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Voices of Online Students

Online Learning Strategies and Why I Returned to SHSU

I grew up in a small rural town in East Texas with little access to technology or higher education. My college career is what one may call varied. I attended three community colleges and one university over ten years to obtain my bachelor's in order to become an elementary educator in 2012. Most classes at that time were either hybrid or face to face. In 2017 I decided to return to school for my master’s program. I wanted to help educators use technology in meaningful ways to help support student growth. My future boss at the time suggested Sam Houston State University as he had graduated from the same program.

I graduated with a master’s in instructional systems and design technology in 2019 from SHSU. During this fully online program, I was able to accomplish goals I had not previously thought I could. The program helped me grow in knowledge and abilities that prepared me to obtain an instructional technologist position in 2019. Without this knowledge my first year as an instructional technologist, 2019-2020, would have been my last.

After COVID 19 and the emergency remote learning that many institutions had to move to, I decided to obtain my doctorate to better understand online learning and its impact. Sam Houston was the only university I applied to. I returned to SHSU as a doctoral student in the Fall of 2021. There are several reasons why I chose to return.

  • The master’s program was largely project-based learning. This style of learning is engaging, fosters critical thinking, and delivers you artifacts you can use in a portfolio when applying for a position.
  • The professors from my master’s program are the same for the doctorate and are knowledgeable and able to support the online learning process through asynchronous discussions and synchronous meetings as needed.
  • The master’s and the doctoral programs are both set up as cohorts. You begin the program and end the program with the same classmates. This fosters a sense of collaboration and community among the learners in the program.
A student scheduling their study time

Online learning is not easier or harder than face-to-face learning. It is simply different. I am a wife, mother, full-time worker, and student. I faced several challenges both during my master's and now during my doctorate program. Among those were time management, motivation, disconnection, and academic support methods. There were several strategies I had to use and still use to keep myself on track within the program.

  1. Set a schedule and stuck to it: I set aside half of the weeknights and one day every weekend to focus on my studies. If something came up and I had to skip a night I made up for it the next. With online learning, you can set your own pace. It may help to work ahead to build in some flexibility around your time. You may want to create dates in your online calendar with reminders to keep up with the due dates listed in your syllabuses.
  2. Know your learning style: Are you a visual, auditory, read/write, or kinesthetic learner? This can help you prepare different ways to make online learning work for you.
  3. Build a support network: Have people around you that will support you and cheer you on. You also need someone who will push you when you reach a point where you don’t remember why you are doing this in the first place. If you do not have that support network, be that person for yourself or build one from people within your own program. SHSU has Microsoft Teams, which is an effective way to set up study groups and share ideas and notes asynchronously with classmates.
  4. The Academic Success Center: If you are struggling the center offers online tutoring for free. If you are writing a paper for class, I would suggest using the writing center. I have received help from them in the past and my academic writing has improved.
  5. Reach out to the professors: The professors are here to teach you and support you. Online learning can be difficult but the online professors at SHSU I have had are among the best at making sure you are prepared and succeed. Email and online virtual offices are a great way to reach out for clarification on assignments. Check your syllabus for other ways you can reach out to the instructor.

Online learning can be difficult. Sam Houston, and for me, their ISDT program, work to mitigate some of these difficulties with all the resources and support offered. In the end it is up to you, the student, to make the online learning process work for you.