Back in the saddle

When the Fall semester begins, I will officially be a grad student again as I enter the first semester of my Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction. I am excited to be gaining knowledge in my new career path and look forward to all that will come with it. My first course will be EC&I 831: Social Media and Open Learning with Alec Couros. I know 3 other people taking the course and expect to learn quite a lot, having had some chances to learn from Alec already. He knows his stuff!

At the same time I find it rather daunting. The last time I took a class was 2008, I believe. This was before I started working on my comprehensive exams for my PhD. Suddenly I am going to be back at the Master’s level in a completely new field. I am starting over in a lot of ways and it is definitely making me somewhat nervous.

As a first class back, however, this is a great one because it is an online course and very different than any course I have taken before. I won’t really have anything for comparison and I know part of the intent is to push us all outside our comfort zones in some ways. At the same time, the topic is one I know, at least somewhat. I have been researching and using social media for quite a while so I won’t feel like I am suddenly thrown in the deep end.

After my first experience with an online course (a horrid teaching assistant experience that I would not wish on my worst enemy), I now work with online courses and have come to see just how positive they can be, if done well. This will be my first time as a student in an online course but this is definitely not your traditional online course. It is open, meaning that it is not bounded by the learning management system, and as far as I know, everything will be accessible by anyone on the internet.

I should put in a caveat that I did register for a MOOC (massive open online course) that Alec ran this past Winter semester, but fully admit that I did not end up participating, having been overwhelmed with the volume of participants and finding my job at the beginning and schedule not meshing well with the schedule of the course. This will be significantly different as I will receive credit and have the support of my current employment to participate in this course.

So I suppose all of this is leading around to me considering what might be different this time in grad school.

For one thing, I have been through it before. I am not new and not overly daunted by the idea of pursuing a graduate degree. I know exactly what my first Master’s degree and my mostly-completed-but-unfinished-PhD are worth in terms of skills and knowledge (highly useful) but also in terms of how impressive they make me (not very, in reality).

In a discussion the other day with a friend, I also cemented for myself one incredibly valuable lesson I learned from my previous path through graduate school: I will take control of my education. I have no qualms about choosing my courses, determining my path, and doing what needs to be done to get the education I want. I am the only one who can ensure I get out of my degree what I am seeking and I am so very, very glad that I already know that.

For one thing, it meant that I had no qualms about meeting with someone to fix my major when it was changed from what I had on my application. I had already done my homework so I was able to explain why I chose Curriculum and Instruction over Adult Education. Thankfully it was relatively painless to fix the issue but I am not sure I would have argued it the first time around.

Thanks to some good advice, I also already have plans to take courses at another university to augment what is available to me through my own program. I can take more control and not just accept what is already on offer. Coming out of the humanities, I am used to setting my own topics so this is not much of a stretch for me.

Another change was made to my program in that I am currently assigned to a course-based route instead of project-based which is what I selected on my application. I have not done anything to change that yet, but I am considering it. I already work with online courses so I would have ample opportunity to do research and work on a project. In fact, a friend and I already have ideas for some research we would like to do. I received a great suggestion of who I could ask to do some supervision for me, so I am keeping that in the back of my mind. It does seem a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to work on a project that could be useful for my job and for my employer and get some credits while I do it. The first time around I would never have really thought of pushing to make something happen. I could easily just take courses and go through without the hassle.

One other thing I bring is my own level of balance. I know where my boundaries are. I also am willing to be honest with myself about when something is worth doing and when it is not. I have withdrawn from a PhD program before and will forever be ABD when it comes to that degree. I have no urge to finish it just to finish. I learned a lot from my progress in that degree, but just as much from acknowledging the end of the path. I refuse to be pushed into unreal expectations just because I got myself into something and I am happy to be old enough and secure enough in myself to know that now.

I suppose I am less daunted by returning to studenthood than I thought. I know it is a challenge I can meet!

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