AU Student Profiles

AU Student Andrew Bell

AU Student: Andrew Bell

What province and city/town do you live in?

Peterborough, Ontario. (It’s a small world – Arthur Setka, profiled in v11 i04, also lives here. We’ve never met, though..)

Do you have a family/ kids/ pets ?

My wife Phyllis and I have two grown children, and we’re empty nesters now. We still have a couple of cats to annoy us in the mornings though.

What are your hobbies / interests/ activities/ etc.

In the summer, , I just want to ride my motorcycle. For winter fun, I have a model train layout I’ve been really meaning to get started on for about 5 years now.
Of course, being an IT geek, I also play with computers. It’s a bit scary, but I tend to do exactly the same things for fun as I do to make a living.

Can you tell us about the AU Courses you are taking at the moment, or a favourite course?

I’m working on my B.Sc in Computer Science. Right now I’m just wrapping up ADMN 232 and starting ADMN 233.

How long have you been a student? (And where)

In the eighties, I went to college right out of high school – because that’s what you did, not because I had a clue what to do with my life – and promptly flunked out. I went back in 1991, this time with some proper motivation and support from an Unemployment Insurance program, and did very well. I started with Athabasca in late 1998.

What do you think of your courses/ the AU experience/ distance education?

I find that because distance ed lacks the social support system of a traditional campus environment, you have to supply your own motivation and support. This can be tough, especially if going to school is only a part time gig.

My big beef with “the AU experience” is that the course materials are full of things that may or may not be errors, but that need clarification at the very least, and there’s no mechanism to discuss these things in real time. Waiting 48 hours for an answer to “please clarify this question” completely kills any momentum you’ve built up on the assignment.

It’s particularly frustrating when the clarification is required because of an error in the course materials. On occasion, I’ve had TME questions that required a multiple choice answer, but were written so unclearly that almost any answer could be argued to be correct. When I’ve written a lengthy explanation of how my answer would differ depending on the interpretation of the question, the marker has simply referred to the answer key, rather that discussing the question with me, or marking based on a different interpretation.

Now, to be fair, I’ve had some very good tutors who not only engaged in constructive dialog about these problems, they even fed my comments back into the next revision. But I’ve also had tutors who simply never bothered to reply to the emails.

Do you work? What do you do?

Well, I’ve been working in IT at the same place for over a decade, so the job description is a bit hard to pin down. Officially, I manage the Network Services department for the local pseudopod of a rather huge multinational firm. Said firm is graciously paying for my education, so I can only say good things about them here. 🙂 I also run a private IT consulting business on the side.
Outside of work, I used to volunteer with the local computer club, and was a leader with Scouts Canada for over 10 years. I recently (and I hope temporarily) gave these activities up, because I simply didn’t have enough time to meet all the demands that were being made on me and still get my schoolwork done.

How is AU helping you toward your goals?

Perhaps a better question is “how is a university degree helping towards my goals?”. In my case, I don’t need a degree for any specific goal, it’s more of an end unto itself. AU is one way for me to round out my life experiences and broaden my horizons, and those are the things that will help me achieve more tangible goals in the future.

What are your future goals?

Graduate, then world domination. Maybe a midlife crisis involving a red sports car.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for other students?

Well, I can really only speak to the distance ed people, but one mistake I made was taking too many courses out of sequence. I’m a computer geek, taking a computer science course, so naturally I tried to take all the COMP courses first. Bad idea – the general 200 level courses really do build a useful foundation for the specialized ones later on.

If you’re just starting out, try to set reasonable expectations for yourself. Since you’ll lack a lot of traditional social support, setbacks tend to be magnified and feed back on themselves. If you set your sights too high and miss, it’s easy to just throw in the towel on the whole thing. On the other hand, if you set achievable goals and reach them, well, nothing succeeds like success.

Finally, don’t overload yourself, and don’t underestimate the time this stuff takes. If you allow 250 hours to finish a course, that’s about 10 hours a week. It may sound silly, but sit down with a weekly calendar, and shade in your daily commitments. Now, can you find 10 hours per week, in useful sized chunks, that aren’t allocated? If not, then you’ll need to give up something else to make time to study.

Anything else we should know? Funny stories about the dog eating your laptop/ praise for AU, a friend or a tutor?

A talking dog, 3 lawyers, a politician, a Canadian, an American and a Newfie all walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says “What is this, some kind of joke?”

Oh, you mean the other kind of funny story! I guess I did have one course with some amusement value. Early on in my studies, I found myself writing an essay against a deadline. I hated this task – absolutely did not, not, NOT want to do it. I’d already written the final and it was just this one assignment to go. To make things worse, I had also made the mistake of starting too many courses at once, and I’d used up all three extensions to juggle them – in other words, submit the essay by the deadline or fail the course.

So, here I am, close to midnight on the last day, and I finally have words flowing. If I had only another hour or so, I could finish the essay. But, with one eye on the clock, at exactly 11:59 pm, I stopped mid sentence and wrote “I ran out of time here,” saved the file, and emailed it off with about 20 seconds to spare. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning that I remembered Alberta is two time zones west of me.

I did manage to put enough words down to pass, at least.

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