In honor of Memorial Day in the United States, our guest blogger is Gregory Barber who is retired from the U.S. Air Force. While learning online at the University of Maryland University College, he has lead in helping other veterans succeed in their studies. We thought you should hear his story…and thank members of the armed services and veterans.
For me, joining the military and eventually taking online classes were a means to an end.
My brother-in-law was a captain in the U.S. Air Force, and I talked with him about joining. He knew that I wanted to travel, get my education, and sharpen my skills in information management, so he showed me around the local Air Force base and discussed the advantages with me.
I decided to join, and apparently it was meant to be, because I stayed for 20 years. I retired with experience as a computer network defense operations manager, computer network defense network information analyst, information systems security officer, and network administrator.
Online education fit my needs, even if deployed
Online education fit with the life I chose. I had already taken some courses from community colleges near where I was stationed, and eventually I completed two associate’s degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.
I knew I wanted to continue my studies, and I researched several different institutions. I found that UMUC met my requirements—it was an accredited university, veteran friendly, offered easy access, and the tuition was affordable.
I decided to study online for two reasons. First, I wanted to try a different mode of instruction, and second, I was looking for a way to continue my education even if I was deployed.
The VeteransSuccess Club at UMUC
Based on my experience, I started the VeteransSuccess Club to offer UMUC students additional support services both online and face-to-face. The VeteransSuccess Club serves UMUC student veterans, active duty service-members, reservists, and their families. It is a relaxed environment where members can come and discuss their concerns, from military transition, employment opportunities, benefits, or to just have a conversation about what’s on their mind.
Along with many other student veterans here at UMUC, we created this club to provide support to the student veteran in overcoming those obstacles that might hinder their personal experience during their educational journey. We know that the club can be an essential component for student veterans at UMUC but we must have participation. Our desire is for more student veterans to get involved in the club and make their presence known.
Online learning gave me needed flexibility, but it’s not easier
To be honest, I thought online education would be easier than face-to-face instruction, and I thought the courses wouldn’t take much time to complete. I was wrong on both counts. For me, online courses were often more challenging than face-to-face, requiring that I arrange study time throughout the week in order to complete the required assignments.
Flexibility was by far the greatest advantage to studying online. I didn’t have to rearrange my schedule in order to make it to class; I could just go online whenever I had free time. A corresponding challenge, though, was that I was sometimes inclined to put off homework and wait to complete assignments until the last minute.
Group assignments could be challenging, as well, if a group member was tardy with his or her contributions. In a face-to-face classroom, you can just approach the person in class; online, you often have to resort to e-mail . . . then wait for a response.
I’ll never forget when, in an MBA courses, one student was assigned a segment of a project. The due date came and went without the student turning in the assignment or contacting other team members. As the project lead, I e-mailed the student repeatedly with no response. Ultimately, the instructor had to assist my team with a resolution.
Those challenges aside, there is no question that online education was an important factor in allowing me to earn both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, offering access to the curriculum I needed when I simply wouldn’t have been able to attend those classes face-to-face.
Advice to someone starting to learn online
To someone who is beginning online studies, I always recommend starting one course at a time. That allows time to get comfortable with the learning management system, to get used to locating and communicating with professors and classmates in the online environment, and to get familiar with the requirements of the course and the professor’s expectations.
I’ll always remember the first online course that I enrolled in at UMUC. I logged in expecting to read a couple of articles, perhaps complete a one-page paper, and be done for the week. I was in for a rude awakening. Besides articles and several assigned chapters in the textbook, there were conference questions from the instructor and comments from classmates that I had to respond to, in addition to completing a two-page paper. I realized that this would not be the online course I anticipated.
Once you’re comfortable in the online environment, though, success comes down to time management. As an online student, it’s your responsibility to know when assignments are due; how to post comments, links, or documents in online discussions; and where to post them. Since most online students are adults with competing responsibilities, those are the sorts of obstacles that can become insurmountable if left until the last minute. Plan ahead and keep up with assignments, and you’ll do fine.
About Gregory Barber:
Service Branch: United States Air Force
Years of Service: 20 years
AREAS OF RESPONSIBILITY
Information Systems Security Officer (ISSO)
Information Systems Security Engineer
Computer Network Defense (CND) Operations Manager
Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy, University of Maryland University College (UMUC), Adelphi, MD, Expected date of graduation: 4/14
Master of Business Administration (MBA), UMUC, Adelphi, MD, GPA 3.0, 08/2012
UMUC Certificate, Project Management for IT Professionals, UMUC, Adelphi, MD, 05/2008
Bachelor of Science, Information Systems Management, UMUC, Adelphi, MD, 12/2007
Associate of Applied Science, Information Management, Community College of the Air Force (CCAF), Maxwell AFB, AL, 05/2004
Associate of Applied Science, Information Systems Technology, CCAF, Maxwell AFB, AL, 05/1999