My only task on my first day as an online student was to log in to my class and write a short message introducing myself to my professor and classmates.
Using the same password I used for my email, I signed into the learning management system, the technical term for the platform that allows you to share your work and interact with others.
This was the student portal, a kind of virtual student union where I could access email, read about student services and participate in discussion boards. I was imagining an intuitive, modern looking interface, but the homepage was blocky and confusing.
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In the top right corner, there was a thumbnail-sized picture of me that I had proudly uploaded a few days before to accompany my profile – a list of basic info including location, profession, links to social media accounts and favorite music and movies.
I found the link to our "introductions" discussion group underneath a group called "the syllabus" and one called "succeeding in an online course." The instructions required us to say a few words about our background and explain one of our financial goals.
As a newcomer to college discussion groups, I had few preconceived notions about what my classmates would be like or what they post. If anything, I expected them to write short, vague paragraphs on the formal side – something with sentences like, "It's a pleasure to virtually meet you all. One of my primary goals is to learn to do my own taxes."
As it turns out, many people let the personal details – and the LOLs – fly.
One woman said she was taking the class so she could better advise her rich fiance who couldn't manage money. Another person said he had exactly $25,000 in savings and wanted to finish the class with at least $5,000 more. A single father called himself financially reckless and said he worried about caring for his child.
Clearly, class was going to be a lot more interesting than I thought.
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I stopped short of discussing my savings (hint: it's less than $25,000) and instead wrote something generic about how I was a Washington, D.C.-based writer who wants to master the personal finance issues I'd always found intimidating.
I noticed our professor had written friendly replies to everyone's posts – commenting on their personal goals and sharing a bit about herself – so the next day I logged on to see what she had said in response to mine.
This course is pretty basic, she assured me. Personal finance courses are being taught today in high schools, and even in some elementary schools.
I know that was meant to be reassuring, but it actually heightened the pressure. Am I smarter than a fifth-grader? I'll find out soon.
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