Success Stories from Online Learners: An Interview with Teacher-Librarian, Open Advocate and Lifelong (Online) Learner, Sarah Hammershaimb

If you are in the northern hemisphere, summer is now in full swing. However, if you are connected in any way to education, your summer may be filled with a bit less idyllic recreation and a bit more strategizing and contingent planning as you consider the impending upcoming school year.

Addressing all the “what ifs?” is an exhausting and endless task. The one certainty? Whether in person or screen mediated, there will be students. If your students happen to be the latter, you are in luck. The goal of this learner experience interview series is to help us all learn from the experience of past or current online learners.

The first interview was with Alison Freeman about her undergraduate online learning experience. On the other end of the educational spectrum, the second interview was with Apostolos Koutropoulos, who shared his experience of pursuing his doctorate online. This third interview, with Sarah Hammershaimb (spoiler alert, she is indeed my sister!), strikes a middle ground reflecting the experience of someone who in her own words has “…had a lot of online learning experiences!” Hammershaimb is a teacher-librarian who works primarily in the K12 space, which, until recently, tended to be fully place-based. Whether face to face or online, she endeavors to create spaces that are both inclusive and whimsical, with a particular focus on storytelling, open educational resources, open practices, and open pedagogy.

Please tell us a little bit about your online learning experiences.

I began my online learning adventures as a master’s student in the Library and Information Sciences program at the University of Illinois. I found out about this program while investigating library science masters programs and decided to attend. This was all back in the earlier 2000’s. Online learning back then was not nearly as prevalent as it is now. Before attending the University of Illinois, I did not have any online learning experience. The program followed a hybrid format where we all gathered on campus periodically for intensives and then had the rest of our classes online. I chose this program because it was highly rated, flexible, and would allow me to learn while living in my current situation, so I did not have to relocate to campus.

I then took additional graduate coursework at various institutions, which was all online. Now I am currently enrolled as an EdD student at Athabasca University. The program is again fully online. Like the University of Illinois, I chose the program for its quality and flexibility.

Looking back, almost all of my post-undergraduate coursework was completed via distance. Apparently, I have lots of online learning experiences!

How would you (very broadly) define the best and worst parts?

Best part? For me, it is definitely being able to customize learning to my schedule and my location. Even if courses have synchronous class sessions, I can be flexible as to where I participate. This flexibility for me has been very freeing.

Worst part? For me, it is having to plan my time accordingly. Accountability feels different when you are online.

Do you feel like you know your instructors, much like you would in a face to face program? If so, how did they become “real” to you? Did they connect in any unique ways?

Surprisingly, I feel as though I know my instructors perhaps better than I would in a face to face program!

The digital classroom seems to allow for greater ease of interaction. I don’t have to worry about bothering an instructor after class, let’s say. I can reach out electronically with my questions and receive an answer when the instructor can respond. I find that my instructors have been very consistently open and excited to communicate with their students.

Do you feel like you know your fellow students, much like you would in a face to face program? If so, how did they become “real”? Do you think you will continue these relationships after class and/or ever met up face to face?

Again, I’m surprised to say that I feel like I know my fellow classmates, just as I would in a face to face classroom.

Being in the same online learning spaces allows personalities to emerge in discussions, synchronous class sessions, and the other sharing areas that make up a class. I have developed some deep friendships with my fellow students (who I would have never crossed paths with had it not been for an online course) that have continued far beyond the length of a course or even degree program. I have also definitely met up face to face with many classmates.

What advice would you give to a future online student?

Learning online is a great option and might even be preferred compared to face to face in some settings or situations. When you learn online, you can get to know fellow students around the country, and even around the world. You can also grow your technology skills and be in charge of your schedule.

However, you’ll need to be pretty self-disciplined. Oh, and be sure read your syllabus thoroughly, so that you know what you need to do and by when! If you can keep yourself on track, learning online may be a great path for you!

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