Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reflections on an Online Master's Degree - The Good Stuff!

In November 2010 I completed a master’s degree in Educational Technology Leadership after 18 months of course work entirely online. I had taken isolated online classes in the past for professional development or to work toward additional teaching certifications and enjoyed learning in that manner, so when an opportunity for advancing my education this way came along, I took advantage of it.

There were definitely positive aspects to obtaining a degree this way.

Due to the way my particular program was structured, the courses were delivered “one-at-a-time” and each course lasted for five weeks. As a working adult it was definitely a plus to be able to focus on one course at a time. Each course also followed a predicable rhythm with weekly readings, required discussion board postings, and assignment due dates that kept me on a reasonable schedule and helped me to not fall behind. I found out that five weeks can go incredibly fast when the topic is of high interest OR there is a major project incorporated into the course.

(By the way, they aren’t misleading you when they say you’ll spend a minimum of ten hours a week on your coursework. Most weeks I spent ten to fifteen hours completing all of the course requirements for the week. There were occasional weeks when it was twenty or more hours.)

Occasionally there were web conferences where we could login to talk with the professor and our fellow students. In most cases we were not required to attend the conferences, but they were helpful for clarification on assignments or projects. The web conferences were recorded about 50% of the time, so even if we missed them, we could access the information at a later time. Other than the live web conferences, I was able to work on all of the course requirements – watching recorded lectures and completing assignments and readings – whenever I wanted to as long as I met all of the deadlines.

I appreciated that the degree was aimed at working educators and to that end a large number of the assignments were designed to be directly applicable in K-12 education. Examples that jump to my mind are an Instructional Design class where the major project was developing an online course for students or teachers or in a Leadership for Accountability class performing a comprehensive needs assessment for a campus and designing a staff development experience which would target an area where improvement was needed.

Group projects were another enjoyable aspect of the online experience. In two classes, we had major projects spread over several weeks that had to be completed with classmates who were spread far and wide geographically. My knowledge and skills in using online chat clients and collaborative spaces such as wikis and Google Docs and Sites grew tremendously through completing these projects. I was also always fortunate to work with dedicated group members who all did their part to contribute to the projects.

When I had questions about any aspect of a course, I was able to email the instructional associate (IA) assigned to my course. This was not the course professor, but someone who acted as a liaison between students and professors. If the IA could answer my question, they would, or they would pass the question along to the professor if clarification was needed from that level. The IAs also graded our assignments. It was nice to have access to someone who could answer our questions quickly, always within 24 hours at the most but more often within only a few hours.

Overall, I am glad I completed this degree online and I definitely see where I have grown professionally as a result of completing it. My perspectives on education and educational technology have been broadened. My interest in online teaching has also been piqued, and as a result I hope to find ways to facilitate online professional development courses for educators in the near future.

Of course, no experience is perfect. In an upcoming blog post, I’ll share a few things about my online degree experience that I would improve, if I were in charge of the world. :-)

Have you completed college coursework at any level online? What did you enjoy about it? Please share your experiences in the comments, or blog about them and share a link!

If you found this post interesting, you may also want to read my March 11, 2011 follow-up post: Reflections on an Online Master's Degree - The Stuff That Could Have Been Better
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