Friday, December 9, 2011

What It Takes to be a Good Online Student

Going back to school after you've been out for a while is scary. At least, it was for me. I entered college at age 17, full of dreams and plans to save the world as a social worker. Then I graduated and had to get a job to pay the rent. I found a social work job, but I didn't think I could change the world anymore. I worked for two years, then started the job that never ends and really does change the world: motherhood. Somewhere between changing diapers and clutching the door handle of my car for dear life with a teen driver, I started writing and editing. I figured out that I really liked it. Then I figured out that to advance any in that field, I should return to school for a master's degree in English. I waded through the hundreds of online choices, applied to a state school, and got accepted. Then I panicked!

School means studying, writing papers, and reading textbooks. In the world of online studies, it also means posting on the Blackboard (without the chalky mess of our childhoods), emailing questions to an unseen professor, and navigating Internet research materials. All of this happens in between driving the family taxi, cooking dinner, working, and a slew of other responsibilities.

How do I juggle it all? Very carefully! First of all, I am now the not-so-proud owner of brand new dust bunnies. I've had to lower many of my housekeeping expectations. Second of all, I recruit help; my teenagers do their own laundry, clean their own bathroom, and cook dinner occasionally. Third, I carved out a space where I can close the door to concentrate on my school work. Oh, it's technically a shared office/school room, but when they're done at the end of the day, I can put out my do-not-disturb sign.

So, what do I do with my do-not-disturb time? Not Facebook, not email, and not blogging. At least, not much. I dedicate the quieter times to the longer papers that take real concentration and the confusing textbooks that require my full attention. I do my best not to multitask during that time so that I can really focus on my schoolwork in order to make the most of my time.

I wish I could say I can get everything done when I'm locked in my own little space, but I can't. I often take my reading to gymnastics and my paper drafts to waiting rooms. I've learned to check out the discussion forums while dinner is cooking.

This whole process is not easy. I'd much rather be reading a novel than a technical editing textbook on the way to the shore. I'd rather sleep on the long drive home for Thanksgiving than be working on a project due in a few weeks. But, it will all be worth it a year and a half from now when I hold that master's of English degree in my hand!

Do you have a dream to back to school or maybe to go to college for the first time? You can do it! It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of determination, but it can be done. Go for it!