This March I will make the trek to Urbana-Champaign for the on-campus portion of my program for the last time. Up until recently, online students in the LEEP program were required to spend one day per course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As Nicole wrote about in a recent post, administration announced in October that the curriculum will no longer require on-campus time aside from a seven-day boot camp at the beginning of the program.
The University of Illinois is moving in a direction that many library schools have already taken. Most online library programs, such as the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the iSchool at the University of Washington, require an orientation or boot camp that lasts anywhere from three to ten days. Following this session, the remainder of the program is completed online. Other schools, such as Drexel University, require no time spent at the campus at all.
From my perspective, on-campus days are fairly easy to accommodate. I live only three hours from campus and can easily obtain time off from work. For my classmates, this is not always the case. My fellow students are scattered across the country and even the world, making travel expensive and time consuming. Of course, students consider these factors when they enroll in the program; since Illinois is a top-rated school, many have found the sacrifice to be worth it. That said, the LEEP program is significantly more appealing to distance students without the on-campus requirement.
Though the elimination of on-campus time is practical, there is still a sense of something lost. I enjoyed my time spent at the University of Illinois because it fostered a sense of connection to the physical university. I got to know my way around campus, I spent time in the GSLIS building where my program is based, and I found my niche in a nearby coffee shop. My classmates and I had the opportunity to participate in activities that aren’t possible online, such as visiting campus libraries and museums.
Most importantly, on-campus days gave me the opportunity to network with my fellow students, many of whom I would not otherwise have had the chance to meet face-to-face. Events such as pancake breakfasts, forums to talk about research, and meet-n-greets for various specializations were offered. Though students meet many of their peers at boot camp, this includes only members of their own cohort. With three different LEEP cohorts starting each year, a majority of students will not meet each other. Additionally, on-campus time allowed us to get to know our professors and other administrators, many of whom serve as advisers and mentors while we are students and later on in our careers. Forging meaningful relationships electronically is difficult, though it can be done. Kara had some great tips for staying involved as a distance learner.
The recently announced Symposium on LIS Education, a student-led event for LIS students held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has the potential to take the place of on-campus requirements. This symposium may actually be better for online students for a variety of reasons: it’s optional, free, open to students from all universities, and gives students a chance to create and present their own work. Though it’s bittersweet, I say farewell to on-campus days and hello to student-led symposiums. I’m sensing the wave of the future here, can ya feel it?
What do you think about on-campus requirements for online students? How do you stay connected as a distance learner?