Studying online

Graham Clements
I wanted to do a creative writing degree. But I was worried illness would regularly stop me attending classes. A university offered me a place in an online course. In an online course you use the computer and internet instead of attending classes. I thought that writing was suited to online study. I accepted. I completed the course in less than three years. But there were many challenges. Slow internet access was a problem. It was also sometimes difficult to find the books I needed. And some university staff were difficult to contact when there were problems.
Posted by: 
Graham Clements on 17/01/2011
A woman using a computer and a textbook to study

I had positive experiences online

A few years ago I wanted to do a creative writing degree. There were no local universities so it meant moving to a major city. But I was worried that my ulcerative colitis would make it difficult to move and attend classes. The illness could flare-up at any time.

I decided to take a chance. I applied to a number of different universities.

Surprise offer

I was offered a place at the University of Canberra. I hoped to work and save until a few weeks before I had to move. But I could only find part-time work.

I contacted the university with the intention of deferring. But I was surprised when the head of the writing department contacted me. She suggested I do their online Master of Creative Writing.

Advantages and disadvantages

A big advantage of studying online was not needing to move to an expensive city. Most importantly, online study also reduced the risk of my illness interfering with classes. But studying online would reduce the social aspects of university.

I had positive experiences online previously. I had criticised stories for online writing groups. First I would read the story to get an overall picture. I would then re-read it and note any criticisms. Then I would write a formal critique. I could tell when other online writers put the same effort into critiquing my stories.

In comparison, face-to-face critiques always felt inferior to me. There seemed to be no time for proper analysis. Usually the author read their story out loud. A nervous voice could destroy their piece’s reception. Meetings could also be dominated by someone with a strong personality. Newcomers and those who lacked confidence could be too scared to give their opinion.

My major concern about the masters course was whether my writing skills were at the level required. But I thought the worst that could happen was failure. I decided to accept the offer.

Internet access

At the time I could only afford dial-up internet. This meant wasting time waiting for course emails and documents to download. The slow internet connection also made it difficult to participate effectively in chat-room discussions. I also could not access a course website. Fortunately, halfway through the course I found full-time work. I switched to a faster broadband internet connection.

The only lengthy internet interruption occurred when I moved house. I had to use internet connections at the local library and my sister’s house. I had to wait two weeks for a connection at my new house. 

I also occasionally had problems obtaining reference material. Wangaratta only has a small local library. For one assignment I had trouble finding appropriate books for any of the six topics. It took a lot of searching until I found a relevant book at an online second-hand bookstore.


During the course I had problems with two lecturers. Email and phone messages failed to get timely or satisfactory responses from them. I think the lack of face-to-face contact made things worse. If I had been able to personally confront them, the situation might have been more satisfactorily resolved.

But studying online was of benefit when my illness flared-up. I was ill a number of times during the course. If I had been attending university I would have missed classes.

I ended up completing my masters in two-and-a-half years. Some subjects challenged me. Other subjects I found relatively easy. I did better in those I enjoyed, like Writing for Young People, Scriptwriting and Creative Writing.

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