I don’t care who you are or where you are, the life of the adult student is packed solid with kids and spouses and jobs and family and friends and pets and community and anything and everything else, but somehow we find a way to get it done. Granted, it doesn’t all always get done all the time. There are sacrifices. For me, one of those sacrifices is pausing for reflection and reevaluation – contemplating things like where I have been; how I got here; where I want to be; and how to get there from here. These are critical questions; don’t get me wrong, but when you are juggling seven rings on fire, taking your eye off the movement for even a split second can equal disaster. Instead, I find myself relying on the good decisions that I hope I have previously made. Then, at the start of every new semester, I welcome a gift of sorts.
The start of every new semester undoubtedly brings about enthusiasm, anxiety, and a flurry of activity to get organized and oriented. For online learners like me, getting acclimated to a new set of courses brings with it challenges that the student in the classroom probably never faces. When our classes open up, locating all of the materials, instructions, programs, and resources can be somewhat like assembling a puzzle after you have misplaced the box with the picture – you sort of remember what it is supposed to look like and you hope it indeed looks like that after all the pieces have been found and put together. Fortunately for me and the other learners studying through Penn State’s World Campus, significant efforts are made to facilitate learner orientation by adequately preparing students and effectively organizing their learning spaces.
That is why, at the start of every semester for the preceding three years or so, I have found myself running through a similar set of orientation activities for each and every new course. On my C drive, I have saved a generic document labeled “practice” which I submit to every instructor. I used to have a template for a personal webpage that I simply reposted for every new class, but we stopped using them. I have read and agreed to the same academic integrity statement many times over, as it should be. Then I get to the place where I am supposed to introduce myself in a discussion post and I pause. Hey, I am on a roll here, I think to myself, let me just put whatever I put last semester. Then I look back on my previous introduction and I never end up reusing it.
You see, when I read that prior introduction – which may be from as few as five months earlier – it just doesn’t really sound like me…not anymore. It is in revisiting that old introduction and writing a new version that I gain the invaluable opportunity to reflect on past successes and challenges, on current perspectives, and on dreams of the future. It was in an introductory discussion post that I first admitted my deep desire to pursue a graduate degree to myself and to my classmates. My introductions seem to get longer (and more personal) as the semesters pass by and I discover new insights about myself; as I use what I have learned to continually redefine my focus and refine my areas of interest. My classmates may be stuck reading a few paragraphs, but they get a view of the authentic me. With our goal of building a community of learners, I can only hope that we are both the better for it.
Thanks for reading :-)