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Distance Learning Success:

Simon Kamau - Masters in Nursing Leadership and Healthcare Systems (iLEAD)


What Program Are You Studying?​

I am completeing my MS in Nursing Leadership (iLEAD) from Kenya, East Africa!  My matriculation date was Fall 2012, and I am plan on graduating in Spring 2016.

First Experience with Online Classes?

Yes.

Why CU Denver?

I met an emeritus Professor from UCDenver, Dr. Gene Marsh who visits Kenya regularly. We met at Moi Teaching & Referral Hospital, Eldoret where I used to work as a nurse manager of critical care services. This is the teaching hospital for Moi University College of Health Sciences. 

She gave us some lessons on evidence based practice and how to do literature review for research topics. She was also working on helping the university staff get advanced nursing education. She was also instrumental in helping us start a Higher Diploma Critical Care Nursing program. 

She wrote a grant that bought 20 copies of AACN Textbooks @ USD48. I enquired about the possibility of an online Masters in Nursing. She informed me that not all courses are practically tenable online no matter how convincing the adverts read -‘Diplomavilles’ were all over the internet. I got a scholarship from Moi University-Shearwater Foundation that I started off with.

 

Biggest Educational Triumph?

Being able to navigate online databases, webinars, interacting with the best of brains in my class and teachers.

I have come up with projects almost every semester. I have published a number of articles in scientific journals. My manuscript (book to be, now 430 pages double spaced) entitled "Interrogating Quality of Health Care Provision in Kenya” Introducing a Framework for Resource-Limited Settings has been accepted by Moi University Press. All going well it should be out late June 2015.

 

Where are some of the locations that you have been while participating in classes?

There are times I am in the field in some of the rural parts of Kenya where there is no internet or mobile phone network whatsoever. 

At one point my course materials had to be attached to my Gmail which was somehow only accessible whenever I stepped out some 40Km or so. I will be in such a region for a week from 1st week of June (Summer, 2015). I have learnt to survive somehow and will let China Hutchins the program administrator know in advance. I used to panic but not anymore.

 

What barriers have you had to face? What stands out about your experiences?

I will be sharing my online course experience as an international student from a resource constrained setting. I live in Kenya, East Africa. Beginning with application process, I had to be prepared with TOEFL early and have my transcripts evaluated. I have also learned that quality MS programs are generally expensive in my view. Here, a full MSN might cost an equivalent of 10 credits hours at UCDenver.

Internet connectivity uncertainty is a fact of life for me many times. I also needed to access my course while on the move using a modem. On the minimum I would never walk without my course work even if it meant saving it in a flash disk if I could not have my computer.

WIFI became available in big towns and some institutions in Kenya with time as I was already in the program. Online exams on a wired internet was recommended never on WIFI, I had a nasty experience the first time I took APN research, I had to drop out of the course halfway because I did not foresee a possibility of surmounting some of the challenges of accessing learning materials, doing online literature search. That was in Fall 2012. Those were the days of the blackboard platform. I was a constant nag to the Lilian Hoffecker the HSL Librarian, she was a very resourceful person. In fact, Lilian, Gene Marsh, Dr. Amy Barton and Nicole Jackson are the one reason I did not drop out altogether. It is interesting how long ago I wrote to Lilian, must be two years now. Things have improved quite a lot since then.

Going again over reading materials could become a challenge. The editions are not available locally. Some online bookstores do not ship to some destinations and said as much. I needed someone to source them for me and post them. One is required to use the exact edition the course instructor recommends and I would run into serious trouble once in a while when it was too late. I am not yet done so there might be some more surprises around the corner. I dropped Policy and Social Justice at one point because I could not get my books on time and was out of class a whole semester. With time I became bolder and I remember my Nursing Theories textbooks arriving in the 10th week into the course. I survived by being as lively as I could in the class, the online environment also had lots of disaggregate materials on the subject. This is impossible for certain courses.

With these challenges coupled with financial constrains (I got scholarship about three semesters the recent one being the Dorothy Beck College of Nursing Scholarship), I decided to take only what I could handle/pay per semester. The Kenya shilling has been steadily weakening with commercial banks asking for 95 units to the dollar. Whenever the time for paying fees comes near, I become very speculative of the exchange rate. Sometimes my scholarship 2000USD cheque is sent this way by the UCDenver bursar as a matter of policy and by the time it’s getting back to my fees through me it is hardly enough to pay for the 3 credits. With experience I now know that some courses especially with 3 credits and above were better off taken alone and in any case those with 4 credits and above needed a longer semester (never in Summer). Unless one was a dedicated full time online student then it would be advisable to take the time and enjoy the blessing that goes with one course per semester, of course that will mean taking longer on the program but it is a better sacrifice than dropping the course and was worth it.

Circumstances or poor performance might mean a bad report to the sponsors, they wanted to know how I was progressing from time to time from my mentor. As a graduate student, 85% or equivalent of B+ is what I required to be retained in the program. I know this is very high quality education and that standard is good but can be difficult for some. Sometimes I wonder what happened to all the classmates I never get to connect with again in another course, did they all graduate? I will not be surprised if they think the same for my case. I am determined to graduate from this MS iLEAD program and make a difference in my country with what I have learned. I now have 3 courses to go if I get the necessary resources I will be eyeing the Spring 2016 date.

As I knew the odds were against me in more ways than one, I discovered some tricks to help me get along: Group norming had to be quick and be as open as I could to each other. I needed to settle in as soon as possible and feel at ease with them, as the pace picked up quickly. I endeavor to remain loyal and trustworthy to my group members, productive in the discussion forum, timely, punctual, and orderly, with well researched responses. I have tried to remain within reach of my group, it can be very frustrating when they cannot get a member’s timely response in group projects. I log in a minimum twice a day on to the discussion forum, or just snoop around. It can get worse when group members choose to ignore you! (I mean your posting remaining not responded to). The instructor will notice and you will score poorly for low participation. One thing that works: always volunteer to do the donkey work. So I try to do my patch as thoroughly as I can each time and everyone has built confidence in me (so far).

Time zones between the host institution and geographical location could be upsetting especially when deadlines are approaching, a scheduled webinar or chat, I have an 10 hours difference and there was a lot of adjusting. I prefer to do my coursework at home and do all downloads at my workplace, where I am more engaged with other activities. I do not have to pay for data bundles at work. I have picked a timetable what works for me. Above all else not hesitating to ask for HELP. My instructors have been very understanding of my circumstances. Sometimes less than pleasant events happen in my country (like Alshabab terrorist attacks) distract my concentration some. At one point I lost my laptop in the middle of a semester and you can imagine what this could have meant.

I am yet to meet a non-American in the MS iLEAD program. I note that some modules may be tailored with US residents or citizens in mind and might have a ‘foreign language, culture’, it could get really tough but it did not take long to catch up. I just ran along, and never behind. It got interesting with time.

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