I can go to class naked. I can pick my nose all I want, right in front of my teacher and classmates. I can have my favorite music blasting in the background or cook a five-course meal while being in class. The only time I have to fight for a seat is when my cat takes a nap in my chair.
I am an online student and all I need for educational happiness is a laptop and an Internet connection. I can decide when I want to log in and do my homework, go over the lectures and write my papers. For me, it is the perfect solution: I have a full-time job and my degree was not available at any college in the area. I also have enough willpower and determination to stick to an imaginary class schedule and have built a strong foundation of social skills so sitting in front of a computer for a prolonged amount of time should not harm my sanity in any way (fingers crossed!).
So yes, I could get my degree at a coffee shop, do homework on my phone, read my lecture while waiting at a red light or while I am on vacation. Neither time nor location is an issue as long as it gets done in time. But there lays the problem. If I am at home and decide to do nothing, my “classroom” sits right there on my desk and I could post those comments early instead of procrastinating and waiting until the last minute. I admit, sometimes packing my laptop into its case and putting it all into a drawer is the very satisfying and relieving solution – it probably compares to driving out of the campus parking lot with screeching tires.
But the true danger of not getting anything done is inside the computer itself. I do get my education online, but I also waste most of my time online. Evil has a name and every student knows the enemy: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any instant messaging program. The Internet offers an infinite number of possibilities to waste time.
I admit, sometimes it would be nice to have a teacher in front of me who sees when I am not paying attention. Of course I could still doodle on the edges of my book, draw mustaches on pictures or practice my origami skills with the pages of my textbook but eventually I would (probably) take notes. Or at least highlight enough so it looks as if I actually paid attention and did my homework.
Most of my textbooks are online as well so there is no need to purchase them but I am not ashamed to say that I prefer spending the GNP of a small island on textbooks anyway. “Reading” a book online seems simply impossible. When I read something on a screen, I am used to scanning it, looking for headlines and pictures – the exact opposite of what you should you when you actually want to learn something. I am one of these people whose textbooks have more highlighted than non-highlighted parts but that is how information makes its way into my little brain. If it’s not yellow, it is not important. To slightly complicate things, reading on a computer screen makes me tired and I suffer from “Tabulities.” It manifests itself by having more tabs open than necessary to get any reading done – the content of these tabs is usually at any given time neither particularly scientific nor school-related. It’s a vicious cycle: I start reading, absolutely need to check what my friends are doing on Facebook or Twitter, follow a link, then another one, look something up that usually has nothing to do with my class, remind myself that I am supposed to be way more productive, start again, realize that I read that part already, try to find where I drifted off, get back into it for a few sentences – good job, Isabelle, keep going! – a word reminds me of something that I could look up online and so on. It’s exhausting; I need a break, a nap or just go to bed all together. Tomorrow is another day (– full of new status updates, pictures and tweets -) and the above-mentioned willpower gets tested again and again.
Another big disadvantage of being an online student is that it is hard to gossip about classmates or complain about teachers. Let’s face it, it’s crucial part of everyone’s life: Sometimes you just need to let it out and get it off your chest. Screaming at your computer and at people who cannot hear you is only a short-term solution – and a very unsatisfying one as well. Ignoring someone is way more fun when they can see you not looking at them. I am not sure if online classes have any negative influence on anger related illnesses but I will keep you updated.
However, other than the yelling or the lack of “real” human contact, studying online is really not that different from studying offline. I have a pile of homework and papers waiting for me every evening and sometimes, neither blasting music nor sitting in a coffee shop makes any of it more fun; I often wish I could set my laptop, books and highlighters on fire.
But being a student is not like walking a unicorn across a rainbow and feeding it with cupcakes. Being annoyed with homework, papers, teachers or students is part of the experience. And I always keep reminding myself that one day, I will have a real and offline graduation. I will walk on stage, get my diploma and wear one of these gowns – and probably nothing underneath.
Isabelle Mitchell is from Switzerland (not Sweden). She loves coffee and chocolate and she can talk about movies and the weather for a very long time. Isabelle went to Film School in Denmark and Canada and is a Sound Designer, but she’s currently working on getting her BS in Advertising at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh (Online Division). She’s planning on slowly taking over the advertising world one tagline at a time. When she’s not doing homework or studying, she works as a Marketing Assistant. You can find her on Twitter @isabellesagt or if you have a longer attention span, her blog.