Monday, August 2, 2010

Is On-Line Graduate School for You?

Is on-line graduate school for you?

On-line grad school can be an optimal post-grad education option to consider if you are deaf or hard of hearing.

Today with the wide-availability of high-speed Internet connections, attending classes remotely (on-line) has become a reality. There are a number of reasons why taking classes on-line may make sense. In fact, online classes provide a number of advantages for deaf/hoh students that helps to break down communication barriers, which are discussed more in detail throughout this blog entry.

While its true that taking classes on-line removes the physical and non-verbal communications with classmates and professors; on-line classes are often viable for those who work-full time, travel frequently, and/or are in a location that makes getting to / from class difficult. Which is often the case for executives, senior level employees or out of state students.

This blog entry draws on my current experience as an MBA student enrolled on-line with the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) []. At the present I am pursing a MBA while being employed full-time, and expect to complete the program in March 2011.

Online Class Enrollment

After about six months of research, deliberations and meetings with several MBA programs, I considered several programs on-line, downtown Chicago, and within the surrounding suburbs. In the end, I opted for an on-line MBA program which best suits my schedules and flexibility best.

Just because a class is on-line, it does not mean its easier. Be prepared to spend some time on-line interacting with the instructor and classmates via email, within the on-line classroom using instant messaging, chat, discussion threads and private folders (tools may depend on the web portal offered), as well as conducting research online. You may need to work with virtual teams by using online tools. With virtual teams, you need to take into account everyones strengths, interests, background, skills, and even time-zones when working on class assignments and team projects. When not working with teams, you have individual assignments and papers to complete and submit online.
Every online program has a different format for online assignments - review the program requirements, class interaction and teaching methods.

On occasion, there may be times when you need to participate in audio conference: the professor or a guest speaker may give a presentation on-line. If you are deaf/hoh, you can participate by using video relay services. Read an earlier blog entry that describes how you can incorporate the use of relay and videophones to watch presentations on-line:

At times, you may have to work with your professor/school to ensure that they are able to get transcripts for any audio / mp3 files and videos used in the course. This can be a learning experience for the professor and yourself. It is equally important to ask in advance before enrolling to find out if the school/program will assist with such requests. At times, getting transcripts of past conferences, podcasts or MP3 files was one of my pain points. Some instructors are able to respond quickly by getting the transcripts from their sources (they usually ask the course material provider or vendor). At other times, the school may have to contract out to get transcription services - this is something you should not have to pay for.

Undergraduate Programs

For some, enrolling online with undergrad programs may meet their needs. Yet, living on campus offers a whole different set of experiences by interacting and being around people you know every day. The decision to attend classes in person or on-line largely depends on your needs and interests.

Juggling School Part-time and Working Full-time
Juggling work and school can be challenging if you have family of your own and travel at times. One thing I’ve found is that it helps to do a little course work each day (often 7 days a week), and read during my train commutes. By reading during my commutes, I can conduct emails/chat, writing, and web research when I get home. Again, by doing a little work each day, it all adds up in the end without being in a rush. On a couple of occasions, I took the day off from work to focus on school work with out the distractions of the office. Also by working full-time, you can apply what you have learned to help make improvements and changes for your organization.

Be advised that in most cases you may need to have the full MS-Office suite for your course work. If you are a student, sometimes your school is able to offer significant discounts for the required software. If not, once enrolled, you can visit, and obtain MS-Office for a good discount. It is important to check in advance for software requirements for your school/program. Having a laptop for coursework is also beneficial, which give you the ability to be mobile, go to quiet places to do your work - or even work during your commutes.

Yes, graduate school is expensive, and can cost as much as a new BMW or more. If your employer offers tuition assistance, be sure to apply/inquire about it in advance - even if they only pay up to a certain amount.

One possible employer rule to watch out for is that if your employer pays for the tuition, once you complete a program, you may have to wait a year before you work elsewhere, or you will have to reimburse them for the entire program. If they/you transfer within the organization, it shouldn't be a problem. Check with your organization on their tuition reimbursement rules, and the tax-ability of your tuition assistance. If no employer assistance is offered, be sure to check out financing / payment options with the institution before enrolling.

While this topic may sound trivial, its also important to have regular access to high-speed Internet DSL / broadband services. Also be prepared to work at other locations away from home to accommodate your travel needs, class/teammate schedules (and time zones). You may want to identify in advance of alternate locations where wi-fi services are available in areas you frequent or travel to. Places such as public libraries, McDonald's, Starbucks, and Panera Bread offer free Internet access. Also be prepared write/reply to respond to timely emails on your smartphone (Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, Android, Palm etc). Be sure to keep your addresses up to date in both your laptop and smartphone address books.

Future Career Opportunities
Many working professionals choose to enroll into graduate school to seek career changes, get into management, learn how to harness new business ideas and technologies. It is often said that you will always be learning during your life time. Given the time and expense, enrolling into graduate school requires serious considerations and commitments.

1 comment:

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