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  • Writer's pictureSarah Felber

The Online Student

A fellow student about to complete the MDE degree recently commented on how valuable it was to be an online student because this helped him empathize with the student experience. His comments prompted me to reflect on what I have learned about online students during my two years of being one myself. Some of these observations corroborate what I have noticed as an online professor, and others I probably would not have realized without taking on the student role.

· Online students are diverse. This first point should go without saying, but my student experience has underscored just how true it is. There is a world of difference between a professional returning to school or changing careers, and a first-time undergraduate or graduate student new to the academic experience. The difference is not only in what they know, but in how they learn.

· Online students don’t always know how to ask for help. Sometimes they will struggle privately with the personal, professional, and academic challenges that get in the way of their success. They may not know what resources are available to them or how willing their professors are to help.

· Online students require extreme self-discipline. Scheduling time throughout the week to keep up with coursework is challenging, even without the little surprises that life tends to dole out. The temptation to put things off until tomorrow, the need to get more sleep, the desire to have more leisure time and time with loved ones – these are all incredibly strong pulls.

· The MDE program is not a cohort program, but there are some students who I shared multiple classes with. Getting to know these students over multiple semesters highlighted a fact about online students that of course I knew, but rarely experienced. Online students are real people. As a professor, you work with students for a few months, and then, in most cases, you both move on. You don’t have the time to truly “see” the person before you. I wonder – how would teaching be different if you did?

Diverse group of adults looking at mobile phones

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