Athabasca University: Student tips about life on a virtual campus

Perks, ways to get involved, and more

Athabasca University

As a student of an online university, the campus experience is a virtual one, and you get to enjoy all the benefits of living at home

Best place for a nap: My couch is pretty comfy
Best cheap lunch: What’s in the fridge?
Perks of living in this town: It’s your home!
Where to live: I currently have classmates living in B.C., Ontario, Quebec, Israel and Singapore, and I’m in Alberta.
Best place to study: The local library, or anywhere with good coffee and good WiFi
Worst place to study: In front of the TV—a classic blunder
Coolest electives: Lots to choose from, including Communication Studies: The Television Age, and Introduction to Astronomy
and Astrophysics
Best campus event: The annual graduate student conference was a highlight for me, and a chance to learn about stellar research by my peers
Best giveaway: AU often has great giveaways on their social media, from school swag to football tickets
Official school motto: Learning for life
Ways to get involved: Both undergrads and grad students have student unions, and MAIS students can volunteer with the Journal of Integrated Studies

Best campus event(s): I’ve heard from many that the AU annual convocation event is a great finale to your time as a student

PROFILE: Athabasca University | Athabasca, Alta. | Founded 1970

University Insider: Debbie Yee, 49, Integrated Studies

After considering graduate studies for a decade (or two), I realized that I was ready to be a student again. But what was practical for a working mom with two kids? My sister had just graduated from Athabasca University with her M.B.A., so I started looking at the school’s other graduate programs and how they compared to other universities’ online and blended-delivery programs. The Master of Arts—Integrated Studies appealed to me immediately, and the fact that it was all online and at my own pace was perfect.

Athabasca offers open studies and pre-program opportunities, so you can take courses before committing to a full program. Getting back into the academic swing of things with the first course took some time (and a three-month extension!) before I developed the personal time management habits needed to be a successful student. AU’s online course delivery, called Moodle, is pretty streamlined, and as long as you have a decent computer and reliable WiFi, you have everything at your fingertips.

Student support is important to success, and in addition to AU’s academic advising, the library offers how-to webinars and research tutorials, and the school has partnered with an external group to offer mental health counselling and resources.

As an online university, it can be tough to provide extras, but AU works hard to offer value-added events that all its students can take advantage of. The school uses Adobe Connect to offer webinars, lectures and even Open House activities. Their annual graduate-student conference is delivered in person and online, and there are opportunities to volunteer with student governance and school publications like The Voice and the Journal of Integrated Studies.

Local Vibe
Although Athabasca University is in a lovely town roughly two hours north of Edmonton, the university experience is all online. Interacting with classmates is a different experience, and most AU graduate courses have an online participation mark of 10-15% to encourage you to engage regularly. For those who enjoy the social aspect of classes (like me), it takes some getting used to. The AU student Facebook page is a great place to ask questions, share successes and woes, and get an occasional pep talk from your peers.

The Skinny
The unofficial AU student Facebook page is my go-to for crowd-sourcing.