This summer, I face the challenge of balancing studies and work. I’m currently taking two summer classes while working as both a UC Berkeley Campus Ambassador and a Planetarium Presenter at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Before summer, while I was making my summer schedule, I initially thought that it would be impossible for me to study and work at the same time, especially if I have in-person classes. I was also starting to feel sad that I won’t be able to work as much because I love my jobs. However, I was very happy to find out that the two classes that I’m currently taking are online classes, which give me lots of flexibility when it comes to studying and scheduling my work shifts. Also, I have never taken an online class before, so I was excited to get started and experience what it’s like. Now that it’s the middle of summer and I have concluded my first class, I would say that there’s definitely some beauty to online classes and also some disadvantages.
What I love about online classes is definitely the flexibility in both space and time. Firstly, I can access and watch the lectures on any device, and therefore when I have breaks during work, I can sit down, pull up my laptop or phone, and watch the lectures. At the same time, since there are no in-person class meetings, I can freely work in both jobs without the need to rush to class. Also, I can be out of town or out of country and still be able to do all the things I need to do. Although final exams have to be taken in-person on campus, one can find an approved proctor to facilitate the exam outside of Berkeley. Secondly, I can work through my readings, homeworks, and exams at my own pace. Both my classes have set schedules on the deadlines of each assignment, homework, quiz, and exams: when exactly to do the readings, submit the homeworks, and take the exams is all up to the students. All that matters is that we submit everything on and before the deadline. That’s why, I am free to plan out my everyday class to-do list according to how much time I need in certain assignments and also my work schedule.
Although there are great things about online classes, there are also disadvantages to taking certain classes online instead of in-person. First, I don’t get to physically meet my professors and graduate student instructors (GSIs). Although my teachers hold chats during the week, accept in-person or Skype appointments, and sometimes hold in-person review sessions for midterms and final exams, I still prefer meeting and talking to my teachers in-person. I get to develop a better relationship with them because we always see each other everyday and talk about class materials and even topics outside of the course. I’m also further motivated to stay on top of things in class because I know that not only are there some expectations to meet during lecture or discussion, but there’s a personal encouragement that each professor and GSI gives to their students. But with online classes, our only means of communication is through emails and video chats, which also means that there’s a much stricter time to follow because of our other scheduled activities. Also, it’s much easier to talk in-person than to type out or find some program to write down your solution, especially when you have a long complicated problem to solve or a diagram that you need to draw.
I also don’t get to meet my classmates. Although it is possible to meet up with people that are currently in Berkeley while taking the class, it’s always nice to see your classmates everyday and share ideas about the class. My only interaction with my classmates is through the chat rooms as well as the blog post responses we write. There are fewer opportunities to make friends when taking online classes (unless you have the initiative to reach out to others and they respond). Last and most importantly, it’s all about the self-discipline. I wouldn’t say that this is totally a disadvantage, but it is indeed the main challenge of online classes. Having a set schedule of classes that I need to attend everyday and seeing my teachers push me to stay on top of things. However, with online classes, there’s a greater tendency to push everything to the last minute. Also, it’s a challenge to avoid shortcuts. For example, the assignment is to read five long chapters. But most of the time, the lectures make summaries of the chapters. That’s why, some students would just opt to watch the lectures and not read. It’s still a great practice to stay on top of things; there’s just a need for discipline, time-management, and motivation too.
Overall, I would say that taking online classes greatly benefits me in that I have the time to do almost everything I want and that it provides me with a lesson and challenge. In my opinion, I prefer in-person classes because of the motivation to practice good study habits. However, I would also say that it really is up to students to find that motivation and have the self-discipline to study, whether we are taking in-person or online classes. It’s definitely a beautiful challenge.