Brick and Mortar or Cyber School

by Christine Taylor

I wanted to go back to school, but my son was in elementary grade and I was the PTA president. Being the spokesperson for parents at school board meetings, scheduling events for parents and children while tending to my son’s school and extra curricular activities, kept me beyond busy. Unfortunately, my husband’s schedule was unpredictable so I couldn’t rely on him to babysit. I couldn’t afford a babysitter in addition to tuition, books and any additional expenses.

Then one day while discussing my dilemma with my brother, he mentioned that some universities offer fully accredited degree programs online. It was like the gods of higher learning heard and answered my prayers. Attending school online was a perfect fit for me but that’s not to say it would be a sound solution for everyone who plans to go back to school. There are huge differences (and similarities) between a brick and mortar setting and attending a cyber university.

Getting to Know Your Classmates

There is a quote from notable french writer, Michel de Montaigne who stated,”The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” When I told my friends about my new venture they were somewhat disapproving. I was warned that was much more difficult and several of their friends tried online classes with no success. Furthermore, it would be a very lonely quest. I would have no interaction with teachers or classmates. Well, they were half right, it was a laborious pursuit. Even the professors admitted that the workload far exceeded work they gave in a brick and mortar class.

On the other hand, I felt far from being isolated. In fact, the professors encouraged online interactions. Unlike a brick and mortar class, we had to post a brief description about ourselves. Why we decided to take that particular course and what we looked forward to getting from the class were required postings. In some classes we were encouraged to post discreet photos of ourselves. It was very interesting reading about other people. The majority of students had similar challenges as I had. One of the added bonuses were the opportunities to meet people from all over the world. Yes, you can meet people from other countries in a regular classroom setting but the chances are greater online.

High Tech for Higher Education

Nowadays, just about everyone has a notebook, tablet or some type of device to connect to the worldwide Web. Having access to a computer with a high speed Internet connection is an absolute must for cyber classes. In contrast, a notebook and pen will suffice in a brick and mortar type setting. But if you’re going to take classes via your computer, you must be comfortable installing and troubleshooting software. No, you don’t have to understand the entire technical process but not being afraid of a computer will be a benefit.

Furthermore, cyber schools will offer technical support and will walk you through the process if you have problems. Some cyber universities try to resemble a brick and mortar classroom. For example, lectures may be pre-recorded so you can actually see your professor. They may also use something similar to Skype, where you can see your professor and he or she can see you in real time. This would require you to have a Web cam, (short for Web camera) speakers and a microphone – maybe some additional software as well. Just like in a brick and mortar class, you will need to be seated in front of your computer during thespecified class time.

Be Cognizant of Deadlines

Equivalent to attending a traditional setting, deadlines are to be met. Students can call or email a professor before class to explain any challenges or ask questions. Be that as it may, my cyber professors were very strict. Once a deadline was set, it was set in stone. All work, including research papers, postings and exams had to be completed within a specified time frame. Checking your syllabi for all of your classes will help you keep track of your deadlines. In contrast, deadlines in a traditional setting can be altered. (For example, it’s very difficult to get to school during a natural disaster.) Just like a professor will verbally remind you of exams and assignments, online professors will send reminders via email or post on discussion boards. However, you must check your email and discussion boards daily.

Class Participation without Procrastination

Not unlike a brick and mortar setting you must participate in class. While in cyber class, participation includes posting answers to professor’s questions and peer reviews. All participation is communicated via the school’s email or discussion boards. Not posting on the discussion boards is equivalent to not showing up for class. In a regular setting one must be mindful of verbal comments about another student’s work. The same is true online. In one of my classes the professor placed us into teams to complete a project. She left it up to us to nominate a team leader. Well, one student, (I’ll just call him student X) took the reigns and became a self appointed leader. Most of us didn’t mind except one person, (student Y). X and Y disagreed about everything. Eventually, the professor had to separate the two into different groups.

Procrastination is a big obstacle to overcome in either setting. You still need to successfully manage your time to complete all assignments.To help eliminate distractions I scheduled my time for school work early in the morning and late at night after my son went to bed.

Overall, I found that online discussions and interactions were just as beneficial to my learning experience as a traditional campus. I really enjoyed the peer review and giving and receiving feedback from the other students. At graduation it was wonderful to actually meet my classmates and professors. I look forward to obtaining my master’s degree in a cyber university.

Christine earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media (formerly Culture and Communications) online from the Cuny School of Professional Studies. She currently lives in New York with her son Jared who is 12.