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UF Department of Agricultural Education and Communication's Online Master of Science: Offering Academic Rigor and a Collaborative Nature, While Still Maintaining the Flexibility of an Online Program

Carly Barnes, University of Florida master's student studying agricultural education and communication (AEC), started her graduate program as a traditional, on-campus student. However, after dealing with some health concerns midway through her graduate program, Barnes had to relocate back home, nearly four hours away from the University of Florida's main campus in Gainesville.

Being nearly four hours away from the university's main campus and still needing to complete her master's degree, Barnes chose to utilize the department's online Master of Science option. With the program's flexibility and wide variety of course offerings, the online Master of Science option through AEC proved to be a solid choice for Barnes.

Barnes, studying agricultural education and communication, with a specialization in agricultural communications, had taken the majority of the classes she needed for her agricultural communications specialization. At this point in time, she was looking for supporting courses to add to her program of study.

"The nice thing about AEC's online program is that while the specializations are different, each course's curriculum is complementary. I have taken classes in the department's leadership, education and extension specializations that really complement the things I have learned within my own agricultural communications specialization," said Barnes.

Barnes, a unique case, as she started the program as an on-campus student, says that because she has taken AEC department courses both on-campus and online, she is able to see that the academic rigor and collaborative nature of the on-campus program still remains present in the online program.

"The online program is still very rigorous. The curriculum is very strong. We conduct the same research; discuss the same theories and work on the same studies as those students in the on-campus program. The difference is that this program is a bit more flexible and meets the needs of a practitioner's life," said Barnes.

Barnes says she enjoys how the online program mimics the collaborative nature of the on-campus program, allowing for research workgroups with fellow students and opportunities to peer-review other's work and interact with classmates. Students utilize discussion posts and develop video presentations to showcase their work, which helps to develop a sense of community with other students in the program.

"You're not alone. You're likely to take classes with many of the same people. You develop friends and colleagues. You help each other out and peer-review each other's work. Constructive criticism and critical thinking is encouraged in this online program, and it is very helpful," said Barnes.

Barnes also says that the academic support offered through this program is second to none.

"I know that if I ever need anything, I can always call any of my instructors or the program's e-Learning coordinator and they will be happy to help me. They are all so understanding and flexible. They go above and beyond to meet my needs and help me to succeed," said Barnes.

For more information about e-Learning at the University of Florida click here.