Often when looking for strong online college or university programs, students are confronted with online learning, or, even more particular, distance learning. The difference, though, is in accessibility. Distance learning programs are specifically designed from the acknowledgement that geography and other conditions separate the student from the classroom, while utilizing the Internet medium to its full advantage.
This is my first semester as distance learning student. As someone who spent a few years as a dual-enrolled high school student taking college courses, and then not knowing what I wanted to do with my associate’s degree, I had piled up over 90 credits before I began my undergraduate semester at UWS. I’ve taken quite a few online courses along the way, and many hybrids, but never anything as immersive and in-depth as what the online writing program through UWS has to offer.
Admittedly, taking online courses—especially full-time—is an acquired taste. I have my own set of reasons for attending a university out of state (I live in Michigan), particularly affordability, but also, I just don’t want to move right now. Finishing a writing degree online almost seems counterintuitive, because it’s a very personable field, but after finishing (the end is finally in sight!) my first semester, I can easily say it’s prepared me already for eventually pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing.
Another distance learning student (and fellow Michigan resident), Sarah Olsen, is in her third semester through UWS as a full-fledged online student, but she has a long history with distance learning. “I think my first distance class was in 1993, when I was an independent study student sending paper assignments back and forth to the University of Minnesota,” Olsen says. “My first online class would have been through the local community college a decade or so later; it was very rudimentary: we read our assignments at home, and used Blackboard only to take quizzes and exams. I’ve also taken a few MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) along the way.”
As a non-traditional student, Olsen finds the experience of achieving her Interdisciplinary Studies Degree both exciting and challenging.
Olsen also has her own reasons for why a distance learning education is so appealing. Accessibility, something that UWS has had a long time to craft with their distance learning program, is what matters most. This accessibility can take many forms, from connectedness between teacher and student, to easy communication, and technology that matches the content of the course.
Along with being a parent, Olsen describes why online classes work for her: “In addition to my geographic disadvantage, my health issues make regularly physically appearing in class a challenge. Even on my best days, my diminished (not truly compromised) immunity means that I risk that very functionality by sitting in a classroom setting. My health is what interfered with my original foray into formal education: I ended up withdrawing from more than one class in which I’d been earning an A simply because I couldn’t meet the attendance requirement.”
As someone who genuinely loves academia and being a student, it makes me happy that I can simultaneously work at a college full-time while also taking classes through another.
My writing courses are varied, versatile, and bring different methods of instruction to the (virtual) table. My writing workshops are thorough, and it feels like I would be having the same forum discussions in person as we are online. It feels real, but without any illusion of the experience being forced. I can comment as myself, work at my own pace that fits my schedule, and most importantly, acquire the education I want for my future.
It’s been pretty great so far, to say the least.