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Online student gains skills to become better teacher

For Kevin Silva, earning an online master's degree in education meant a means to even more job security. Though he already ran his school's learning and course management system, he knew a degree would help him in the long run. Once Kevin graduated with a degree that focused on instructional technology, he found career advancement built in to his future. Here is his story.

Q: What made you decide to attend school online?

A: The No.1 reason was [the time it would take to] travel to and from any campus in southern California. No. 2 reason is the flexibility of time shifting the work to when I had time. Busy and inconsistent work responsibilities meant I couldn't attend a regularly scheduled class. I personally couldn't have done it any other way.

Q: Were there any surprising benefits of studying instructional design and technology online, as opposed to in a traditional program?

A: Given that I ran the [learning/course management systems] at the university I worked for, it was invaluable for me as a teacher to experience what students were experiencing, from the minor inconveniences, such as slow performance, to the major issues of adjusting to each instructor's teaching style and course organization. Uniform organization of courses within a program is very helpful.

Q: How did your interactions with professors and other students happen online?

A: Online interactions were conducted in chat rooms, discussion boards, emails and phone calls. Occasionally I would get together in person with a classmate, but never with the instructor.

Q: What sort of professional or job placement resources were available to you in the program?

A: There was placement available, but I didn't access it because I was already employed. At work, I was eventually promoted to associate director of instructional technology. I attribute this to getting the master's degree.

Q: What did a typical day look like while you were going to school online?

A: Generally, I would check the course site Monday morning to review the coursework for the week. By Wednesday, I would be submitting assignments and posting to the discussion board. Usually, I checked into class once a day in the evening. For me, there wasn't a routine in communicating with classmates. It was as needed.

Q: Give an example of a challenge you overcame while earning your degree.

A: Because I was in the first cohort of students going through the online program, there were instances where the syllabus wasn't being followed or instructors weren't communicating in a timely manner. As with anything, challenging the administration or curriculum or instructor can have consequences.

Q: What was your experience of getting your first job after earning an education degree online?

A: Having the master's degree adds a lot of credibility in many work situations, especially in running the learning management system and in teaching online.

Q: Now that you've been on both sides of online education, what would you do differently as a student?

A: Nothing really. I got a 3.9 in my program. When I was younger and in [an undergraduate program], I lacked motivation and connection to the material. Now, I am challenged by learning and comprehension. It was more fun because I wanted to know what was being taught. Students should choose programs based on their interests and learning styles and be wary of getting a degree for sake of having one. It's too expensive and time-consuming to experiment with a college education. Know what you want or wait until you do.

Q: What advice would you give those considering an online degree?

A: Check out the program: the instructors, current students, past students, GPA [required] to get in, GPAs in the program, graduation rate, satisfaction rate, job placement, the ratio of tuition to starting or prevailing wages for the specialty, and availability of jobs after graduation. Treat spending money on an education as seriously as you would a thesis paper.