Student Anu Goyal On the Joys of Online Learning

Graduate Student Anu Goyal

Anu Goyal is working on a master’s degree at NJIT, but he doesn’t go to class.  He has a job, but he visits his job site only five times a year.  And though he lives in West Orange, his job -- much to his delight -- is in the Caribbean: He teaches e-media design and communications at St. George's University, in Grenada.  

How does he do it?  

The master’s program he’s enrolled in -- Professional and Technical Communication -- allows students to take distance learning classes.  And that flexibility enables Anu to do a master’s at NJIT while working in Grenada.    

Interestingly, he also uses distance learning to do his job.  The classes he teaches at St. George’s are mostly online, and, except for visiting campus five times a year, Anu works contentedly out of his apartment in West Orange.      

“That’s the beauty of distance learning,” says Anu.  “When I travel to St. George’s, I spend my days training faculty and students on web presentations and streaming-media technologies. But in the evenings, as I listen to the sea waves lap and the crickets chirp, I flip open my laptop and suddenly become a grad student at NJIT!” 

With high gas prices, the harried pace of American life and the growing sophistication of distance learning classes, more students, like Anu, are choosing to enroll in online learning classes. 

And NJIT, a longtime leader in distance learning, offers an array of online choices for students, including a new master’s in management and thirteen graduate certificate programs.

Since both his studies and job rely upon distance learning, Anu has become something of a young expert in the field.  In this interview, he talks about the manifold joys of online learning, from both the perspective of a student and a teacher.  He talks also about his love of composing and of producing music.  Before he started teaching, he lived in Los Angeles for a few years and made a living selling his music -- mostly hip hop beats and pop ballads.  In his view, music production and digital recording are allied to online learning and teaching.  In the below Q and A session, Anu discusses the alliance between music and technology.

So in your view what are the benefits of distance learning?
Some of the advantages -- aside from saving time and gas schlepping to face-to-face classes -- are the flexibility you have to work on assignments anywhere, anytime (yes, I get Wi-Fi in my bathroom); the ability to control the pace of learning so it jives with my learning style and aptitude; the luxury of doing online searches while listening to podcasts from iTunesU; and the convenience of having a steadfast supply of the course’s content at your fingertips, which staves off excess printing, paper cuts, Chinese food stains and the proverbial the dog-has-eaten-my-homework excuses.  Best of all with DL, I’m able to work my job and do my master’s degree simultaneously, without one undermining the other; in fact, both complement each other nicely.  

Do you enjoy your classes and your professors?  

Is this a trick question? Why all of my courses and my professors have been consummate and engaging!  Web-based training (PTC 650), taught by Professor Robert Myre, really inspired me because it delved into the learning psychologies and capabilities of the human mind. This class prompted me to think deeply about instructional design tenets.  Through the course, I realized that it is glib to blame e-Learning when a course doesn’t work.  Some courses were not designed properly from their inceptions and were not working in their conventional settings.  Also, Professor Myre's course unveiled new career opportunities I might consider.  I usually specialize in design for academic courses, but after taking his course, I'm beginning to understand the techniques for training in business situations. 

In addition, Advanced Online Design (PTC 605) helped me analyze web pages in a different light, illuminating new concepts such as designing for students who have visual and hearing impairments and writing in the third person for technical documents.

You live in West Orange, near to NJIT, but so far you’ve taken distance learning classes. Why is that?

Although I live in West Orange, my job is in the Caribbean.  I work for St. George’s University in Grenada -- an enchanting isle with pristine, starry nights (please don’t pity me).  I usually travel there four or five times a year, with each trip lasting about 10 days.  I could not do this job if my master’s program didn’t give me the option of taken distance learning classes, which liberates me geographically.  If NJIT offered only face-to-face classes in my master’s program, I’d have to either move to the Caribbean or stay put in New Jersey.  Thanks to DL, I don’t have to make that unpleasant choice and can enjoy spending time with my fiancé, a medical resident at a local hospital.

So both your job and your master’s degree are based on distance learning?

Yes, that’s the beauty of it. When I’m at the university, I train professors and students on web presentations and how to design and integrate streaming-media technologies. Then when I get back to N.J., I continue to work on my teaching projects from my apartment in West Orange via a DL web course and a web workshop (as I listen to the lovely ebb and flow of cars on Route 280). 

Can you describe your job working as an e-media designer and communications instructor for St. George’s University, which is probably best known in America for its medical school.

