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Online Start Gets Personal

By Rail Minazetdinov

December 3, 2021

The year 2021 was the year of new experiences and surprises for me. This year, I achieved something that I was planning and preparing for a long time. I got the most exciting news of the year when I got a final admission letter from UW- Madison.  I was happy to return to one of my favorite places in the world and pursue specialized education in the field where I plan to build my lifelong career. Unfortunately, COVID and political relations between the U.S. and Russia had different plans for me. I was not able to obtain an international student visa before the beginning of the fall semester. Thankfully, I had constant support from UW-Madison’s admission team. When it was clear that I would not be able to get to Madison on time because of the reasons I could not control, they made an exception and allowed me to study online. That is how I ended up being the only online student in my program.

portrait of Rail Minazetdinov
Rail Minazetdinov

In this blog, I want to share my experience of being the only online student in my MBA specialization. I was not planning to take lectures online; therefore, this was an unexpected journey. Three of my core specialty classes were synchronous classes where I had to join lectures via zoom together with everyone else who was in person. During the first two weeks, we tested various technologies to make sure I have the best experience viewing and hearing the class. Some of the students were sharing their laptops, speakers, and microphones to help me join the class in the best possible way. It was amazing to see that people who just met me virtually just a few days before were ready to help me in my difficult situation. I was even able to join conversations and discussions in my small core specialty class RMI 765. Unfortunately, class setup and technology were not allowing me to join group discussions in larger classes.

All other classes were asynchronous, where instructors were recording lectures on video with the recording equipment that was built in for each class. The camera was focused on the professor, following all the moves automatically. The professors did a fabulous job uploading videos as soon as possible. Most of the videos were available on Canvas within 24 hours after the lecture. I was able to watch recordings on Canvas at the time that worked best for me, which was quite convenient due to the 10-hour time zone differences between Madison and Ufa, Russia. One of my synchronous classes was ending at 3:30 A.M. local time so I had to shift to a new life schedule with my online classes in Madison. Personally, as an online student, I would still prefer to have all my classes synchronously because there were situations in recordings when I could not see what the professor was writing or drawing on the board, or I could not ask the question that was coming to my mind when I was watching the recordings. However, these were just minor inconveniences because most importantly, I was able to listen to lectures and understand the material of the class. Besides, I was in frequent communication with professors. They were checking weekly on my progress with the class and were setting up one-on-one Zoom calls with me before each important assignment or exam to give me specific instructions on how to handle it.

After being an online student for two months I have somewhat mixed feelings about being the only student to take classes this way. On one side, I am confident that I was able to learn the class material in the same way as everyone else. However, on the other side, the MBA program is not only about getting an education. Networking and communication play extremely important parts in the MBA program. I had a feeling that online status was somewhat limiting my abilities to build my network and communicate freely with alumni and other students. I was trying to set up calls with classmates to work on assignments together, or official Zoom meetings with alumni members to get advice and opinions from them. However, it was difficult for me to create a closer personal bond with classmates and alumni via Zoom. I was also missing most of the social activities and events on the campus.

Overall, I am glad the university gave me the opportunity to begin the program, even if it is as being an online student for the semester. I am getting all the support and resources to get a high-quality education here. It is a great start! I will be in Madison before the beginning of the second semester to begin classes in person. I am excited and looking forward to being a true Badger in Madison and experience it in full!