Denis Aksenov, AMC Volunteer (short drama and fiction readings with Funky Chekhov’s Society), University of Massachusetts (Lowell) student (B.A. path, History, Art History concentrations)
What is your online learning experience related to online education?
Perhaps my story is typical. I am an adult student who has Russian higher education and experience of getting an education in one of the European universities. Sometimes ago, I wanted to study again, to change direction. Since there are other life events that took place, I decided to look for a hybrid program, so that there was no need to be distracted from current affairs for a long time, but also to be able to plunge into academic life on campus. I am currently going through the online part of the program.
How is the course organized and structured? Does it include elements of communication with teachers through online platforms?
I have chosen education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell because it is one of those universities that offer the opportunity to take a class without being a full-time student. You can take an online, complete course with faculty and students from the full program without being a university-enrolled student. A separate course allows you to gain knowledge and explore your opportunities for working online without long-term commitments and tremendous financial investments.
I took a single three-month course and realized that it suits me, so later, I entered the same university for a full program with a Bachelor’s degree. The course of the program traditionally, as well as for study on campus, involves the need to read voluminous text material. The training component also includes video lectures. The course consists of weekly plans, and once a weekly chat meeting with a teacher in real-time. For me, the time difference presented a certain difficulty, and the teachers went forward, offering other time options. On the internal university “discussion boards” communication with classmates and professors is regularly held. During online discussions, comments and evaluations of the work of other students are welcome.
Are you sure that you have received new, valuable knowledge?
Based on my past educational experience, a certain idea was formed that studying is working in classrooms, libraries, live communication, and student life. There is a picture of collective interaction in memory. The online format gives the feeling of working with the teacher one-on-one basis, and not collectively, and this, accordingly, requires more concentration. It is necessary to understand that online education is not just meetings at Zoom. It is a deep and well-developed program. Those are other ways of presenting information, using alternative sources, tools, and resources. Online education has been developing in the USA for a long time, the system has been professionally worked out. For the study of the humanities, the online format is very suitable and valuable for deep immersion in the material being studied, as well as close, direct interaction with faculty. If you need a clear idea, then the online or hybrid format seems to be more serious, and they are more suitable for an adult student since internal discipline is needed. Knowledge is undoubtedly valuable, deep, and high-quality.
What did you expect from online learning? Did your expectations of how online learning go in line with reality? If not, what was unexpected for you in this form of education? What surprised, what disappointed?
I did not have any special expectations, but I knew that it would be a certain challenge, so, from time to time, I took short online courses on training platforms, but a long university course was new to me, and I was expecting a new experience. The intensity of a long course is not an easy test, but I like it all, and it gives a lot. One needs to be ready to form relationships with professors. It came easy for me and gave me a special pleasure. There are not many international students in my program, so perhaps our presence is especially valuable for the university. I would like to note that the teachers are sympathetic to some difficulties of foreigners and I feel their friendly and sensitive attitude. There is nothing to say about disappointment because the load and the result are so intense that you get more than expected.
What is a challenge for online learning?
It takes skill to be able to discipline yourself. Other events of the current life take place simultaneously with studies. One must learn to allocate time for classes. If there are free 15 minutes during the day, you need to concentrate and become ready to use them effectively for study. My most productive work time begins late in the evening. If you plan an online study, be prepared for the fact that your normal routine will be shifted. Gradually, you will learn how to plan both your strengths as well as your time, and you begin to understand where you need to do more and where less of your resources. However, all efforts are paid off by advancing in personal and professional growth.
How are exams going?
The format of the exams depends a lot on the subject. In my case, there were many tests, literally every week, while studying subjects in science. Tests are held online and are available at a strictly set time. In the process of studying humanitarian subjects, we write a lot of reporting written works. For example, in the history of art, three projects had to be written during a semester. The topics and requirements for projects are available at the beginning of the semester. One can start working on them when it is convenient and feel ready. The main thing is to deliver the project by the deadline. In addition, it is common to write many small essays on the topic under study. These essays are available for other students to read, and you can see the ideas and reflections of fellow students, which also enriches your stock of knowledge. In short, the knowledge assessment system is a certain hybrid, consisting of tests and a huge number of different essays. Therefore, having academic writing skills will be of great help in faster and more efficient work.
What is your advice to those who face the choice of taking an online course for education or not? The question is especially relevant now, in the context of a pandemic, many universities offer students an online or hybrid format as part of traditional full-time programs.
In my personal opinion, bachelors, of course, are better off spending their first years in a traditional format. It is communication, friendship, and pleasure from student life. In the current situation of a pandemic, it is absolutely a must to start studying online, if the university offers an opportunity. The online format will give an understanding of how academic life and education in American universities are arranged. Impression, when students arrive on campus, they can use campus resources more efficiently. Online builds self-discipline, and this skill stays with you for on-campus studies.
Online, of course, is a powerful thing for those who cannot be absent from the affairs of their current life for a long time, and online learning is in great demand among Americans. The value of diplomas obtained online and on-campus is equal. If the process of education itself, saturation with knowledge is attractive, then the online format is an excellent choice, when you feel like a “mini-scientist”.
Here is a lifehack. I have entered the American online Bachelor’s program with a higher education diploma from a Russian university and requested the admissions office of my U.S. university to count the subjects I studied in Russia and give me credits for them. Be aware that one needs to get 120 credits to get a Bachelor’s degree in the United States. In my case, after evaluating my Russian higher education courses, I gave received 70 Credits. I spent 200 dollars and six months for evaluation of my Credits, but this way, I have saved time and 20,000 dollars in payments. I wish everyone an interesting online study and new achievements!