I work on the e-media design for blended, synchronous (real-time) and on-demand asynchronous classes (in which students can learn and communicate anytime).  Working closely with the department of educational services, I recruit, train and coach faculty members on effective digital lecturing. I help them implement streaming media such as video conferencing, webcasts, podcasts and screen-casts inside their course pages.  Often, I’ll work one-on-one with a lecturer and record many takes of his lecture.  Then I’ll edit the recording until the lecturer feels comfortable with his “performance,” and the online student is engaged.  I have also taught a blended online version of a public speaking course, using web communications.  In this course, which I’ve taught from my West Orange apartment, I’ve helped students become better speakers and better PowerPoint designers.  I use a webcasting tool called Mediasite and some user video sharing websites.

Does what you’re learning at NJIT help you do your job?

Absolutely. With NJIT’s renowned DL program, I can call upon successful strategies for instructional design and enrich my understanding of the entire online experience -- module by module, from the vantage point of a graduate student.  What better way to become a better web-course designer and online instructor than to be an online student? 

You've said that a distance learning class can be better than a face to face class.  How is that possible?  What ingredients make for a great DL class? 

A great DL course should embrace the symbiosis of technology and teaching, enabling students and their instructors to be present in a various forms -- chat, video, email, blogs, discussion boards -- mixing good ole’ teaching design and compelling instruction. Believe it or not, professors can give DL students more attention than they can in the orthodox interactions of a face to face class, which offers only class time and office hours. If an online course simulates a live environment, one that is conducive to spontaneous collaboration -- student to student, instructor to student, and student to instructor (much like a musical jam), then powerful results are achieved.  And when a professor uses video conferencing for office hours that also helps foster communication with students.  Frequent synchronous communication (communication that arises at precisely the same time) is a critical ingredient for a great DL class.  And as a teacher, webcamming has also helped me forge a close rapport with my students since I can observe the nonverbal aspects of their communication, such as their facial expressions and gestures. Such observations help me to talk less formally and to gain a deeper understanding of them. 

Since you've working in the field, how has online learning changed or developed?  Is NJIT up on those trends or technologies? How so?

I’d defer to the experts, but here is my take: online learning has legitimized itself more over the last few years and has burgeoned into every university under the sun, from the tiniest community college to the bustling metropolitan university. Professors have become amenable to DL as classroom space diminishes and demands from web-savvy students soar.  Even if classes are not fully online, they have e-learning components to supplement the classroom experience, calling upon courseware such as ANGEL, WebCT, Moodle and iTunes U.  An astounding emergence in the last few years is the ubiquity and ease of streaming video or webcasts.  Webcasting appliances and systems for capturing lectures such as Sonic Foundry’s Media site have taken off in popularity and revolutionized e-learning.  But NJIT is outstanding with the other craze in new media: iTunes U, the best channel to disseminate podcasts.

You graduated from Boston University in 1998, and later lived for a few years in Los Angeles, working in the music industry.  Can you talk about that?

When I was in LA, I hawked my hip hop beats and pop ballads to upcoming artists and licensing houses.  I produced my music in my apartment in West LA, using hardware and digital recoding software. These recording tools enabled me to track vocals and instruments and to mix down songs by myself.  It’s hard to make a living doing this work, but I’ve had some success.  I sold a beat to Queen Latifah’s former label, Flava Unit.  A few of my beats were also used in local TV commercials.  I produced the musical score for an independent short film and I wrote and performed songs from my album at venues in LA.  The songs are mostly a fusion of classical Indian music and western pop melodies.  

So does your music and recording background relate to what you are doing now – online learning and teaching?

After I left LA to return home to New Jersey, the state I love best, I eventually found the teaching gig at St. George’s.  It was a regular teaching job at first, but given my interest in technology and software, I redesigned the job so that it’s mainly online teaching.  I still love to sing and produce music and cool beats on the side -- and I love on-line teaching.  All of my interests have one common denominator: they all involve the creative use of software, technology and communication.  That’s what I’m studying at NJIT and that’s what infuses and, I hope, enlivens my online teaching. 

What do you plan to do after you finish your master’s degree at NJIT?

I want to continue teaching and eventually become a communications professor in a solid liberal arts program. As a professor, I’ll aim to develop creative online courses as well as face-to-face classes. The gratification I get from teaching is truly amazing.  When students tell me they have gotten jobs because of online presentations they delivered as part of my web course, I know I’ll have a fulfilling and inspiring teaching career. 

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)