April 2023

Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting A Distance Learning Program teaser image

Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting A Distance Learning Program

Fatima Shami

LIMITED TIME: There are only 24 hours in a day. It depends on you what you do with them. When you add an online program on top of everything else, something will have to be compensated for it could be your work or personal life or other pertinent things that occupy your time. 

BE FLEXIBLE: Sometimes you have to focus on things other than school that are more important in the moment and as time is limited school will not turn out perfect. You might end up being exhausted during a test or not have enough time to study. If you have had a perfect record of reading every optional paper you are pulling that time from somewhere, this is a time balance.

INTERNET AND RECORDING ISSUES: This is very real in any online program. You might have an internet connection or computer problem. Once I drenched my laptop in coffee in the middle of class and had to drop off. On the other side Professors do try their best to support their students but I have seen some of the best professors mess up a recording and have to rerecord or give additional instructions to online students to compensate. There are also sound issues due to the microphone not being in the correct location or the battery dying. If the instructor can hear you, speak up or text them so they can resolve the situation ASAP. You will save the day for a lot of students.

SPEAK UP: There is a saying out of sight out of mind. Online education is still new and some instructors might not realize that half of the class is online. Send emails, try to make it to office hours if you can and questions in live classes. 

YOU WILL GET WHAT YOU PUT INTO IT: This holds true for everything you do in life. Cs do get degrees. Opening your mind to new information and making the most out of this opportunity. When I was in my undergrad, I did have that drive to do the best I can my whole future depended on it. But now as an online student I already have a job that pays the bills. Make sure what you're going to study interests and excites you, otherwise you won’t retain much of it. 

YOU CAN STILL MAKE CONNECTIONS: There are usually some group projects no matter how much you despise them. Ask your teammates where they live and if they are interested in connecting with you. Most online students live in their education bubbles, be the one to reach out you might just create a new professional relationship or a lifelong friend or both. I have meet a lot of amazing people in grad school.

HAVE A PLANNER: I have woken up on days completely forgetting I slept through my class. My homework, lectures and exams share the same calendar as my work and personal life events. It all happens at the same time. I try to avoid having booking a site visit or important meeting over my midterms. There are also times I have taken vacation days to study for finals. 

ONLINE EXAM PROCTORING: Before starting an online program, I had no idea how I would be tested on my knowledge retention. I thought it was going to be lots of papers and projects, but I was wrong. I have had everything from presentations to video recordings, to closed book closed note exams where you have to flash your driver's license to confirm it’s really you. To completely greyed out multi-screens except for one, instructors requiring two cameras, one on my work space and the other on my face. I have digitally received extra time without even knowing I had it. I have also texted my instructor for 5 minutes straight during an exam. Prior to this experience I have always sat in some kind of an exam center or classroom so being on my own alone in the room stressing about the exam in front of me is a very different experience. I am pretty sure at least one of my professors has watched me pick my nose during the exam because subconsciously I still don't think that I am being watched when I have an exam. It’s a very unique experience you have to try it for yourself.

ASYNCHRONOUS AND SYNCHRONOUS CLASSES: If you have been passively reading this article, now is the time to pay attention!!!! Not all online classes are the same check before signing up for the class and learn what the time expectations are. Asynchronous classes are classes where you could watch the recordings on your time. Synchronous classes, though delivered online, require you to be available during the class time to participate. Check with your professors and make sure you are comfortable with the class option before you commit to it because if you can’t make it you might end up having to drop the class or with an undesired grade. 

ENJOY THE JOURNEY: Today you might be reading this to get a better understanding of being an online student but before you know it, you would be ready to graduate. You are picking this ride for yourself so make sure to enjoy the process.

BONUS: Find something to hold onto when you're feeling down and out. For me it's Reveille. I have her pictures and also my A&M keychain. One of my friends has an old mortar cap. It could be a saying that you hold close or post nominals letters that get added to your name. Whatever becomes your source of comfort and help to get through your degree. 

About the Author

image of author Fatima Shami

Fatima Shami

Fatima Shami is an Operations Engineer and Consultant with 12 years of experience. She holds a bachelor's in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Mexico and is currently working on her Master's in Safety Engineering with an emphasis on aviation and industry. In her spare time, she enjoys flying as a GA pilot and cycling. She is also the Student Liaison for the Houston 99s Chapter, where she guides student pilots and puts out a quarterly newsletter called the 'Clippers Incident Report'

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