The Internet is the classroom of my time. As an undergraduate at the University of South Florida, I was always struggling with commuting, parking, waking up for 8 am classes and staying awake for 8 pm classes. When I decided to pursue my MBA I wanted to make better use of my time, so I decided to try distance education at Florida Tech University Online. At Florida Tech I no longer have to fight traffic, pay for parking, walk a half-mile across campus for my next class, or schedule my career and personal life around my coursework. It’s education at my convenience, 100% online.
This spring I flew home to see my little sister graduate from high school, and I knew the trip would present a great chance to test the versatility of distance learning. Of course this meant briefly trusting TSA with my laptop, and therefore my entire academic future, but hey – no reward comes without a little risk. I’m pleased to report that the device survived the thorough handling, probing and scanning they gave it without a scratch, and while I was waiting for my flight to depart I was even able to log into my online classroom, look through the syllabus and email some classmates.
As usual, boarding was its own gauntlet of cramped seats and flailing carry-ons, followed by the silent brawl to secure half an armrest. I had to shut down my laptop as the plane was taking off, but once we were through with the preliminaries – including the couple behind me talking about their vacation while their son continuously kicked the back of my seat – I was able to resume my coursework with a minimum of fuss.
While I was watching that week’s assigned lecture, the flight attendant interrupted my professor by stopping to ask if I’d like a cold beverage. I asked him to wait by pressing the "pause" button and he willingly complied in mid-sentence. Once the flight attendant handed me my drink and moved down the aisle, I pressed "play" and the lecture continued.
Halfway through the flight – right around the time the flight attendant diligently returned to collect my empty cup – I finished the lesson. Afterwards, while the sun set and the lights of the cities below us started to come on, I posted a few comments to the required discussion board topic and responded to a classmate who had emailed me with a question. As I was completing these final tasks I was informed that it was time to put my laptop away, return my tray table to its full upright position and prepare for our descent.
That was when it really hit me just how convenient and powerful online education is. My classroom, in that particular instance, was six miles above the rest of the world and I fully participated in it while winging toward home at hundreds of miles per hour. But it could have just as easily been on my own back porch, in the waiting room at the dentist’s office or in a cab traveling from one business meeting to another. My classroom could be almost anywhere I wanted it to be, at almost any time I wanted it to be there.
Prior to pursuing online education, that flight would have been mandatory downtime; I would have had no choice but to doze off, watch a movie I’d already seen or, at best, read a book. But distance education made that time far more productive. I acquired new knowledge, interacted with fellow students and completed assignments that would help me earn an advanced degree. And, perhaps most importantly, this anywhere, anytime education – this "global campus" – allowed me to truly enjoy my sister’s graduation without worrying about missing lectures or having late assignments pile up on my desk. It gave me more time to spend with my family, which is ultimately more important than anything else.