As the beginning of the school year rolls around (for the southern hemisphere) and I am once again tempted (but resisting) going back to university, I have been reflecting on the changes since I undertook my first degree, in the early 1990s.
I studied recreation management and planning, which was a fabulous degree. It was a very small intake, 40 students per year, so we all knew each other very well. To get into the course you not only had to have the right high school marks, you also had to write a couple of essays about why you wanted to do it, what your career ambitions were, and then sit and interview. I remember how excited I was when I was accepted!
Because we were such a small tight group, we cooperated for resources. At the beginning of each semester, we would form a production line at the photocopiers in the library and photocopy off the required readings for each student. These were the days before easy access to resources on computers, and before every student having a computer in their home. Microsoft dominance had not yet become entrenched and hence part of the course included being taught how to use the university’s computers. When deadlines rolled around the entire year would set up camp in the computer room at the university and stay there, sharing resources, ordering pizzas, and proof-reading each other’s assignments. Assignments had to be handed up in hard copy and bound, and hence the battle with the printer was a shared one.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I completed my most recent degree (I am a serial student with the university debts to show for it). I studied online with students from all around the world. In fact one of the really interesting things was hearing about people’s career paths in other countries and other fields.
All materials were sent electronically. Assignments were submitted electronically. Research could be done electronically. During this entire degree I did not set foot in a library for research purposes – when Google Scholar and PubMed can provide us with a wider range of peer-review journals and free access to books, photocopying sources in the library is no longer the time-consuming (and costly) exercise it was. As a result, hopefully there is a wider range of material being used for references….although too much information can be difficult to manage. (When I lectured at University, the undergrads all used to use the same quotes from the same sources. Very monotonous to mark. Post-grads were better.)
Studying as an activity has become entirely different. Possibly for those who study on-campus, ie: attend lectures rather than distance education, the experience might still be similar – the camaraderie, the networking. I still occasionally come across people I studied with in my work life and it is always great to look back on those days.
But as an adult with work and home responsibilities, the convenience of being able to log on at night without having to travel to campus has significant benefits. If distance education weren’t available I wouldn’t have done so much study.
And I wouldn’t be so tempted to go back again…..