Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Student Perspective: Online Medium vs. Onsite in the M.A. in Media Studies Program

Today I thought I'd share some thoughts from a colleague in the M.A. in Media Studies program, "A." I am leaving her name anonymous to protect her privacy. She is the author of two blogs, MotherPie, and FoundAroundNYC. Last year, "A" moved from Georgia to NYC. Because of her busy travel schedule, she continues to take online courses in the M.A. in Media Studies Program at The New School while living in NYC. I asked her to provide her thoughts on taking courses online vs. onsite and she kindly wrote the following, with permission to publish her thoughts on this blog to benefit other students. Following are her great insights:

"I’ve only taken one class onsite so it is really only a “dabble” and I thought I might transition fully to an on-campus student but I found out that my travel schedule and life is such that the online program just absolutely fits into my life much easier!!! Most of the students I met were curious about how the online class worked...and the main drawback they saw –- the self-discipline needed to work independently –- is what I love about the online environment.

That said, I found that I had to study and prepare for each week’s assignments in a much greater depth online as compared to the classroom. If I didn’t do as much preparation for the onsite class, it was easy to “dodge” the participation and “hide” the lack of effort. The level of accountability is much higher, I found, in the online classes and it requires –- at least with the classes that I’ve taken –- that the material be not just read, studied and understood, but --- in order to interact online –- the material has to be absolutely integrated. I had a really difficult time trying to understand the website design class (I had Jörg Müller in Spain) in the online environment and had to drop the class. That is the one class that is very hard for me and the online learning might have been over my head. It probably came very easy to you with your experience.

Melissa and I both found that we were, as online students, considered “step-children” of the program. I think there is a perception that the online classes are the more “legitimate” classes. I did find it hard to straddle online/onsite -- the advisory system isn’t set up to accommodate the student who wants to “do both”…. Melissa and I immediately bonded and it was fun to have a “friend” In the “real” classroom setting!

It would be nice to have had a more integrated approach for all the students – onsite and online – Really, I felt –- and still feel –- lost onsite. It did help to physically “be there” get a photo id, though! I was excited to have found, while living in Georgia, the media studies graduate program that was available online. I have absolutely loved ALL of my classes and it is exactly what I was interested in and I had no idea I’d be moving to NYC in the midst of it. I got my undergrad degree in 1979 so after that big gap, the online environment fit so easily into my life. I’ll be a teaching assistant for the political comm... class this fall -- onsite -– and am really looking forward to that."

As I mentioned in my last post, a cyber class is not for everyone. But for those students who really want to obtain the only master's degree of its kind in the world from a reknowned New York University, The New School, but can't move to New York City for one life reason or another, or lead very busy lives that involve travel, taking care of a family, or a fulfilling job where uprooting for a couple of years to complete a graduate degree is just not realistic nor possible, then taking courses remotely is a most viable option. From first-hand experience as an online-only graduate student , I can attest that despite the shortcomings of completing the graduate program online, the advantages are well worth it. I plan to attend commencement next May to physically meet several students I got to know in my cyber classes.

Making the M.A. in Media Studies available online in 2003, the same program that was developed in 1975 and taught on campus, was a fantastic move on the part of the New School--a testament to an Avante Garde University that has embraced the new medium to reach out to the global community to extend its teachings, to continue to educate students with a fine graduate education, and to teach students to think thoughtfully and critically about the evolution of the new media and how these changes affect society and our lives, and to understand that we are constrained only by the bounds we place on our own paths.

Certainly the Internet has taken away location and physical bounds--it is just now up to each and every student accepted by such a forward-thinking and technologically advanced University to take what the University offers in the way of a fine graduate education. The New School is a maverick university--light years ahead of other universities in harnessing the Web to extend its teachings. As a graduating student in the M.A. in Media Studies program, I've gained not just a thorough understanding of the new media but also to always think critically, to ask questions about the world around us, and never to accept "no" or "it can't be done" for an answer.


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