As the word count counter on the bottom left of the laptop screen hit 5000+, I found myself exhaling in relief. Countless hours, days, weeks spent in deciding on a topic, developing a proposal, planning research, and many bouts of stress later, I was finally ready to hand in the final draft of the end of the module assignment.
As a distance learning student of the MA in Education program, I am in my second term and upon successful completion I would officially be halfway through the program not counting the dissertation. As I think back to my first blog, outlining the start of my journey as a distance learner, I couldn’t help but wonder at how much I had learned, not just academically, in just a few short months.
This time around I was a lot more confident, dispensing advice readily to other newbies, and more comfortable with the online realm of learning. However in distance learning, one module can be entirely different from another in terms of not only course content but also in the way the course is administered. For instance, whereas the core module “What is education” was delivered through a series of live streaming lectures, group discussions and online activities, the second module was much more remote, with students and tutors communicating primarily through email, weekly wikis and online discussion forums. Being a slow adapter to change, it took me a few weeks and several emails, to my tutor, the course administrator and a few panicky posts on the moodle, before i was able to adjust to this new format.
To be honest, not having to attend online lectures did make me a bit more lax towards my studies. As I mentioned before, I am more used to the traditional brick and mortar classroom. Not having mandatory attendance, even if it was a virtual one, did take away some of the stress of meeting deadlines. Not that the tutors were any less stringent about meeting submittal dates, but being on the other side of the globe automatically puts time on your side :).
In terms of organisation, I found the tried and tested read as you go strategy works best. The MA Education involves a lot of reading, research and writing and leaving things til the last minute just adds to the stress. The few times I did fall behind on my reading resulted in all nighters – which frankly are best suited to your teens when you have the luxury of sleeping through the day.
As a working, part-time student it is advisable to schedule reading time throughout the week well in advance of the due date. You not only have to read through several research papers and articles, you have to give yourself time to draft your assignments which usually will range from 1,000-1,500 words.
Your tutors will let you know way in advance about your final, which is either a written exam or a 5000+ word coursework assignment. Again for this my advice is to start preparing from the very beginning. Shortlist probable research topics, make notes about each, during your module you will be given several readings and assignments that will allow you to become familiar with and conduct research on various topics that interest you. I chose my research topic halfway through the module during an assigned reading. Your tutors are available throughout the module to guide you and answer any questions even the most obvious ones :).
You will get a lot of practise writing essays, so even of you haven’t written more than a 100 word paragraph in a while you will find yourself writing a 1,000 words or more in no time. The final assignment, if you choose to go this route instead of the written exam, is the one most people find daunting. Make sure you have researched your topic thoroughly, by the time you are ready to start you should have all your research sources lined up, they can be books, journals, articles, papers. The IOE library is a great resource and you can use your UCL ID to unlock papers and articles all over the internet. Your tutor will usually request a draft proposal and will review it thoroughly to ensure you have a clear sense of direction.
Make a schedule and try to keep as close to it as possible, give yourself room for error. My initial lofty goal was to write 500 words a day which would result in me being finished in 10 days flat. On some days I would write 300 words and on others I would find myself staring at a blank page for hours. It’s all part of the process, and in the end it will come together if you persevere. Make sure you are aware of your course deadlines and keep in touch with your tutors and other students through the moodle.
Hope you will be able to utilize these tips in your term. Until next time this is one distance learner wishing you all a happy summer :).