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Donna DoyonGaining Confidence - and a Degree - Online

by Donna Doyon

I shudder as I remember high school geometry class. It was something I just didn't get. But now as I look back, I have finally grasped one concept that eluded me in the past. Do you remember the diagrams with lines, rays, and angles on them? Our task was to identify each one and label the points involved? I never understood how one point could be in both a line and an angle-one turns, one goes straight.

Now I get it. My 33rd birthday was such a point.

I had the opportunity to have a college education paid for by my employer. No strings attached. All I needed was to pass with a "C" grade or better and my tuition and books would be reimbursed 100 percent. I had the desire to return to school. Although I held an associates degree my goal had always been to earn a bachelor's degree.

The one excuse I had been using for years--I didn't want to be away from my family for the few hours a week that a traditional class requires--didn't work anymore. My supervisor had told me about an on-line degree program offered through the University of Phoenix.

On the evening of my 33rd birthday, my mother-in-law and I were talking about goals we'd set for ourselves. We reached the topic of education. I told her what opportunities I had available. She told me I would be crazy to let the opportunity slip through my fingers. I agreed, but still…

Three days later I made the phone call to the University of Phoenix. Three weeks later I started my first class.

It was scary. Technology seemed to be working against me at first. But together, the teacher, the university and I, worked through that first stretch of uncertainty. From the way they dealt with my computer problems, I knew they'd seen them before.

The classes were five weeks long and packed with information. All material related to the class was in written form. Each class involved hours upon hours of sitting at the computer reading teacher assignments, student comments and composing answers and comments of my own. Hours upon hours were spent reading textbooks and doing research. In many ways I think these classes were more demanding than a traditional college class.


I chose when I did the reading and responding. Most days I was "in school" from 6:30 a.m. (when I got home from work) until 8:15 a.m. (when my son got on the school bus and I headed off to bed). Some days I was "in school" between 8:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. (after my children had gone to bed). Some days I was "in school" between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. What ever worked for me, worked for school. It was wonderful!

At first, my classmates intimidated me. They held management positions. I did not. Some were much older than I was. I thought I was out of my league and would have to struggle to keep up with them. I was wrong.

We were all people with a goal. We helped each other overcome the technology problems we had. We helped each other understand the course work. We helped each other stay focused when our other lives demanded more of our time and attention.

In a traditional classroom, several people typically command the flow of conversation. These people might be intelligent, have forceful personalities or very strong ideas about the subject. Quite often, the rest of the class remains silent unless called upon. One reason is because while we are formulating a response in our minds, the conversation continues to move on. The moment is lost and we've kept our insight or questions to ourselves.

The on-line classroom is different. Every student has an equal opportunity to submit ideas, comments and questions. We can write, revise, revise, revise and then send it to the class. It is never too late to make a point, clarify one or refute one. Everyone contributes.

It was this process that allowed me to learn that I am not stupid. I have ideas and opinions that others value. In the on-line setting, I discovered my voice. I discovered that I did want to share my ideas. I had questions to ask, but I didn't have to raise my hand in front of the class to ask it, I just needed to type it out.

Two unexpected benefits came over the two years I attended the University of Phoenix on-line program. First, written communication skills dramatically improved. I noticed a change in my own and others' work as the classes progressed. Second, I gained confidence. I was no longer afraid to share my ideas with others. I asked questions. I provided feedback. I gained a sense of who I was.

My formal on-line education ended in June 1998 when I received a Bachelors Degree in Business Management. Now I own my own business. I am a speaker and writer. I still share ideas with others, but now I don't have to hide behind my computer screen.

Oh, and that point, that can be part of either a line or an angle? It's called a turning point. When you reach one, you choose whether to continue on the path you are taking, or whether to make a change that will take you off in a new direction.

Donna Doyon is a speaker and writer. Visit her website or send her an e-mail at

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