The challenge of studying an online degree and the importance of a support system

A few of the things I have come to realize in the last 3 years is that firstly, online study is hard. I mean really hard. Secondly, do not leave things to the last minute, especially when trying to balance a full-time job with studying your degree. And the third is that it is difficult to sometimes find the motivation to complete module work/assessment items when there isn’t a class environment and other students to encourage you. The short of it is that online study is hard. 

When I decided to do this degree, I didn’t think that online study would be too challenging. I am, by nature, a fairly introverted person, and there are times when participating in a class environment can be both frightening and anxiety inducing. Having previous on-campus university experience made me confident that I would be able to handle the commitment of studying online. It’s just a matter of good time management, and without the distraction of other students I should be able to concentrate easier and get assessment tasks completed with plenty of time, right? Ah, no. I have discovered that completing an online degree is so singularly insular that I was completely wrong. It wasn’t until I was sitting down for my second ever zoom class that I realized: I missed being able to see my fellow classmates. You just didn’t have the same classroom student interactions you would have when studying on campus. I found that I missed that instinctive give and take between teacher and students, those moments where the natural flow of the lecture allowed for questions, not just an awkward silence while you wait for someone to type in the chat box. Add to that the times when you just can’t express a question without the use of hand gestures and a lot of praying that the lecturer understands your flailing limbs and stilted language skills. Most of all, I found myself missing that sense of community and support you gain when interacting with fellow students.

Completing a residential school at the beginning of the degree in order to meet with the course director and teachers, as well as connect with the newest students, was both a great and somewhat sad experience. It was amazing to meet with those, who just like me, were starting on their journey to be librarians or information professionals, but it was also humbling to know that this would be the last time we would all be in the same place at the same time. Depending on our class choices and any previous study or work experience meant that we wouldn’t be taking the same route to graduating. It’s not all doom and gloom though. While you may not be on the exact same journey as each other, you are bound to take some of the same classes throughout the course of your degree. Connecting on the group discussion forums, as well as making use of FaceTime and Facebook has proven to be an invaluable way of providing and receiving that much needed motivation and support I realized I was missing. 

Countless times over the last three years I have reached out to fellow classmates for advice, support, and a friendly ear to – sometimes loudly and long windedly – vent about how I couldn’t possibly be able to complete this assessment by the due date, or how I would never complete this degree. On the flip side, I have been a motivator, advice giver, and venting listener for those in need of support. The support system we have created has been the exact thing I found was missing at the start of my degree. Yes, online study is hard and sometimes seems to go on forever, but having a support system has made it seem less insular and easier to complete. So, to those who have been on the receiving end of day long FaceTime calls, hastily scheduled Zoom study sessions, and panicked upcoming “I don’t think I’m going to make this deadline” phone calls, I say thank you. And to those of you who are currently feeling stressed and in need of support: you have got this; keep going; you will make it through. 

Katherine Dimmick is a third year student (about to enter her forth) studying a Bachelor of Information Studies at Charles Sturt University in Australia. The degree is part time and completely online. Currently she works as a retail store manager, but is actively looking for that elusive first job in the GLAM sector. Katherine’s dream job would be to work as a collection development manager and curator for rare and special collections. In her spare time between work and study she enjoys painting, cooking, and binge watching shows with her beagle. You can find her on Twitter at @katherine_myria.

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