My First, Largely Wasted Semester of Grad School

This fall I entered into my first semester of graduate school. (One of the cool perks of being a UMBC staff member is that the tuition is completely remitted. Make that a very cool perk.)

My undergraduate degree is in History, but my career path has taken me to DoIT at UMBC, so continuing my history education didn’t make much sense. Also, I needed a graduate degree that I could pursue online. For these reasons, I selected the UMBC Online Information Systems program, which fit all of my needs. The folks both at UMBC’s Graduate School and at the IS Department were great, and I was quickly accepted (because of my undergrad GPA, I didn’t have to take the GRE). (Here I also need to thank Drs. Laurie, Kars & Lindenmeyer for their recommendations on my behalf, not once, but twice. But more on that later.)

With the help of my graduate advisor (and Program Manager) Shannon Keegan, I was soon enrolled in my first two classes: IS 607, Intro to Information Systems, and IS 631 Management Information Systems. My books arrived by mail a few weeks before the start of the semester; I was ready to go.

One of my first thoughts upon starting the semester was how little the degree of difficulty seemed to have changed from my undergraduate courses. I guess I was expecting the coursework to be really, really heavy, but it was actually pretty manageable, even with a full-time job. I was used to getting A’s, but had been worried that I’d get less than a B as a graduate student and be disgracefully booted from the program. A couple of weeks into the fall semester, that fear was gone. (Don’t worry, it comes back.)

In IS 607, the coursework started with basic HTML, which seemed ridiculously easy. During the first week or two, we were asked to write simple HTML webpages and then upload these to our personal userpages for viewing by the instructor. (This is around the time when I was deciding that getting a master’s degree was going to be cake.) In IS 631, the assignments were much like what I had grown used to as a history major: read, take an online quiz (as many times as you needed to get 100%), submit a chapter evaluation to the discussion board, and write a short paper every few weeks. Again, cake.

By October, IS607 had moved out of HTML and into CSS style sheets. This is when I started remembering how much I hate coding. I mean really hate coding. But it was still OK, because there were plenty of workable examples I could use as a template (in the book and online) and I could modify these and learn enough to get by – for a time.

By mid-October, the class had moved into JavaScript, and I was panicked and lost. Hours and hours were spent banging away at the keyboard, bleary-eyed and wondering why pages weren’t rendering the way they were supposed to. More hours were spent doing internet research, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, what key element I was missing in my code. This however, just added layer upon layer of suggestions and confusion to my already messy code, and before too long, I couldn’t tell what was broken and what worked anymore. I hate coding. I really do. I began to question whether I was cut out for online learning; maybe I needed an instructor in front of me two or three times a week. Maybe I’m just stupid.

OK, now... what's not quite right with this code...

I looked at the course catalog. Was IS607 really critical? Oh, it was not just critical, it was a prerequisite for every other class in the catalog. Awesome. Just awesome.

By Halloween, I had come to the grim and deflating decision that I had been defeated by IS607. I would withdraw, not just from the course, but from the Online IS program. I had been totally and utterly defeated – by JavaScript, no less.

Fortunately, I found another online graduate program that is more in line with my strengths, the Online Master’s in Instructional Systems Development – Training Systems. This program is more about people than code, which suits me far better, but still relates to my career in IT (think online learning, Blackboard, etc.). Even though it seemed like a lateral move to me, I had to reapply to the Graduate School ($50), forcing me to get my three recommendations all over again (thanks again Drs. Laurie, Kars & Lindenmeyer). But, that’s all done now, and I’m just waiting for the official word that I’ve been accepted so that I can get my spring classes set up.

Chuck Hodell, the nice guy at the ISD program who also wrote the book on ISD - literally!

What about IS631, you say? Well, I’m still acing that, although I must admit, not knowing if the credits will be transferable has certainly lowered my motivation, making even routine assignments feel like heavy lifting. Reading and then writing about something you won’t be needing in a few weeks gets progressively more difficult. So why not just withdraw from this class, too? Because I hated the feeling of being whipped by a class, and also it seems like such a waste, especially at this late point in the semester. I figure I might as well finish, get my A, and salvage a moral victory from my experiences this fall.

So it goes.