Rural Librarian: What's It Like to Attend Graduate School Online?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's It Like to Attend Graduate School Online?

So what is it like to attend graduate school online?

First, let me say it is awesome.

The program: I will be taking two classes per semester for two years and hope to graduate with my Master's degree in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in Summer 2015. I was the recipient of a rural librarian scholarship, meant to boost professional librarianship in rural Appalachia. (It's called ITRL2 and was the brainchild of UTK and funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)

The classes: The two classes I am taking this semester deal with reference services and a history of the information sciences. Sound boring? They are actually Very Interesting, thought-provoking, and engaging.

My classmates: I am part of a cohort that has 12 other ITRL2 scholarship recipients. Most of my classmates are younger, and we are mostly female. My classmates are from Tennessee and Virginia. They are all very kind, funny, and smart! I am thrilled to be a part of this group of fellow bibliophiles and professionals.

The technology: Some online degree programs allow a student to read and learn at their own pace and do the work on their own time. The classes I am taking are synchronous, meaning that I attend class two nights per week with my classmates and professor all present at the same time. I use a laptop (provided by the grant and UTK) to connect to a software called BlackBoard.

We all convene in a virtual classroom and can hear the professor speak and go through PowerPoint slides. I also have a headset and mic so I can interact with the class. There is also a chat board so we can choose to say comments or type comments. Sometimes, we have a classmate chat going on while the professor is lecturing which can be fun, stimulating, and over-stimulating all at the same time.

The reading: I have a textbook for each class as well as supplemental readings. I read a lot every week. Sometimes, I feel like the information I am reading is way over my head. I also kind of like this. I know from reading experience that this means I am learning and being challenged. If I am patient and persistent, I eventually comprehend what I am reading. Sometimes, it just takes time and digestion.

The homework: We have lots of homework every single week about the readings and lectures. I am probably spending at least 10 hours per week just on reading and homework, but I am not complaining. I actually...enjoy it. Our homework has to be uploaded to the same BlackBoard site where we attend classes.

So, Mary, how is this going to help the Pioneer Memorial Public Library? Hopefully, this whole program will enable me to be the best librarian possible for my community. I also realize that I am walking in some very big shoes. This library has been well-loved and utilized by the community since the 1980's and I hope to be able to serve the public as best I can. There are not many professional librarians in Randolph County, West Virginia, and I hope to be able to improve the local state of librarianship in general through my education.

In August, I will travel to Knoxville for orientation and to meet my advisors and classmates. I am looking forward to meeting everyone, to visiting Knoxville, and getting to walk around the University of Tennessee. I am so grateful that they took a chance on me and on the Pioneer Memorial Public Library!

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