Tomorrow I start my 39th, and next to last, college course before finishing my degree, which I began almost thirty years ago. I went into business for myself right after high school graduation, then spent about ten years working slowly on college credits while running it. Since I didn’t need a degree being my own boss (and the one I pursued wasn’t even in business), I went solely for personal interest and satisfaction. I like learning and am naturally curious about things. I stopped school after finally getting my associate’s in 1996, but picked up the mantle again three years ago because I was bored (instead of working sixty-hour weeks as I had for many years, I was down to forty). Also, the new availability of online learning appealed greatly to the introvert in me.
Online class is great for introverts. I participate more in online classes, via discussion boards, than I would in live classes, because live classes are dominated by extroverts. That’s where they thrive. Online is where I thrive. It’s not unlike Facebook, where I am more social than I tend to be in real life. So yes, I strongly applaud online school, as it allows those of us who are quieter and more reserved to “chime in” in a way that works for us. Actually, you can’t shut me up on the class discussion boards, and it’s an area of every course I’ve taken where I have gotten very high participation marks. What’s more, classmates tend to appreciate my carefully rendered feedback. None of this is to say that I cannot participate in class discussions in real life, but new people and environments make me uncomfortable and it takes a while to warm up to them. Even once I do, I am always more verbose with the written word than I ever have been with the spoken, so I can really shine online.
I’ve always done well in school, whether live or online, because I am observant of things others don’t notice and am hyper-focused on the written and spoken word, introvert qualities that serve one well in learning. I take things very literally, and am always finding errors in instructions and written texts (I have found many professors’ syllabi to be riddled with errors and lack of clarity – and these people have advanced degrees). A life in academia may have suited me, and I may have pursued it were it not for my hesitance to go to college after high school, which was a little intimidating. Running my own business appealed to me more as it gave me lots of control, and if there’s one thing I like it’s the freedom of having control over my life.
But now it has all come full circle. I no longer have that control and work for the Man, and in four months I will have a college degree in English literature and poetry. Yes, I know, not the most marketable of degrees, but it is the subject area that interests me the most. My intent was not to get a marketable degree, but to get a degree period, and to also satisfy personal interest along the way. It has been a nice journey, for the most part (I could have done without the Statistics courses, even though I aced them). If it were not for the expense, I would continue on to a master’s. We’ll see.
Is online school easier than live school? I’ve done both and see little difference. I spend a good twenty hours a week on classwork – three hours a day – which includes reading, writing papers, tests, and the discussion boards, which are very time-consuming (reading the daily posts of twenty other students and responding to many of them in a qualitative way). The coursework is the same as that given in live classes, and the online curriculum is fully accredited by the regional college board. So aside from not having to drag myself to a physical location and being able to do my work at midnight if I so choose, there is little other difference – except that the courses are accelerated. What live classes cover in sixteen weeks, we cover in eight. So it can feel a little rushed (this was never more true than in my recent Western Civ class, where we covered 4000 years in two months).
Now, as for that poetry degree, I am aware that some do not consider it a “real” degree, much as they do not consider online classes “real” college. It seems the discipline of poetry is viewed as requiring no more skill than ruminating in a diary. To them, I would say this: try writing a poem that a respected literary journal would publish. Then come laugh at me. Fact is, professional writing of any kind – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenplays – is hard work. While poetry may not be highly valued, or even understood, in today’s world, it is the highest expression of our language. I enjoy the linguistic and creative challenge it poses, the introspection it requires, and the possibility of moving someone else with something I’ve written. That is reward enough for me.