Wednesday, October 01, 2014
Online Student Life
Has anyone seen a college do a good job of providing some sort of student life for online students?
At my institution, most of the online-only students are also dealing with full-time work and/or family care situations. Very few of them express interest in more campus-related activities in their lives; they want the credential and then the next step in their lives. But that's anecdotal. I'd like to know if anyone's tried to pin it down with the needles of data.
My physics prof said we were the first class he'd had where the majority were adults returning to university. It threw him for a loop at first, as he was used to much younger students without non-school experiences.
I think the university hadn't realized how much the demographics had shifted. Or they didn't care.
They are trying, though. The university I attend is a big state school located in the Certified Middle of Nowhere, and as far as the main campus is concerned, online students don't exist. But they have a satellite campus near a big city, and I get a lot of contact from that campus. I've lately gotten emails inviting me to play badminton and basketball there.
I don't live near that campus, but even if I did, I wouldn't likely go play badminton. As others here have already said, with the responsibilities of work and kids, I just don't have a lot of time. And I'm not really interested in the same things an unencumbered 19 year old might be interested in.
However - if I lived near that campus and they had a meet up at a bar/restaurant? Nothing rowdy, just a nice chance to socialize with other adults the way adults socialize? I really think I'd try to find the time. During my degree program, I've had to complete a few group projects, and during those projects, I've *loved* interacting with my peers. Even if it was just email/chat/skype. They were great people and we had a lot to talk about. To meet them in person and have a beer? Yes! I'd even get a babysitter for that.
Not sure how you could rope in people who live far away on that, though. A non-trivial number of our students are military, some on active duty. One of my group members was in Afghanistan this summer. I don't know how you're ever going to involve him in student life. It's a hard problem.
I want to be more connected to my school. I like the idea of feeling passionately about my alma mater. But part of going with an online program is willingly giving up that connection in favor of convenience.
I got married older - mid-30s - and did my undergrad in my late 20s (graduating when I was 31). Not being married at that point meant that even though I was relatively unencumbered, I didn't want to do those things. As noted, the interests of 19-year-olds tend to differ from the over-30 crowd.
But dinner? If that were possible, I'd love that, too. Clearly I'm not going to travel 500 miles for a dinner meeting with classmates, but if I were taking online classes for a degree at a local college, then I would be inclined to find a way to go. I think, though, that there's still a mindset of the under-25-grad student, who may or may not be married, isn't as likely to have children (as someone who might be even a few years older), etc.
I don't see a good way of doing this for distance students. We're non-entities.