One of SUNY’s greatest initiatives in recent years is the expansion of the Open SUNY program, where students can take courses online in a standardized format from any SUNY campus. The Open SUNY experience puts students into the 21st century digital learning environment while opening doors and expanding access to those who need to find a different, more practical path to degree. We wanted to find some of the graduates who went through the Open SUNY experience to find out how online learning helped them find and obtain a degree.
We spoke with Heather Card, an alumna of Fashion Institute of Technology and a former Open SUNY student. Heather told us about her experience taking non-traditional courses and working with the Open SUNY program, and how that prepared her for life after graduation.
SUNY: Thanks for joining us, Heather. You went to FIT and earned two degrees, yes?
Heather Card: I attended FIT from 2012 to 2016. I received my AAS in 2014 for Advertising and Marketing Communications and went on to receive my BS in Direct and Interactive Marketing this May with a minor in English. I am currently working as a Social Media Community Manager for 87 AM, a New York-based digital media agency.
SUNY: How did you learn about Open SUNY’s online offerings?
HC: I had heard about Open SUNY through other classmates at FIT. I had been really intimidated about taking a class outside of a traditional setting and actually didn’t take my first online class until I finished my Associate’s degree.
SUNY: What was your best experience with the Open SUNY program?
HC: My favorite one was Creative Writing, which was actually the first one that I took. It explored all the elements of the subject and had us dissect professionals, our classmates, and ourselves. I got to write a creative short story as my final project. It was a great experience because I dove into the experience head first, even though I was terrified, and produced incredible results.
SUNY: How did your experience with Open SUNY compare to traditional classes you had taken in the past?
HC: I was so scared about time management. When you take a class in person, half the battle is showing up to the class. I was worried that I’d get caught up in other things and not complete the work in time. I loved the fact that each lesson was taught in modules. That allowed me to see an overview of what I had to complete at a given time, and complete it accordingly, but at my leisure.
SUNY: What was your favorite part of taking online classes?
HC: My favorite part of taking online classes is always getting to express yourself. I think there is a lot of pressure in person to participate that can be stressful for some students. Participation is essential for online classes – but there isn’t much pressure to voice your opinion. I’ve watched really intelligent conversations occur because of online discussions. Based on my experiences in the classroom, it would be very rare to have the same kind of conversation happen in person.
SUNY: Were there any difficulties with the online courses?
HC: My least favorite part was not having face to face communication with my professor. I am a person who needs to have constant conversations with my professor, whether it’s to ask for feedback or to clarify something. You’re still able to do that via e-mail, however, I personally value getting to know my professors. I was able to meet several of the professors that taught me online after the classes had ended and keep in contact with many of them.
SUNY: What kind of support did FIT and Open SUNY give you to help you succeed and reach completion in your online work?
HC: I think that both FIT and Open SUNY were very practical and fair in their online classes. A lot of students fear that the work load is heavier online – because you’re powering through several assignments for one lesson. The module set-up presents material in an interesting manner and the time given is more than enough to complete all of the tasks in each module.
For me, the best thing about having lessons separated into modules is that it presents all of the material to you at once and it’s really up to you as to how you complete everything. Each few tasks have a set due date but I found myself being done days early because I knew what I had to do ahead of time. That isn’t really something you can do when taking class in person.
SUNY: Can you share with us something you’ve learned through an online class that has stuck with you, whether from the lesson plans or from the experience itself?
HC: Online classes really opened my eyes as to how independent I am as a student. I feel like being in a classroom becomes a little monotonous because it’s considered the norm. You get to your classroom, you listen to a lecture, and you go home and complete your assignment only to restart the cycle. With online classes, there aren’t any lectures. You’re given material to look through and then complete assignments that go along with that material. Of course that’s similar to what’s done in the classroom, but the difference is that you’re the professor and the student. The way you teach yourself the material is completely your call. I really value that independence.
SUNY: What kind of advice can you give to others who are thinking about heading to an online class to work toward a degree?
HC: Don’t let other students’ experiences with online classes stop you from trying them. That’s why I only started taking them in my third year. We all have different experiences when it comes to learning. Start out by taking a class that peaks your interest. This is so that you can see the mechanics of how everything works before you pursue classes in the future. That’s how I started my online class experience. Once you’re aware of the format and how to pace yourself, the possibilities are endless. This is coming from a person who took six online classes in two years.
Thank you so much, Heather, for speaking with us. We’ll be finding and sharing more Open SUNY alumni success stories, so stay tuned!
Arthur Ramsay is a student assistant with the SUNY Office of New Media. He is a BA candidate at Empire State College studying American History & Government.