Julian Riley's great sense of humor shines through after just minutes of meeting him. He is a native of Texas and a dedicated husband and father of two young children. As a multi-camera television director at KBYU in Provo, Utah, and online graduate student, he certainly leads a busy and full life.
Julian is just weeks away from receiving a master's degree in educational technology at Boise State University. "My ultimate goal is to teach [television production] at the collegiate level." His postsecondary educational career began after he completed two years of mission work for his church. He had attended BYU-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho and earned his bachelor's degree in a traditional on-campus setting. For graduate school, he decided that a traditional program would not fit his life. "We didn't live close enough to a university that offered those kind of courses." In order to obtain the type of degree that would open doors for him, Julian was faced with an important decision. He had the option of moving closer to a campus that offered the kind of graduate program he wanted, but it would require having to sell his home, relocate his family, and seek new employment (while risking the chance of not being able to find work). Instead, Julian made the decision to enroll in the kind of program he wanted, without having to make such a huge transition. He decided to take courses online.
When researching different universities and their distance learning programs, Julian narrowed his search between three institutions. Two offered hybrid programs that required its graduate students to take both on-campus and online courses. The best fit for him was Boise State, whose program is offered wholly online and has no residency or on-campus requirement. "I was referred by one of the professors at BYU-Idaho...I haven't stepped foot on Boise State side!" admits Julian. Though he finishing his graduate studies at Boise State, he has yet to travel the 300 miles required to step foot on its campus.
Though he has never set foot on the grounds of Boise State University, it was important to him that his university have a physical campus. When considering different graduate schools, he knew he wanted to learn at an institution that had roots in a community and a history in its state and region. "I wanted an institution that had a physical footprint."
In his search, Julian also wanted to know as much as possible about the people he would be learning from. "The faculty was a big factor to me...Boise State's 'Meet the Staff' Web page was easy to navigate." His professors have left a lasting impression on him. "The instructors at Boise State were amazing." He describes the academic counseling as "great" and highlights one counselor in particular—"Jerry Foster...who I have not met in person, but is like a dad."
This semester Julian is taking three credits, but for most of his graduate studies he took six credits each semester. To earn his master's degree, he has needed to take a total of 33 credits. He did not have a tuition reimbursement program available from his employer and has used government loans to help pay for his education. "It was all me!" he laughs. As for continuing his education, he's fairly certain when he says, "I think I'm done."
Taking courses over the Internet take a good deal of motivation and the ability to stick to a plan. "Online learning takes a lot of discipline. I don't think this is for everybody. It's not easier...Can you imagine going to class without a professor there?" It can also be difficult to communicate with classmates and faculty members without the use of body language and intonation. "It's hard to portray a personality over the Internet," and adds that comments, blogs, and profiles can "only offer so much. It's hard to let people know if you're a goody guy or really serious."
The World Wide Web can be a frustrating or liberating place. Thanks to search engines, articles from experts, and encyclopedia Web sites, anyone can access a wealth of information right away. Whenever Julian needs to understand a topic more thoroughly or do some quick research, his first stop is the Internet. "If I had a question...it was a click of a window. I could just stop...find the answer quickly and continue learning." Sometimes the Web requires a little more patience, especially when sending a question via e-mail or responding to a discussion thread; receiving an immediate response is not always possible. One of the benefits of Boise State University is the responsiveness of the instructors; during the day, they are simply a phone call away.
Part of his success has been the ability to complete his work in a timely manner, and he advises prospective online students to stay on task. "You can't neglect this. It's harder to say 'Sorry' over the Internet." As an individual who has experience with attention-deficit disorder (ADD), he believes that its especially important for online students to know if they have a learning disability. "If you have a learning disability (ADD, ADHD, etc.) get it checked out."
These days, Julian works on the majority of his assignments at the beginning of the week, working until "three or four in the morning getting all the really big stuff done," and then working in smaller increments during the remainder of the week. Distance learning allows for flexibility. "I can go at my own pace to a degree. I am not a procrastinator, so it works for me."
For Julian, distance learning has been a rewarding experience. "I understand things now. I get it. I didn't think I had the discipline. It wasn't as complicated as I thought it would be." And his studies have required discipline. When his children were younger, he had to adhere to a strict personal schedule in order to stay on top of his work. His wife, a pre-school teacher, would be working while he was home "taking care of two babies." He had to coordinate the needs of his family while dealing with his assignments. Lunches would be at twelve o'clock, and at twelve thirty his daughter would take a nap while his son would watch Scooby-Doo. "That was study time." If he missed that opportunity, then he'd have to wait until midnight before having time to himself for studying. As a devoted father, it was not easy having to take time away from his children to study. Achieving his goals, however, will be something positive and a source of pride for the whole family.