As most of you know, I work at a university library. Before I got there, I was a public library underling who worked for a boss some employees nicknamed “Satan”. Since librarian seemed like a great career choice at the time (I was smoking something), I jumped at the chance to enter a cohort of public librarians who were given a a “free” online degree. The same grant also allowed us to attend three library conferences. It sounded like a really great opportunity. Then I found out my evil boss was also in the program. And stuff went downhill from there.
I happened to keep a log of my time in the program. The other day I stumbled upon it, and thought it might serve as a warning to others. I put it into four parts. Here’s part one.
I will not detail the joy that was getting into the program in the first place since no one really understood or kept to the rules and procedures (first warning). Also, I’ll forgo explaining the trials and tribulations of getting enrolled in a university from a distance of over six hours travel compounded by the fact that at this particular university the right hand not only didn’t know what the left hand was doing; it didn’t know that there was a left hand. I’ll just start with the first part of the program – our orientation in Denton.
Orientation Ahoy (January 2008)
· I make plans to attend orientation with another student from the program. My certifiable (and I don’t mean degrees here) boss informs me that she too has been accepted into the program and has decided to join us on the six hour car trip. My coworkers begin penning my obituary.
· My mother steps in and offers to carpool with me and visit her sister while I’m in the meetings. She is immediately promoted to sainthood. My boss expresses (repeatedly) her disappointment in not getting to torture me for hours in a trapped space.
· I arrive in Denton and have no idea where to go. I find others who also don’t know. Little do I know that this will become a pattern from now on.
· Eventually, we find where to meet. First off is a “fun” activity involving asking people dumb questions about where they’re from etc in order to be eligible for some prize. Or something. I forget now. But I said screw it and didn’t complete mine. We are also given nice red bags with our group title on it (though no one can remember what it stands for already) and neato folders and a binder. I love free stuff. At this point, I still don’t realize that nothing is ever free.
· We go to a room with lots of computers. Dr. M, who seems like an intelligent, amiable individual explains the program. Dr. J, the dean, also speaks to us though we have trouble seeing her over our desks. We then meet the faculty who deviously appear to be normal humans. We experiment with computers and the faculty rapidly discover just how technologically stupid the majority of us are. Dr. M. begins debating early retirement.
· We meet our pseudo-mom graduate assistant Cherri who plies us with chocolates, most likely laced with something that turns the majority of the group into Stepford Librarians.
· I’m pretty sure this is where we were first introduced to the concept of “mentors”. I wonder if they will be training us to be Jedi (help me Obi Wan!) but it turns out they only want to train us to be librarians which is strange since most of the cohort already work as library directors. Maybe they’ve been doing it wrong all this time. We meet Dr. G. who has been specially brought here for her expertise in Jedi – er – librarian mentor stuff.
· We go to the hotel. I am roomed with another cohort. They apparently think we are from a very different sort of group because they give us one bed. Some of the group members have trouble finding their names on the reserve list. Obviously this is the fault of those silly hotel people.
· The next morning, the program heads discover there is no free breakfast (totally not their fault either) and so arrange for free full breakfasts for our group. The hotel room is really nice as well. Welcome to my parlor, says the spider to the fly!
First Spring Semester (Jan – May 2008): The Horror that is Blackboard (Bb)
· First one bites the dust. One student quits immediately following orientation. Naturally she is a member of my “group”
· I discover there is group work. In college. With fellow students miles apart.
· Except one student – my boss – who is rapidly resembling the Evil Queen from Snow White. Guess who’s the stepchild?
· I am put in her group. Someone in the program hates me.
· Our first professors are Dr. M. and Dr. B. Dr. B., who has a fantastic personality in person, has no personality online. In fact, he repeatedly ceases to exist leaving us to the mercy of his grad assistant, George “Cut and Paste and Good Luck” Yi.
· No one understands how to use Bb (our online classroom). What’s with all the links? Why have so many links that don’t go anywhere and some that go everywhere at once? Why isn’t homework just put under a homework tab? Why don’t the links work? What planet am I on? We ask George who cuts and pastes the original instructions that no one understands.
· Eventually, we figure out that Bb is another word for “scavenger hunt”. Several people have their first nervous breakdowns. Cherrie becomes chief psychiatrist as well as grad assistant. She starts counting the days till she graduates.
· The message board fills to the brim and resembles the Internet at large. Roughly 1 percent of posts have to do with anything remotely important. The rest is crap. You have to click on every one to figure out which is which.
· I learn that many of my classmates got their bachelor’s degrees from Cracker Jack boxes. Some don’t understand basic punctuation or grammar. And naturally, these people are all in my group.
· The cohort discovers the joy of Wiki and start pages with cell phone numbers and birthdays. One student begins celebrating our birthdays whether we like it or not with posts on the cohort board. We all say happy birthday to each other. Over and over. This student ends up having to congratulate herself because no one else ever reads the Birthday Wiki but her.
I A fellow student and I bond over bad bosses (she calls hers “Dead Alien Soul Boss”). In order to combat the insanity, we take it upon ourselves to entertain the class with our wisecracks on the message boards. My boss sneers “They sure do think you’re FUNNY, Alice.” I detect a definite hint of green to her skin. Heh.
· My elder daughter spends two nights in the hospital with dehydration. (My pediatrician says she dehydrates faster than any kid she knows. Yay, we’re number one!) I email my professors with the situation. Dr. B. replies roughly a month after she’s released.
· First TLA meeting!
I wriggle out of another carpool offer with Senora Psycho and book my plane as soon as possible. I have to dig the money out of savings, but hey, we’ll get stipends as soon as we get there that will pay us right back.
· We discover that to use the stipends, you have to go to a bank. In Dallas. Guess how many people have banks in Dallas?
· At TLA, we find out another one bit the dust. Sherri has left. I’d have at least taken the free trip on them first.
· Some worry about homework and actually attempt to do it while there. I take part in a first mutiny of people who refuse to do squat the entire time.
· I discover that our food stipends are to pay for real food, not conference and hotel food. At 25 bucks for breakfast alone, I find myself eating so much granola I nearly turn into a squirrel.
· Boss lady (fellow cohort!) decides to play “nice” which makes her even scarier.
· Who cares about the actual conferences (except Dave Barry who was awesome)? 70 percent of my time I spend in the exhibit hall grabbing every free book in sight until I am loaded down like a deranged bag lady. I don’t even like half of the books, but they’re free! Also, the exhibit hall is a good place to hide from you-know-who.
· 20 percent is spent in line getting book autographs.
· 5 percent eating – mostly granola, but also free nibbles at the parties. There are no free drinks, but plenty of open bars. I mean absolutely everywhere.
· 4 percent in the actual sessions
· 1 percent sleeping. Why the heck did they give us actual hotel rooms anyway?
· Oh, also we meet our mentors for the first time. Except for the cohort whose mentor dropped out. But it’s okay, cause they will soon fix her up with another. Who will also drop out.
· I discover that things like taxi fare and parking are not included in the travel stipend I cannot access until I get home.
· We survive the rest of the semester, and then cry when we realize that there are 5 more to go.
To be continued . . .