Embracing Adventure “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” ~~Hellen Keller

My First Semester of Grad School & First Distance Education Classes

Einstein on Research

My first semester of grad school at Bowie State University/UMUC-Europe was in the fall of 2012, and I enrolled in the first session for Appraisal, Assessment, and Evaluation (AAE) and Introduction to Research, both distance education classes. Although I recall having a hybrid class that had both onsite and online components when I did my post-secondary options philosophy class while I was high school, this was my first time having classes that were exclusively online. I know some think distance education is easy because you don’t actually have to show up to a class. While it was easier in terms of being able to do things at my own pace on my own time and not having to sit through a class when I’d already read the material, it was harder in terms of the quantity of information I had to read and process on my own (one week had eight chapters between the two classes, and typically I had at least four) and the number of assignments.

Since we didn’t have the opportunity to have in-class discussions, written discussion was required. In AAE, this meant writing a post on each chapter which started at a minimum of 250 words and increased to a minimum of 500 words later and had to include an introduction, a summary of the important points of the chapter, and my thoughts on the text. For the research class, usually I had to answer about three questions which often included the need to research or come up with social problems. Both required responding to other students’ posts, although one required at least two responses, and the other said to use our best judgement. In the first class, I ended up writing 29053 words just in the class discussions and 13115 in the other. I only know this because UMUC-Europe’s WebTycho platform keeps track of conference participation including a running word count.

In addition to the class discussion, there were, of course, assignments. AAE had a couple of papers and a group powerpoint presentation. Of that my favorite was the paper in which I had to complete a formal diagnostic assessment and formulate a treatment plan. The research class had one paper, a research proposal. One had a final exam while the other had a midterm and final. While that might look easy written out, I quickly saw the pitfall. Fewer assignments meant each assignment was worth more of the total grade. In one class, there was only a hundred total points, while the other had only slightly more. That didn’t leave much room for error.

Speaking of stress, if you followed Photo a Day August 15th-21st, you may recall me being a bit stressed that this textbook didn’t arrive until the day class started.

My husband didn’t really get why I was bothered by missing four points on my midterm in one of the classes. In addition to the fact I’d had to do a similar assignment in the conferences and hadn’t been told I hadn’t been on target then, it bothered me to miss the mark because those four little points were a full four percent of my grade. After that exam, the best case score for me was a 96 which meant if I missed more than 6 more points anywhere else in the semester I would not get an A. Every time one of the main assignments was due, I was somewhat stressed as to whether I was going to pull it off.

Despite the stress, I enjoyed the semester, although I liked one class more than the other. I also questioned the wisdom of choosing these two classes first a few times (although my options that didn’t require prereqs were slim as it was, so I don’t know that my other options would have been better) mostly because a few of the assignments would have been easier if I had more of a background to work from, but I managed well enough and earned an A in each class. In general, I think these two classes were a good pair to take together because a lot of the information overlapped, which made whichever reading or assignment I did second easier in those cases, and I think the repetition helped the concepts sink in. Overall, I’m happy with the way my first semester went and enjoyed the challenge of grad school with the flexibility that distance education provided.

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