also the video. He would allocate the first 15 minutes of every class for everyone to fill each other in on their weeks and just in general, mingle. And that was just what we needed. We began developing friendships in the class and hesitated less before speaking up. The sense of community that was created was so strong that we were able share a good deal about our personal lives with each other (one woman had a baby and brought her newborn on camera for us to see; another woman shared with us her grief when her assistant committed suicide). Not only was that sense of community a hugely important aspect of the class, but it also brought out a greater sense of learning and understanding among the students. We guided each other and facilitated conversations that were reminiscent of face-to-face group discussions in class. Mike Meuller is a great professor who really knew how to teach online classes.
Personally, from taking so many online classes, I have learnt of some patterns in my own learning. I learnt that without the pressure of a regular timed class each week, I easily procrastinate the work I need to do. For me, nothing motivates more than the pressure of a deadline (occupational hazard as a journalist). However, I also learnt that I truly enjoy the flexibility of having online classes because I am able to juggle different things at once and can then study according to my flexibility.
In the past, I have attempted to take a course or two on sites like Skillshare or Coursera or iUniversity. However, I learnt early on that there needs to be a motivating factor for one to learn, or it takes a lifetime before they do. I would often sign up for a course, but when other aspects of my life would take precedence, I would drop out thinking, “well, I’m not losing anything in the process”. I would always promise myself I would go back and make time to take course. However, it never did happen. Taking online courses as a degree-seeking student is way different from that because there is a lot to lose if you just drop out. You lose out on tuition and GPA in the process. As a result, I have found that online classes can be effective, if there is a driving motivator behind taking the class. This is probably true of any kind of learning/education.