:: Spotlight: Kirsten Greene

Posted: April 4, 2011

Challenges and Rewards of Independent Study Online Courses

In December 2006, Kirsten Greene expected to graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. She made plans to move to Canada to work and live after graduation, but at the last minute discovered that she didn’t meet all the requirements to complete her degree.

After taking a few years off, Kirsten decided to finish her degree while still living abroad with the help of online courses from University Extension (UEX).

In the 2010 interview below, Kirsten discusses some of the challenges and rewards of taking independent study online courses.

How did you learn about UEX? How did taking courses with UEX help you to reach your academic goals?

I walked the stage to graduate from The University of Texas at Austin in December of 2006, but afterwards, instead of receiving a diploma in the mail, I received a letter telling me that I didn’t meet all the graduation requirements. It was a huge disappointment. I had already made plans to move out of the country and move on with my life. How could I push the pause button and stay in Austin another semester? Frustrated, I did nothing to pursue my degree.

It wasn’t until last year, that I decided finishing my degree at UT was something I wanted and needed to do. I emailed my advisor at UT, Calina Coakwell. She has always been on my side in helping to get needed credits, grade points, and alternative course options. She is always positive and real with my degree requirements and recommending classes that she thinks would be best. She suggested UEX, and I didn’t hesitate.

I am now working through my last UEX course. Pending successful completion of that, I will be a graduate, in absentia, with a B.A. in Geography. Imagine.

Did you take evening or online courses? What was the benefit of this type of course for you?

I took online courses. I will have taken three altogether. The benefit of online classes is that I can complete my college coursework from abroad and while working a full time job. I can keep my life moving, which is how I like it. Also, UEX isn’t just any college, it is The University of Texas and my employers recognize that.

What were the classes like? Were they what you expected?

Classes were what I expected. A LOT of hard work and self-discipline. The classes are organized with reading assignments followed by suggested online resources and a mixture of computer graded multiple choice quizzes and instructor-graded essay questions. The amount of insight and hard work that go into making the grade in these classes can be frustrating until you take that exam and see your hard work pay off.

What would you say are biggest benefits of taking courses with UEX?

The biggest benefit of taking courses with UEX is the freedom. Living abroad and not putting your life on hold in order to accomplish your goals is so awesome!

While in residence, I never took the time to speak with my professors. I sat in the back, tried to do the work, got a mediocre grade. UEX puts you in touch with great professors. Their insight and encouragement are so important to your success.

Any challenges?

The absolute biggest challenge of an online class is not having a lecture to go see. I never thought I would actually miss going to school. Without direction from your professor in a lecture, it is hard to size the information down to important points to study. You kind of have to study all of it and be ready for anything. The second biggest challenge is motivating yourself to organize your workload and keep at it. There are no study groups or other students to help you stay motivated.

Another big challenge is finding a UT approved testing center abroad. Not all universities have a testing center like UT and you really have to pound the pavement to find somewhere. I am living in Vancouver, BC and even the University of British Columbia (a great school) does not have this resource. Add the testing fees and FedEx costs not associated with your original UEX amount and, for a struggling student, it is something to plan for.

Any advice for someone considering taking a course with University Extension?

My advice is this, study something you have a natural ability to do. In other words, don’t take a calculus course if you struggle with basic math. You will get frustrated. Email your instructor and keep on trying. To review for exams, go over your previous assignments and don’t forget to check for feedback from your instructor. Blackboard will not necessarily prompt you when you receive it, so you must check on your own.

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