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June 30, 2004
 Student View


Long distance feeling

Katie Norman
Katie Norman

The thought of school conjures up images of blackboards, desks, pencils and pens. Classrooms, or lecture halls to the “academically elite” are the core of learning. At least they were in my mind until recently. All my institutionalized learning has taken place in such rooms. This spring I broke down the third wall so to speak and experienced a whole new form of learning. Naturally many of life’s lessons are learned in the home; I was just not accustomed to earning credits in my home. Some people swear by distance courses; a friend of mine who consistently takes five distance courses each term comes to mind. The logic behind this is simply that for some people, making it to class and campus or rather not making it to class and campus is too much of an ordeal. Not something that I understand but something that can be avoided if you sign up for a correspondence or Web based course.

There is a level of uncertainty with distance courses. Some people have pet peeves. One of mine is being unorganized with my time. Sure sweaters and cords can pile up in my bedroom with not the slightest amount of stress falling on my shoulders, but if I wake up to an unplanned day the uncertainty stresses me out. I like knowing that when I get up I have class at nine or eleven or what have you. When I make a commitment by signing up for a course I feel guilty when I don’t show up. The problem is that distance courses don’t offer you class times. There was no designated slot on my calendar to go to the political science wing and listen to lectures from a Power Point presentation. In fact there is no PowerPoint presentation at all, only a large course handbook and a few small texts. When faced with the beginning of this course I felt overwhelmed and afraid that I wouldn’t put the work in because it was not predetermined for me to do so.

Naturally this type of problem leads one to begin to think about time management. The outline for my course is so detailed that it breaks down when you need to read which chapters, books and articles. This is something that is rarely found on the standard one page course syllabus of an on-campus course. I decided to follow it. (Yeah I know how brilliant of me). However after a few weeks I fell behind as the course came second to work and lazing around. Luckily, unlike during a regular term, there were no other papers to write or courses to worry about so completing the readings meant only having to spend a few hours on the couch with a neon pink highlighter in hand. If anyone considers doing a distance course, the most important thing is to manage your time so that you can teach yourself the material within a reasonable time period.

Distance courses may seem to bog you down in time management tasks but ultimately they are very convenient. They allow students to make work or volunteering a priority and then fit in study time between shifts instead of trying to fit work around class times as is the norm from September to April for many students. This course in Newfoundland Politics allows me to work full time and gain a few extra credit hours at the same time. The hassle of commuting to campus daily is also a non-existent worry when you move the classroom into your family room.

The strangest thing about a distance course is the lack of handwritten lecture notes. A self-confessed note-a-holic I consider my course notes the most essential learning device I own. Without lectures to guide the important topics of the course, I find myself having to analyze the readings on my own; making decisions about the thesis of the article and summarizing my own points and conclusions. This is not necessarily a disadvantage: without someone telling me what the main points are I feel freer to draw my own conclusions and more independent in those conclusions.

The freedom that a distance course offers is equally matched with anxiety. I am unsure of exam formats and key points. I have to rely more on my own abilities that having someone reassure me with exam discussions prior to test day. Distance courses do offer their share of anxiety; anxiety I am experiencing currently. Talking to other students taking the course has curbed this anxiety. Networking with my peers has revealed similar uneasiness in them, something which is oddly reassuring. My need to talk to others about the material reveals the institutionalized nature of all my other learning experiences. I have to compare my learning with others, I need to discuss and analyze topic with other people, not just with my notebook.

While I sit at home, wishing I could be outside in the sunshine, studying for my midterm, I feel more independent in my learning. I have experienced a whole new type of post-secondary education. I am educating myself in a way that normal on-campus courses cannot allow for. I recommend distance courses, for the sheer reason that you get to test yourself and your own learning abilities. It is a pretty cool feeling. Hopefully my term mark will back up that optimism.


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Next issue: July 22, 2004

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