Last week, I kicked off this series by putting the GSLIS online archives cohort on the map-virtually and geographically. Now that I’ve discussed where and who we are, I want to turn to the question of how, exactly, one goes to school online. What can be done to create a sense of community among classmates in different places, or to create a sense of proximity to a campus on the other side of the country? What can make it easier to get schoolwork done while also holding down full-time employment? If geography and jobs make it difficult to take on extracurricular activities or attend conferences, are there other ways to pursue new avenues for intellectual and professional development?
There is an abundance of advice online about strategies for getting through library school. Hack Library School has good recent coverage on this topic. As enrollment in online courses and degree programs increases, people are paying more attention to the unique challenges presented by virtual education environments. Again, the bloggers at Hack Library School are leading the way. Rather than repeat the helpful tips they offer,†Iíll try to focus here on some of the lessons Iíve learned as I make my way through my second online semester at Simmons. This list is by no means exhaustive, nor intended to offer a one-size-fits-all formula, but I hope it will resonate with all types of students and learners and provide some guidance not just for surviving, but thriving.
Lesson 1: Control your own pace.†Although online programs are largely self-paced, the pace is different than in an in-person program. As an undergraduate, I could wait until the night before an assignment was due to finish the reading and write the paper. I donít have that luxury now. I try to do a little bit of work every (well, almost every) day. I handle lighter tasks early in the morning before work and during my lunch break, and I set aside longer blocks of time in the evenings to work on readings and assignments. †I map course syllabi onto a calendar and look at the calendar multiple times a day. Keeping busy in this way has the surprising effect of making me feel as if I actually have more timeóor at least have more control over it.
Lesson 2: Use available technology. Cloud-based collaboration and communication tools are free, user-friendly, and back up your data. Why arenít you using them? Iíve relied on Google Docs to collaborate on projects with classmates in multiple locations, or to get my own work done on multiple computers throughout the day so thereís no need to lug a laptop around, email attachments back and forth, or carry a USB drive with me.††Dropbox performs the same functions. Skype and Google Hangouts can host one-on-one or group meetings, and Doodle can help with group scheduling.†Again, why arenít you using these tools?
Lesson 3: Take online learning offline.†Despite enrolling in an online program, I actually prefer to read on paper and take notes by hand, and I retain more information this way as well. While I canít print out everything and while I have found it easier to keep track of notes on my computer now, I try to balance my online time with offline enrichment, whether itís planning an essay outline with pen and paper or thinking about a discussion response while Iím out for a walk. I am also spending more time talking out loudóoral communication is one of the hardest things to replicate in an online classroom, yet it is through this communication that we learn how to use the vocabulary of the material and defend our ideas on the spot, rather than having advance time to prepare a written response. †
Lesson 4: Networking doesnít just happen on campusóit can take place anywhere. Joining a professional organization is a great place to start, but it doesnít have to stop there: set up meetings or informational interviews with librarians and archivists in your area; start tweeting or blogging to extend your online presence beyond your cohort; talk about your studies with friends and colleagues or strangers. You never know where you might find a connection or lead.
Lesson 5: Go easy on yourself.†School is hard. But worrying about it doesnít make it easier, and letting it consume everything only leads to resentment and exhaustion. Step away from the computer. Take a walk around the block. Eat a nice dinner, and get a good nightís sleep. Thereís always tomorrow.
Does anyone else out there have tips to share or lessons learned?