Online Classes: A Non-Love Story

by Alison Glass

So here’s the deal, HLS friends: despite the fact that I am a documented introvert, I like to do my learning in an actual classroom.  I know that many library school programs are online, and that this format is convenient for people who don’t want to leave good jobs, or who can’t pick up and move to a new location, or who have to take care of their families.  There have even been several Hack Library School posts in support of online education.  But I made the decision to leave my job and move to a new place and go to school full-time because I wanted the experience of an on-campus program.

So what, exactly, is the problem?  Well, there are many things I love about my library school program.  However, enrollment in my specialization is small, and many of those who are enrolled choose the distance program; as a result, the majority of our classes are online.  Last semester, I took only core classes, so this semester is my first experience with online courses.  And I am going a little bit crazy.

For one thing, I’ve mentioned before that I am a procrastinator by nature.  While I am working to be better about this, the fact of the matter is that I tend to put off working on things until the last minute.  With two online classes this semester which both have modules that end on Sunday nights, a lot of work gets left to do on the weekends (this also makes me feel like there’s no real ‘break’ in the week from work and classes).

For another thing, I do, actually, like talking to and interacting with my classmates and professors; this is much harder when two thirds of your classes take place in the virtual world rather than the actual one.  I find class discussions valuable (even if I don’t love to participate in them), and I don’t think online discussion boards provide the same experience.  Additionally, it’s much easier for me to pay attention to a professor who is actually in the same room as me; when I’m listening to an online lecture, I’m tempted to do other things on the computer instead of giving the class my full attention.

I also miss the social aspect of learning; I spent last semester building new relationships with classmates through group projects, class activities, and casual social interactions, and now I feel like I rarely see them, because we all lead busy lives, and now we don’t have campus classes to bring us together each week.

So, what can I do to make the most of this educational experience?  Well, here is this campus girl’s guide to surviving online classes:

Make a schedule.

Campus classes normally last about 3 hours.  I’ve started blocking out a 3-hour chunk of time each week for each of my online classes.  During this time, I close out all of my other computer programs, put my phone away, turn off the television, and devote all of my attention to the class.  Sometimes I finish early, and sometimes there’s a little more to be done, but after that three hours, I’m done for the day.  (Obviously, homework and project assignments require time outside of this block.)

Make friends with the other campus students in your online class.

I’ve been lucky to have one or two fellow campus students in my online courses.  When the time comes to work on group projects, we make a point to work together; this is a good way to incorporate some of the social aspects of learning back into online courses.

Get involved in extracurricular activities.

Outside activities are a great way to pursue different interests and maybe even add something useful to your resume.  They are also a good way to make sure you actually get to talk to people, and don’t end up having increasingly random conversations with your cat (not that that’s happened to me…).

Unplug. 

Like many people, my job as a graduate assistant requires me to spend most of my time at a computer.  Add to that the time I need to put in for online classes, and I am spending a LOT of hours each week in front of a screen.  It’s important to take a break – read a book for fun, go to a Zumba class, meet a friend for coffee – so that I don’t end up with a hunchback and astigmatism.

Like I said before, I am not trying to bash online education – I know it’s a great option for a lot of people.  For me, however, it isn’t ideal; since it is my reality, though, I want to make the most of it, and so far these are the solutions I’ve found.