Ball State Graduate School Blog

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5 Strategies to Help Grad Students Get the Most of Online Classes

Here at Ball State University, we’ve seen our graduate student enrollment grow, particularly in our numbers of students seeking an entirely online graduate degree experience. As these numbers increase, we wanted to help students, either returning to school after working in the professional world or those who are accustomed to a face-to-face educational experience, make the most of their online classes.

So we talked to Deborah Davis, associate professor in the master’s of public relations program. The PR program at Ball State is one that can be completed entirely online, on campus or in a blended format.

“Online classes are going to continue to be a mode of delivery that’s very important to many of our students,” Davis said. “Learning how to get the most out of them, as you would in a face-to-face class is very important.”

Here’s some advice from Davis to help online grad students manage their time and assignments when taking online classes.

  1. Treat online classes as if they were face-to-face classes

Students should incorporate structure into their routines, similar to what is required in an in-person class. Many online students work full time, in addition to taking online classes, so it’s important to set aside time for coursework and make it a habit. Davis said she had one student who would work on her class work at 5 a.m. every morning, because she had a job and a family and that was the time that worked best for her. If it’s built in, you’re less likely to be scrambling to meet deadlines at the last minute, amid other life and work responsibilities.

  1. Get comfortable with technology and have a backup plan

One mistake that online students make is to wait until the last minute to turn in assignments electronically, then find that their Wi-Fi is down or Blackboard isn’t working correctly.

“You have to take charge of that,” Davis says. “Don’t use it as an excuse to not to the work.”

  1. Break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces

This is a time management strategy that people hear often, but it’s critical as an online grad student. Most grad classes require some kind of final project that students are expected to work on throughout the semester, so giving yourself time leading up to the due date will be important to getting it finished and not stressing yourself out.

  1. Set personal goals

Approach your classes with goals in mind of what you want to accomplish, and think through these goals carefully. At the graduate level, each class is a building block toward the degree. It’s important to go into classes recognizing this and having goals where you want to be as a student to tackle the next class.

  1. Incorporate in-person time with others

Face-to-face contact is still important to maintain, even in online classes. Scheduling time to meet with professors and your fellow students gives you the chance to talk about your ideas and your struggles. As a professor of online classes, Davis makes an effort to help students get to know one another by requiring collaboration on assignments and get-to-know each other posts in discussion boards. Don’t be afraid to reach out to classmates or the professor for help or just to meet to discuss your goals and prospects.

Our award-winning Online and Distance Education programs offer even more resources for online learning. Check them out here.

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A Day in the Life of Chelce Carter, a graduate student in anthropology

Chelce Carter, graduate student and mother of cats.

My name is Chelce Carter, and I am a graduate student in anthropology, among other things—including intern/advocate, graduate assistant, graduate school ambassador, wife and mother of cats.

MORNING

My day normally starts around 7 a.m., but more often than not it starts a little later. After I get up and get ready for my day, my husband (also a graduate student) and I take off for campus. We live out in the country, so driving in takes about 20 or 25 minutes depending on traffic. This isn’t the worst drive, but fog, rain, snow or other bad road conditions can make the trek longer.

TREAT YO’ SELF

After we get to campus, he gets out at Robert Bell to start his day, and I go on to my internship. Most days, I go straight to the shelter where I’m an intern, but on Wednesdays, I treat myself. The closest I get to breakfast on any other day is a banana in the car on the way in, but today I stop at the Caffienery, a downtown Muncie coffee shop, for a bagel and tea.

WORK, PART 1

Sometimes I can enjoy these before my work at shelter starts, but more often I have to wait until I am done with my first task—client area. This is where I spend an hour with any residents or children who might be awake. Today is pretty quiet, but still poses challenges as I am not very good at interacting with children at times, especially ones who are less inclined to listen. Another staff member has made playdough for the children to play with later, and I mess around with it a bit. After more volunteers and staff arrive in the back, I head up front to start taking calls.

In addition to being a shelter, we also have a designated suicide hotline as part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This means that we can get calls from all over the nation, and sometimes even international calls. Calls range from very serious issues, such as emotional crises or suicide in-progress, to lighter topics, including lonely people wanting to talk or requests for resources relating to mental health, homelessness, etc. Today the calls were pretty light for most of the day, but there was a moment where the phones were ringing one right after another.

I was more than happy to take over the front desk, which requires watching the cameras, controlling the doors and fielding basic calls regarding business operations. At the desk, I was able to do a little bit of work for the Ball State Student Symposium, where I will be presenting a paper that is still in progress. I also chatted with some staff members about upcoming events that I’m helping with. Before I knew it, it was 2 p.m., and I was ready to leave.

FOOD, PART 1

I’ve been trying to eat healthier, but on busy days like this, I’m happy just to get something to eat. Today, I stop at a fast food place, get some food to go and eat in my office while watching some Netflix to unwind after my time at shelter. This is an important part of my self-care regimen that I try to practice to avoid burnout, a frequent occurrence in the non-profit world.

