At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in March, George Mason University quickly moved to distance learning to keep the community safe. But what was it like to take online classes as a graduate student?
As the Schar School prepares for the Fall 2020 semester, we asked graduate students for frank answers as to how the spring distance learning affected them. What was it like to learn from faculty online? Was the classroom community as dynamic as it was with a classroom experience? Was it difficult to balance family, work, and graduate school during the pandemic?
Their feedback was resoundingly positive.
Here are their thoughts on the online course experience:
“If there’s one thing that I found particularly compelling, it was that our professors were fully aware of the fact that virtual learning was not going to be a one-size-fits-all experience. One of my professors even said that ‘if you have to take the dog out or pull dinner out of the oven, life is still happening around you, don’t worry if you have to step away.’ With this mentality, I feel a lot of success can be possible for future semesters.”
—Tara Jalali, Master’s in Organization Development and Knowledge Management
“What I discovered is that program faculty created a robust learning environment by combining synchronous and asynchronous learning strategies to share content and build our community. The result was a personalized, high-impact, and connected experience.”
—Amber Hannush, Master’s in Organization Development and Knowledge Management
“Professors cared about each student’s success and were willing to accommodate people’s changing situations. They also incorporated the pandemic into the curriculum so that we could put what was happening into context and think about the implications of policies and longer-term effects.”
—Stevie Kiesel, PhD in Biodefense
“For me, it was impressive how my professors rapidly responded to the daunting changes and challenges associated with shifts in learning. Their humility, deep desire to achieve learning outcomes, along with wanting to give students an engaging academic immersion really shined.”
—Madhavi Jodhpurkar, Master’s in Organization Development and Knowledge Management program and co-founder of Gitayog.org, an educational well-being nonprofit
“George Mason resiliently adapted, advancing my education and protecting the quality of it while still providing me with ample opportunities for engagement and professional development.”
—Madeline Roty, Master’s in Biodefense
“I really enjoyed the discussion boards as a form of communication and discussion when we went online.”
—Nathan Stevenson, Master’s in International Security
“From the open house I attended a year ago to finishing my first semester in grad school, the Schar School has welcomed me with open arms and guided me regardless of the circumstances, making for a seamless transition into their community. Virtual or in person, the Schar School has provided the adaptability and understanding necessary to succeed, pandemic or not.”
—DeeDee Bowers, Master’s in Biodefense
“The faculty at Schar School set any uneasiness about the hybrid learning I had to rest very quickly. Even though we were no longer on campus, faculty members made themselves easily available for any and all student questions. Some even still held class via virtual web-conferencing platforms while others used an asynchronous learning method. Both methods led to seamless continuity in instruction and student discussions by effectively using the technology available.
—Robert Newman, Master’s in International Commerce and Policy
Interested in sampling an online course and learning more about the experience as a Schar School graduate student? Visit the Admissions Recruitment and Events page to browse the schedule of sample classes, lunchtime learning sessions, and program information sessions.
Schar School students were surveyed with additional assistance by Professor of International Commerce and Policy J.P. Singh.