On September 4, 2012, I launched into an adventure — Distance-Education training, a course that would last almost a semester. Although I had to learn a new vocabulary, including the difference between an item and a file, I was optimistic about my race to the Finish Line.
Units I and II started out with the basics: learning my way around the Distance Learning home page, familiarizing myself with the “landscape” of Blackboard, interacting with peers on a discussion board.
“Hey, this is fun!” I thought, as I zoomed from one activity to another. “I might even finish in time to start in spring, instead of summer.”
Yes, my first month in Distance Learning was like Christmas morning and a honeymoon at the same time. I was fascinated with my new “toy”. Just for fun, I composed PowerPoint lectures and devised interactive true/false and multiple-choice quizzes that student could complete on their iPhones or iPads.
Suddenly, the treacherous terrain of Unit III, “Building Content” caused me to stumble. Sprinting ahead of the others, at first, I began moseying along at the speed of mud. As Unit III dictated, I built a course menu, devised a storyboard, composed a syllabus, and created lesson plans. Each step in the process was a study in trial-and-error, requiring me to submit and re-submit some assignments, and check my grades, only to see “Not Passed” beside the activity I had worked so hard to finish.
I marveled at the irony. After twenty-three years of teaching “Freshman Comp”, I have learned to bang out lesson plans in my sleep. To pull them, like rabbits from silk hats, out of thin air. To walk into a classroom, car keys still in hand, and start “professing”. In a fit of frustration, I collared Self. and asked her, “Why am I running into these roadblocks?”
“Simple,” she said, “Welcome to Blackboard.”
Even in traditional, face-t0-face classes, we have had to begin keeping our gradebook on this mystifying new tool. We who have never used it before still don’t understand why we can’t use its predecessor, Campus Cruiser, anymore. Life was so simple, then.
Two days ago, after submission number-four, I passed “Adding Content” at last. My next step, “Preliminary Review” — an event in which my lesson plans and course menu are previewed and evaluated by peers. Yawning ahead are Units IV through VII, all due before November 30. James, my instructor, assures me that I will have jumped over the steepest hurdle. I’ll take his word for it while holding my breath.
However stressful it seems now, this course is a gift from God. I’m thankful it is self-paced (to an extent) and that my instructor has been patient and encouraging with my daily phone calls to him. Having passed the halfway mile-marker, I’m determined to limp along until I finish this marathon. My fingertips may be calloused; my spirits, trampled, and my nerves, frayed, but I’ve waited too long for this opportunity and the freedom that teaching online offers.
I can picture myself now: ninety years old, arthritic fingers typing out lessons for a whole new generation of students.