Can you talk a little bit about yourself and your background?
I am Rebecca (Becky) Ersser, from Yate in South Gloucestershire, UK. I dreamed of becoming a primary school teacher ever since I was a child. After completing my undergraduate degree in Early Years Education at Bath Spa University, I went on to pursue a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course with a view to gaining Qualified Teacher Status.
Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), a life-changing health condition, which led to prevented me from completing my PGCE.
What prompted you to pursue an online MA Education? Specifically, why was online appealing to you?
After sustaining FND and having life-changing symptoms such as visual impairment, non-epileptic seizures, and limb weaknesses, I had to rethink my career options. I still wanted to pursue a master's degree in education, but my options seemed limited. But I am an eternal optimist, so I took control of my life despite my health and learned Braille in six months.
I am capable of learning new things and therefore began researching online masters courses, which showed me quite a few options or masters in education. I did extensive research as I was unsure whether online courses were as valid as university-based masters programmes.
I chose the online MA Education course with the University of Exeter for many reasons. I had multiple conversations with the online Admissions Advisor, which assured me that I would be receiving an accredited and recognised degree from a leading UK university.
I suffer from visual impairment and non-epileptic seizures due to FND, which makes it hard for me to commute. The flexible format of the online programme would allow me to complete my masters studies from the comfort of my own home, which is a boon for me.
The admissions team at the University of Exeter Online was very supportive of my disability. They explained how they would support me and the course had been designed to be accessible and would meet my needs, unlike other universities that offered online masters programmes.
The university also offered different pathways to the online MA in education, which aligned with my interest in special educational needs and disabilities. To this day, I believe embarking on the online MA Education programme has been one of the best decisions of my life.
What has the experience been like? Was it what you thought it would be like, and has it met your expectations?
Exeter's online MA Education programme has been a fantastic experience. Firstly, the online learning environment provides flexibility to allow one to complete the course material at a convenient time. This allowed me the flexibility to complete it at times I was less tired and having fewer seizures.
Also, the online learning platform enabled me to engage with peers in unique and innovative ways, through a wide range of activities which were well-explained and easily accessible. Student support was always happy to help me if I was having difficulties getting my software to work on a task. My tutors were always ready to help, and they even provided alternative file formats to meet my individual needs.
Another enjoyable experience was the ability to share my ideas, views, and philosophies with fellow students across the globe. The online nature of the program has enriched my learning manifold as I have been able to gain first-hand experience of education in other parts of the world.
The modules are well planned, which allowed me to build on my undergraduate knowledge and gain new perspectives through a wide variety of discussions. Tutors and module leaders regularly contribute to discussions by providing constructive feedback and advice, guiding us to take knowledge further. These experiences, as a whole, have exceeded my expectations.
If you were giving someone who was considering an online course advice, what would it be?
My advice for prospective students is this: If you are thinking about an online course but having doubts about its authenticity, then opt for a recognised institution like the University of Exeter. I know many students are apprehensive about learning remotely and being disconnected, but Exeter's module tutors, leaders, and student support are only a call or an email away. From my experience, all emails have been responded to promptly, and they are ready to go the extra mile for every student.
The programme is fantastic since it is designed to let you complete each module at a suitable time and thus fit with a day job and family life.
Although each week has a recommended structure, it is flexible to allow you to complete the work at times that suit you. Students contribute to discussions 24/7 since they hail from different time zones, and therefore, it does not matter when you complete weekly tasks.
Would you recommend the Exeter programme and if so, what aspects of the course do you find appealing?
I would definitely recommend the MA Education online programme offered at Exeter University. The course is well planned and structured but also provides flexibility in completing weekly activities. In addition to this, I would recommend the programme as there is a diverse range of students which allows us to share and discuss education and ideas across the globe. I found it particularly interesting to learn about education in different parts of the world, how their philosophies and views of both teaching and learning were shaped as a result of their experiences.
Another reason for recommending this programme is that the modules are well thought out and allows one to develop their understanding as well as understand issues within the field from a global perspective.
I have just completed the first two core modules and enjoyed different aspects of each. My first module (Understanding Learning: Global Perspectives) built upon my knowledge gained at the undergraduate level but also allowed me to develop an international understanding.
Initially, I found the second module (Understanding Education: Global Perspectives) hard to understand, but once I started interacting with fellow students, it became easier. It was interesting to learn about their philosophical beliefs, and I enjoyed the module, even more, when it progressed to the sociological side of education. I am very excited to begin my optional modules (SEN pathway).
Is there anything you'd like to add or anything you'd like to talk about what we did not touch on?
My circumstances are unique and a new one for the university to encounter in a student. But they have been amazingly supportive in a variety of ways, from ensuring resources are file formats readable by my screen reader and recommending assistive software while waiting for Student Finance to conduct my assessment of need, among other instances. The library staff at the university have been accommodating when I tried to access eBooks and even amended settings to allow me to access resources.
There is something I want to mention, as well. When my peers became aware of my unique needs, they also became very supportive and adaptable to ensure I was able to complete group tasks with them. I had a paired presentation with a fellow student who was very happy to make the presentation and check for any typing errors once I sent my contribution over. Another fellow student was quick to move into iMessage for a discussion due to my inability to use video calls. I faced difficulties providing student feedback via Microsoft Presentation, so another fellow student went ahead copy and pasted the information into an email for me. This allowed me to give him feedback and support the writing of his finally summative assessment. It is hard to imagine this kind of collaboration and support elsewhere.
All the modules in the University of Exeter’s online MA Education are designed with accessibility in mind. Our module development process incorporates the principles of universal design for learning, with careful consideration being given to digital accessibility:
- Learning interactives are built with accessibility in mind, and we create alternatives that offer support for all learners to engage with the content
- We create lesson content with all students in mind, making content easier to navigate with assistive technology
- We conduct accessibility reviews of all modules to ensure an equitable experience
- We intentionally select tools that are accessible
- We customise navigation elements within the VLE to improve the user experience
The course development team recognise that everyone has different needs and work with students, student support and Exeter’s AccessAbility team to maximise each person’s learning experience.