When Maureen Girdler decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in communications through IU Online, she found that getting started was easy. Transferring credits from her associate degree in office administration went smoothly: “IU Online accepted all my credits,” she says.
Flexibility was a big plus. “I could schedule my own classes, as long as I checked with my advisor to make sure I was on the right path to my degree,” she says. “And it was easy to plan each week ahead, because my professors made their expectations clear in Canvas.” With two young kids at home, Girdler, like many other online students, scheduled schoolwork around family responsibilities.
Girdler was impressed by her online classes. “I felt I was really at a college,” she says. The instruction was of the same high quality as I’d expect in face-to-face classes.” When she signed up for a foreign language class, she wondered how doing it online would work out. “I was a little apprehensive. But the professor’s assistant was available five times a week so we could get in plenty of extra practice. Sometimes as many as nine of us would get together over Zoom or Skype and practice. We learned from each other’s questions. I really appreciated being able to converse with students at my own level of comprehension.”
In her program at IU East, Girdler experienced the best of online learning. Her online communications course “Pop Culture and Disney and World Culture and Disney” culminated in a class trip to Disney World. “We met each other and the professor we’d been working with all semester. The trip was like a lightbulb going off. It cemented everything we learned in class. The walking tour of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot made the utopia we’d been discussing in class absolutely come alive.”
Girdler was in a unique position to bring the virtual and physical campuses together. During the spring 2018 semester, she served as an on-campus Bicentennial Intern. In that role, she saw a whole new side of her virtual home campus as she researched the history of IU East’s engagement with the community. She interviewed students, alumni, faculty, and staff. She searched the archives of the Pioneer Press, the original student newspaper, and explored photos in IU East’s archive of online albums. She interviewed Spanish and history faculty about an international project that sent students and faculty to the Dominican Republic to make and distribute ceramic water filters that helped provide the community with clean drinking water. During the Opening Minds through Art (OMA) project, she learned how participants working on art projects with the elderly changed the way they view those with Alzheimer's and dementia.
Girdler sees a bright future for herself as an online student and hopes that IU Online will offer a master’s degree in communications. “Online learning is nothing but growing. It’s so available to everyone—it’s a great benefit to many communities of non-traditional students.” Someday, she would like to teach online. She believes that her experience as an online student will inform the way she develops and delivers her own classes.