Nick Atkins completed the two-year e-learning PGDip in Deaf Education at The University of Manchester in July 2017. Here, he explains how he balanced the demands of a part-time distance learning postgraduate course with full-time work.
Like lots of others on this strand of the Manchester course, I undertook the PGDip in Deaf Education while continuing to work in a full-time job. I now work as a qualified peripatetic teacher for the Wandsworth Hearing Support Service in London.
Some other colleagues on the course were also working as trainee teachers of the deaf in ‘peri’ roles or hearing support units. Others were working as class teachers hoping to get a job as a Teacher of the Deaf after qualifying from the course.
Unlike a lot of traditional university courses, the majority of this course is accessed online. This includes online lectures, videos and seminars using Skype, as well as lots of personal study through the online modules and reading materials suggested on the various reading lists. The luxury of this type of course is that you can study at a time that suits you and from the comfort of your home.
Peer support on the course
Initially, I was concerned that this type of course would be quite an isolated way of learning. In previous courses I have done, I know I have learnt a lot from other students, whether in lectures or through informal conversations at lunch and break times. Although you do still get these moments on the e-learning course, these opportunities are few and far between.
However, the fact that I was in a rare position of undertaking this course with other students from the Wandsworth Service was incredibly beneficial. If, like most of the other students in our cohort, you end up coming to the course without a local peer group, I would recommend finding others you like on the course and swapping numbers, email addresses etc so that you are then able to support each other from a distance.
Combining work with e-learning
For me, the key to balancing my job with study was being very organised with my time. I was given half a day’s study allowance from my employers, which helped a lot. I would also work for at least half a day on an average weekend. Of course, I juggled this around to fit in with my life, but would probably study between 8 and 10 hours a week in addition to the job.
Unlike lectures, which start at a certain time in an exact location, this course gives you flexibility about when and where you study. After about 5pm, my brain starts to wind down, so I found that getting up early worked best for me. However, this is of course personal, so it is important to find a time that works well for you.
Managing the practical aspects of the course
During the on-campus weekends, there was an emphasis on practical hands-on experience with various audiological equipment. The use of Test Boxes (hearing aid analysers) is a crucial part of being a Teacher of the Deaf and therefore an area I was keen to become confident in quickly.
Like learning anything practical, the more practice you can undertake the more effectively you learn. In Wandsworth, we are lucky enough to have access to both the Test Boxes themselves and also experienced Teachers of the Deaf, including one who is an educational audiologist, so we were able to have some input outside of the course.
The lecturers at Manchester were very conscious that students came from all over the UK (and abroad), which inevitably meant that people had varying degrees of access to equipment like Test Boxes. They made sure that these students were given priority during the on-campus practical sessions and would buddy-up those students with people who had had more exposure.
Overall, the style of learning that this e-learning course offers really suited me. Although there was a lot of work to do, I found all of the modules fascinating and, with careful planning and organisation, juggling this with work and life in general was very manageable.
Having worked in various areas of education and social care, I feel excited to have finally found where I feel I really belong!
Find out more about studying for a MSc or PGDip in Deaf Education.