WORK, PART 2

After lunch, I head over to the Graduate School Office to call some prospective students to offer a meeting with our director of enrollment and recruitment. This task is part of my job as a Graduate School Recruiting Ambassador. In total, I call 15 people and talk to three, leaving messages on the others’ machines. Two of the callers set up a meeting, and I follow up with them via email.

WORK, PART 3

I do many types of work in graduate school, including work for my assistantship. This involves helping professors with a wide range of tasks. In the past, I have graded papers, organized study sessions and edited chapters of books. Right now, my main task is to get an article ready to go for submission and go over book chapters to make sure they make sense. I’m also reaching out to the local community to find out what opportunities exist for graduate students to get involved.

FOOD, PART 2

Tonight, I’m going to a poetry/essay reading with my husband. We meet at one of the food courts and get some food before heading to his office to eat and relax with dinner. After finishing off my pizza, I do a little more work before the reading.

EVENING

The poetry reading is pretty full, but we find a seat and settle in. Before the reading starts, I go over my calendar to make sure that I’m keeping up with everything that I need to. I’m using a Passion Planner this year, and it’s been immensely helpful in keeping my life on track. The readers begin, and in order to reduce my anxiety, I work on the task I was doing before while they read. At the end of the reading, I feel a little better, but still a little worried about everything that I have to do.

Some of the early reading that I did that made me feel really great about graduate school.

ADVICE

Grad school is not necessarily hard—but it is difficult at times. It will challenge you and invite you to learn more about your field of interest and the topics you’re passionate about. It will go from 0 to 60 in no time at all. One day, you could be sitting in a poetry reading looking forward to the weekend, and the next, you could be worrying about all of the things that you have to do before the weekend. However, I would rather have that worry than not, since I know that each thing I do is pushing me to a better place of knowledge and exploration.

While it can be challenging, and at times, anxiety-provoking, it’s worth it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to be done in a few months and graduate, but I would also be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy my experience. It has helped me in so many ways—academically, professionally and personally. Reading and exploring texts about my subject area has had a huge impact on my desire to continue on this path, one that is often not easy or filled with happy endings. Through this journey, I have gotten a better sense of who I am, what I want to do and what drives me, something that would have been much harder to do without the guidance and structure of graduate school.


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Grad student’s creativity, passion for teaching earns him Graduate Assistant of the Year award

Joshua Barkley, right, accepts the Graduate Student of the Year award for 2015-2016 from Nancy Prater, left, director of marketing and communications for Online and Distance Education.

Joshua Barkley, right, accepts the Graduate Student of the Year award for 2015-2016 from Nancy Prater, left, director of marketing and communications for Online and Distance Education.

Ball State University offers graduate assistantship positions for nearly 1,000 students on campus each year. And every year from that pool of students, one is chosen to receive the Graduate Assistant of the Year award. Joshua Barkley, this year’s winner, used his expertise and passion for plants as a teaching assistant to help students learn and retain information.

“It is truly an honor to win and I am proud to have been associated with such a wonderful university,” Barkley wrote in a post on LinkedIn about receiving the award. “I would also like to thank all those involved in surprising me with this award and bringing in my family to help celebrate.”

Barkley is now a landscape designer with GPD Group in Columbus, Ohio, after graduating from Ball State in May with a master’s in landscape architecture. During his three-year tenure as a teaching assistant in various plants classes, he left his mark not only on his students, peers and faculty, but his designs can also be found in the area. He had a hand in the design of the Yorktown gateway project that welcomes travelers exiting Interstate 69.

In the classroom, Barkley was well-liked by students and always eager to help, said Susan Tomizawa, the instructor in the department for whom Barkley worked. Barkley’s undergraduate studies in horticulture and design at Purdue University were a major asset to his students. He combined that in-depth knowledge with personal stories and anecdotes to help students make connections to the information.

“One trait that stands out is his ability to make learning interesting, and one in which I, myself, have taken lessons from,” Tomizawa wrote in her nominating letter.

Tomizawa said Barkley helped student identify plants using imagery, stories and associations.  

“I enjoy hearing students repeating, sometimes several months later, the techniques that Josh has used to help them remember large quantities of information,” Tomizawa wrote.

He lead hikes on campus and through nearby landscapes looking at trees, shrubs and perennials to teach students how to identify them by bark, leaf and bud. In the weeks leading up to finals — when the weather could produce cold, snow or freezing rain — he would accommodate requests for additional refresher hikes.

His dedication and professionalism inside the classroom and beyond made him an asset to the department. He took a difficult project in Fishers last year, approaching the challenge with patience and diligence, and has also encouraged other Purdue University students to consider a graduate degree at Ball State, said Jody Rosenblatt Naderi, director of the landscape architecture graduate program. Some have chosen to follow in Barkley’s footsteps and will begin their studies in the fall.

It’s clear from the praise Barkley received in several nominating letters, his presence has made an impact within his cohort of graduate students, the faculty with whom he has interacted and the students he instructed.