I had a lot of fun participating in round two of #HLSDITL project. It’s been a crazy week, but most of my weeks are simply by nature of my life. I currently work two-part time jobs while going to school online. The part-time job cobbling will be ending soon since I’ll be starting a very cool new full-time spot soon. The online craziness, however, won’t end. I’ve seen a lot of discussion recently about online programs and how some people don’t think they’re as good as on-site programs, some employers don’t want to hire graduates from there, so on and so forth. So to wrap up this week I thought I might pontificate a little on my online program experience and probably ramble a bit about my general life experience.
So, here’s the deal. My MLIS is actually my second masters degree. I did an on-site MA in English Literature at UNCG between 2006 and 2008. I had the luxury at that time of being close enough to a university that I could easily attend night classes with fairly affordable tuition while still teaching high school full-time. I won’t lie, it was tough. I spent a lot of hours in the library and in a local coffee shop trying to juggle graduate work and a full-time job. One of the university librarians at one point jokingly asked me if I just wanted to set up a cot because I was there so often. Working full-time(either one job or two) and finding time to be in class and in the library required some special finagling but I’m glad I was able to do it. I loved the courses I took. Many of them were small(one class only had four of us, it was awesome) and the discussions were always lively. Especially the early modern ones. Oh man, are there some hilarious and ridiculously inappropriate stories I could tell you. I benefited greatly from being able to swing by campus and harass my advisor(Catherine Loomis was one of the best professors I have ever known). So yes, as an academic who loves to run my mouth, I adore on-site classes. As a teacher, I adore on-site classes. I think they’re awesome and can result in a lot of great opportunities for students to form connections with instructors and other students.
So, you’re probably thinking, “If you’re such a fangirl of on-site programs, why are you doing taking classes online?” Because I have to. Which, from what I’ve seen, is the reason a lot of students do online programs. For the last three years I’ve worked part-time at a public library and taught residentially/online. This means for the last three years I’ve had a schedule that tends to flex every few months and often includes working nights. The only ALA Accredited MLIS program near me is Dominican. I couldn’t afford to move and I couldn’t afford Dominican. So it was online or nothing. I got into all the schools I applied to, but I chose UW-Milwaukee because it’s close enough that I can still go to campus if I wanted to for a special occasion, like orientation or the Student Research Day. I like the idea of being able to go to campus, even if it’s only a couple of times during my program.
The complaint that I’ve seen about online programs recently is that people seem to think they aren’t rigorous enough, that online students somehow aren’t getting as good of an education as on-site students. That is, to be perfectly frank, a load of crap. Going to school online is more convenient and flexible than on-site, but it’s not what I would consider easier. It takes an incredible amount of self-dedication and motivation to keep up with online classes when it is oh so easy to get distracted by a million different things. Do I find my MLIS as intellectually stimulating as my MA? No. But that’s because my MLIS is a practical degree that is significantly more concerned with practice than theory. Which is good, because the practical is what I need to be better at my job. If you’re talking to someone and they say they got nothing out of their online program, I think that says a lot more about the student than the program. Education is not a passive experience. A lot of what you get out of it is what you put into it. If you think your degree is worthless, then in my opinion, you’re probably kind of a crappy student(Let the hate mail commence). You don’t feel you’re being challenged in your courses, take on my challenging topics. Do more independent research. Ask more questions. Engage in more discussion. There are, in fact, things that we can do as students to make our programs better. Do I have issues with UWM’s program and some of its instructors? Yes. Quite frankly, there are a couple of instructors that I think shouldn’t be allowed to teach. EVER. I say that more as an instructor than a student. But I’m still trying to take something away from those courses because it’s MY education.
I think the deeper issue that we need to look at isn’t whether on-site or online is better. We need to look at making the entire MLIS program(every one of them across the country) into better programs. Yes, schools have ALA-Accreditation. But what does that really mean? And when was the last time those standards were reviewed and updated? I’m tired of listening to everyone kvetch about their programs without offering any solutions for improvement. Let’s brainstorm instead of bitch. Let’s be the action that pushes for change. If we aren’t satisfied with what programs are offering, then let’s work to make sure that the system is better for future students.