How to make the most of your ComDev MA studies

by Tobias Denskus on January 5, 2015

in ComDev,Student Info

A few days ago, the smart people at TechChange featured an interesting end-of-the-year post: ‘How to Make Online Learning a Career-Boosting Habit’. This inspired me to think about some of the similarities and differences between various forms of online learning.
As ComDev is about to start a new term with a fresh cohort of students and the application deadline for autumn 2015 is also approaching fast I wanted to share some of my insights after teaching ComDev for just over 1.5 years now:

  1. Define your end goal

This should be a no-brainer: Get an MA after two years of part-time studies.
But quite a few students who are admitted to our course do not reach this goal-or at least not within the ideal time frame of four semesters. Job changes, live, children and moves happen and you need to ask yourself how dedicated you are to completing a 60 ECTS MA program.
As I highlight in point 4, you will get the most out of the program if you follow the timeline and participate as much as possible in the regular teaching and learning activities and stay connected to the course and its virtual and physical environment in the Öresund region of Denmark and Sweden.

  1. The chances and limitations of online flexibility

Unlike other online courses, the ComDev MA, although entirely web-based and 50% part-time, is not 100% flexible and not 100% an individualized learning program. Even if this sounds much more bureaucratic than we actually work and think, but at the end of the day this is a regular MA program offered by a Swedish Higher Education institution-it just so happens that the classroom is virtual.
While you can access recorded lectures, the learning platform or digital content from the university library 24/7, we do require different forms of group work, peer reviews of assignments and individual assignments ranging from traditional written essays and home exams to blog posts and presentations. We also invite you to join us for teaching days, seminars and social events in Malmö and we frequently travel, e.g. promoting and living the Glocal Classroom. I know that there is a strong student and alumni presence in Stockholm which organizes get-togethers, but if you are planning to have an after work drink in your city-let us know and we are happy to promote the event and may even try to join you for a beer or coffee!
In short, we are trying our best to facilitate a global virtual classroom that comes with the full rights and responsibilities of any other higher education studies environment. You and the teachers have the right to enjoy a long summer holiday-and the responsibility to deal with a higher workload at peak times, for example at the end of the terms in December/January and April/May.

  1. Schedule in your online learning time like you’d schedule a meeting.

On the one hand I agree with TechChange on the importance of setting aside time for (online) learning:

‘According to Lauren Bailey, it is very important to “be diligent and set aside time every day to log into the course — even if you can only spend 20 minutes. Try to attend live events and make sure to ask questions that enhance the discussion.”’

But on the other hand, I also think that this issue highlights an important difference between a task-based course and the long term learning goals of a postgraduate program. You also need time to read, think, explore the literature, prioritize readings that you consider interesting and relevant and then start the read, think, …circle again. In the age of Internet, eBooks, journal articles and e-reader friendly resources there is essentially no excuse for not taking advantage of the (digital) library. And dealing with an abundance of information, making sense of all the ‘data’ is a skill you will need to master in the 21st century-and our program will enhance your digital literacy.

  1. Make connections by participating as much as you can

Again, I pretty much agree with TechChange on this point.
One challenge is that most of the admission process is conducted by Sweden’s central university admission institution which means that we at ComDev know very little about new students when they commence their studies. Through introductions in the work groups, online lectures or questions on our learning platform we get to know quite a few students, but what I personally find challenging is that we often miss out on the office hour, cafeteria or after classroom interactions that most on-campus programs provide. I personally enjoy feedback-what worked well last week, what question was not answered and is volunteering for organization x, y or z a good idea? Attending our 1-2 day teaching seminars or just dropping by when you live in or visit the Öresund region are very much encouraged and appreciated. This also applies to our growing network outside the formal teaching activities, e.g. our facebook page, student and alumni group or LinkedIn group.

I realize that I tend to describe a model scenario and that staying engaged in a demanding course that requires some structure and discipline is not always possible with every student. But given the context of a ‘proper’ postgraduate degree program offered by a creative, fairly young and fairly unstuffy Swedish university we can also offer quite a lot and, as the name suggests, communicating about your own professional or organizational development is as much part of the package as reading a novel, working on a group blogging project or submitting an academic thesis.

If you are a current student or alumni and think that I missed something-post a comment or send us a message!
Also, if you studied other online courses and found certain tools and approaches helpful we would love to hear from you!

Tobias Denskus is a Senior Lecturer in Communication for Development and currently also the program coordinator for the MA in ComDev. He mostly blogs as Aidnography and can also be followed on Twitter.

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