A letter to the editor from Kaylan Schardan, journalism major
I always thought college would be an exciting mixture of life-changing events with a bit of “Animal House” thrown in. If you were to talk to my teenage self, she would have told you college is meant to bring you lifelong friends, wild parties and memories that last a lifetime.
When I started my Webster education, I quickly realized my college experiences were going to be nothing like I once imagined. Due to working full time during the day, I was left with the option of night and online classes as my only path to a degree. I didn’t have time for joining college clubs, attending parties or commuting over an hour each way to campus multiple times a week. The traditional college experience wasn’t in the cards. I would be completing my degree as an online student.
When the topic of college comes up in conversation, my usual response is, “I go to Webster University BUT I’m an online student.” The “but” seems to be an automatic response to explain my status as a student.
Of course, I’m technically just as much of a student as those who live on campus, attend full-time and participate in Webster events. Like any student, I have daunting financial aid, homework deadlines that always sneak up on me and goals of actually learning something useful—but as an online student, it just isn’t the same as being on campus. I never felt like a true Webster student. In fact, it felt like I was almost posing as a part of the Webster community.
I can’t name any of my classmates, rarely remember my former professors and the most involved I’ve been with campus spirit has consisted of purchasing a Webster University T-shirt.
The major difference between being an online student and being on campus are the relationships developed in the classroom. There is something special about being able to put a face and voice to a name, which is something online learning doesn’t always accomplish. Some teachers try to be interactive and use video and audio lessons to teach, which is nice, but it isn’t the same as in person. It would be wonderful to say I feel connected with my classmates and teachers, but it wouldn’t be the truth.
I wish I could get to know certain classmates or teachers better, but it’s easy to forget to make an extra effort in developing a good rapport with someone when you never see that person face to face.
I’ve also noticed that most of the online students I know work full time or have families. There simply isn’t always time or energy to get more in-depth with those in the course. By the time you start to get to know your fellow online learners, it’s time for a new semester with a whole new set of faceless classmates.
In my experience, online learning resembles the less-than-sophisticated saying, “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.” The student logs on to their course, does the work, learns what they can and then moves on. Friendships, connections and special memories don’t translate well into life after the course ends.
I don’t have any crazy college stories to tell, and I will admit that my last college party actually happened while I was in high school. I also doubt I’ll gain any lifelong friends from my experiences at Webster.
While relationships are rare, I have learned some valuable life lessons from Webster that will serve as part of my college experience.
Anyone who has taken an online class knows that you and you alone are responsible for accessing the material. There isn’t a teacher breathing down your neck or glaring at you from across the room to remind you to put your phone away.
The student has to want to learn and put the effort into not only reading the material but essentially teaching it to themselves. I’ve learned self-discipline and how to manage my time appropriately, which is a skill I likely wouldn’t have mastered as quickly without online learning.
Online students may not be typical Webster scholars, but our college experiences are just as important as those on campus. There is value in online education, and if administration, including teachers, can move toward bridging gaps in the lack of commodity and intimacy of online learning, we can further enhance the college experiences of those who are online learners.
Online students aren’t just people behind computer screens—they are a valid part of the Webster University community. I hope future students will see the distinction between campus and online students fade, with both parties being known only as Webster students.