With the end of the semester fast approaching I thought I would take the time to talk about the experience of returning to college to do a Masters in Technical Communications and e-Learning.
The decision to undertake this master’s programme was a difficult one. I had wanted to complete a master’s degree ever since finishing my undergraduate degree, many moons ago, however, life got in the way. Quite soon after finishing my undergraduate degree I began working with the HSE Foster Care Team in Limerick and quickly became accustomed to the comfort of receiving a regular, decent wage = masters on hold.
I moved from Limerick back to Clare to work for the Clare County Childcare Committee as a Development Officer and went from there to the Brothers of Charity Services as Coordinator for adult services, where I have remained for the past 8 years = masters on hold.
Almost eight years ago, my husband and I had our first child, two more little people have arrived since then = masters on hold.
So you get the picture, I sold my academic soul for a regular wage and my own little family. Stepping out of my comfort zone and deciding to attempt an epic juggling act in the process was a major leap of faith for me, and for my family.
I chose the Masters in Technical Communication for a number of reasons. In my work, I became increasingly interested in how technology could be used to make the lives of the people we support easier and enable them to make the types of life-choices that most of us take for granted. Technology had always been an area of interest for me but through my role as Coordinator, I was able to turn a personal hobby into a professional project. I came upon the Masters in Technical Communication and e-learning on the UL website and was immediately drawn to its central purpose of developing the skills necessary to create accessible, effective content that enables people to use technical, often complex products or services more easily. It sounded like a perfect fit. All I had to do was, apply for a career break, manage childcare and family issues and pay the fees – simple really!
So I took the leap and here I am. My first day began with the usual nerves and apprehension that accompanies all ventures into the unknown, however, the tension was somewhat lessened when I realised that an old friend from home was going to be joining me on the course. The lecturers very welcoming and I got the feeling, from the outset, that I had made the right decision.
In, what I have to come to realise is, typical U.L fashion, assignments arrived in quick succession and before I could get my bearings I was up to my eyes in course readings and deadlines. This has been the way of the course ever since, but I have come to appreciate this modus operando as being a good means of ensuring that you commit yourself 100% to the learning process, whilst also representing an effective means of preparation for the workplace.
The learning curve was a steep one, given that, despite my interest in the area, any formal qualifications and experience I had up to this point was in the community and voluntary sector, a world away from the realities of industry. I had to wrangle with alien software, such as Framemaker, Dreamweaver, Camtasia, Flash etc., throw out everything I had come to believe was good writing and replace it with effective, clear writing, and overcome my innate shyness to grapple with interviews and in-class presentations and screencasts. All of these academic commitments and challenges have to be managed in conjunction with my family commitments. My children are quite young and I don’t want to miss any part of their childhoods, however, as a part-time student, I have no alternative but to spend my evenings and all of my weekends locked away in an office, attending to course requirements. My eldest little girl is not too enamoured of this process and objects every time she sees me heading off with my laptop. I try to appease her by reminding her that it is not for too long more and that I will make it up to her. I can sense her filing this promise away in her memory and I anticipate that she will ensure I deliver on it at the earliest possible opportunity!
One completely unforeseen challenge that I have been faced with since I began this course, is trying to get a decent broadband signal. This one area, as ridiculous as it sounds in 2016, has presented me with more difficulties that any area of the course. There have been so many occasions when I have lost connection whilst searching for journal articles etc. or collaborating on Sulis, or trying to email an assignment in to meet a submission deadline. It is very frustrating to have to wait for an internet signal when you are in full flow working on an assignment.
Despite all the challenges and sacrifices that I and my family have made in order for me to complete this masters, I am very glad that I chose it. The course is challenging and engaging; the lecturers skilfully weave together a pedagogically sound blend of theoretical and practical learning that manages to find the right balance between learning output expectations and student enjoyment. Many of the more commodified courses available, designed exclusively to meet the exigencies of the workplace, in my opinion, rely too heavily on student performance at the expense of genuine student enjoyment. This course demonstrates that the two need not be mutually exclusive. It is possible to enjoy the learning process whilst simultaneously developing the skills necessary to become adept at performing well in the workplace. In fact, it is my opinion, that enjoyment of the learning process has the effect of creating a commitment to the work and a genuine interest in producing content that is of the very highest calibre.
I still have a number of assignments ahead of me and the little matter of a thesis, however, I feel that I am sufficiently prepared to soon venture back out into the workforce with my shiny new skills and take on another new set of challenges. Wish me luck!