It's been a little quiet in The Alaska Teacher Land lately.
(Note to readers: the word quiet only applies to the blog. There's been plenty of noise in real life TAT Land due to a certain four year-old and six year-old that are part of the TAT family. Thank you.)
The almost silence is the result of several factors, but the main one is that I finally finished something I started long ago: getting a masters degree in the Alaska Bush.
I knew I wanted a masters degree while I was an undergrad, but life happened, and before I knew it, I was married and teaching in Shishmaref (hey Steve! Thanks for ruining a perfectly good academic plan!)
(Note to readers: anybody who knows me in real life knows that marrying Steve was the best thing I ever did. The word "ruining," although it technically applies, is a joke. Thank you.)
I couldn't give up the dream of a masters degree, but I didn't want to leave Shishmaref. So, I started researching graduate degrees that I could complete while in the Alaska Bush.
Turns out there are loads of online-only options of varying degrees of quality and cost. I compared multiple programs and tried a few.
What did not work for me:
- completely asynchronous coursework
- no interaction with classmates and professors outside of discussion board posts
- professors with no mastery of the technology used in the class (yes, it is possible to be engaged no matter what, but it is also possible to create a complete snooze-fest via VTC, audio conference, vidyo, etc. if you don't know what you're doing)
- professors who couldn't remember what I was researching, even after sending detailed e-mails asking for feedback
- content that was only tangentially useful to my every day life (History of Piracy, anyone? The "Yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum kind, not the digital theft kind. The digital theft kind might have actually been more useful...)
- academic advisors randomly assigned to me because they specialized in something Native American related. Even though it was East Coast Native Americans. And had nothing to do with education.
I earned a bunch of credits. I learned some moderately useful stuff. I spent a lot of money on tuition. But, I couldn't finish. I wanted my final thesis/project to be something meaningful and personal and useful, but my advisors and professors didn't have the relevant expertise to support me.
A move to Brevig Mission and two kids later, I had basically given up. Then an opportunity fell into my lap. The story of how I got connected to the University of Alaska Fairbanks is for another post, but the short version is that I applied to to a UAF graduate program in Cross-Cultural Education. Some of my research credits from my previous online graduate experiences transferred, and I was able to complete my degree.
This time I loved it. I'm proud of my final masters project. I felt supported and guided the whole way. I adore my professors and graduate committee members. I'm a better person and a better teacher now. And that's kind of the whole point of education in the first place.
Why UAF was different:
- my distance classes met at least once a week online via Blackboard Collaborate and a simultaneous conference call. I got to hear the voices of my colleagues and professors, see their faces, and actually connect with them!
- professors who knew how to maximize Collaborate, conference calls, Google Forms, etc. to keep three hour classes interactive and engaging.
- classes were SO RELEVANT to what I was/could be doing in my classroom. I could immediately take things from class and use them to improve my teaching
- professors extremely familiar with the Alaska context
- academic advisors who knew me as a person, were competent in the areas I researched, and offered fantastic resources and guidance
I needed connection. I needed relevance. I found that at UAF. I would encourage anyone looking for graduate (or undergraduate) degrees or courses to check out UAF's distance education department.
(Note to readers: The School of Education at UAF is in the middle of some, uh, shall we say, restructuring. The distance options in the School of Ed are a little light right now, but stay tuned, things will get sorted soon. We hope.)
There are also distance options across the University of Alaska system. I can't vouch for any of them personally, and I am partial to UAF, but Steve (aka Mr. TAT) completed the MEd in Mathematics Education at the University of Alaska Southeast and had a positive experience.
Comment away questions about my program, Steve's program, or any other specific program you're wondering about. I can always activate the small-world-that-is-Alaska connections to find someone with personal experience and insights to share.