GOING THE DISTANCE: The Last Mile


Finish Line
Finish Line (Photo credit: jayneandd)

04-12-13

The band plays; the crowd cheers as the stalwart strain toward the goal. In this marathon, we have had to jump hurdles and scale walls at every milepost.

No, I’m not talking about the New York, Boston, or even the Cowtown Marathon. Distance-Learning training is a rigorous, six-week session on building and teaching classes online.  The firing gun blasted us into action on September 4, 2012. Since then, we’ve met and risen above every challenge thrown at us: learning the Blackboard platform,  constructing navigable course menus, story boards, and composing multimedia lessons, quizzes, test pools, and surveys. Most importantly, we’ve coped with logistics, that tricky element that ensures that our pages and links open into content.

At the end of the training, November 30, we knew one last leg of the race – Final Review, including a peer review of our course, yawned ahead. By March 7, we would have to build the rest of our lessons and along with the other bells and whistles. Over Spring Break, we worked feverishly, finalizing our courses.

On the first day back, March 18,  my peer’s report was no surprise: the actual coursework met or exceeded expectations, but the technical side –broken links and pages, unconventional punctuation or headings on lessons, and a missing grade book – needed more tweaking.

Late Sunday night, March 31, I prayed, crossed fingers, toes, and eyes and hit  “Submit”. The next morning, great news! Topping my email messages was the one from the Director: “Congratulations, Kim. You have successfully completed the Distance Learning course.”

As if this course alone hasn’t been demanding enough, I have also been blessed with four-class loads both in the fall and spring semesters.  But, in teaching my on-site classes, I learned the key to survival: simplify, simplify, simplify!  Let the daily quizzes slide. Repeat, for homework. Provide challenges that allow for easier grading. And require all assignments, especially essays, to be posted online. Period.

Now, with colleagues and students cheering me on, I will one last burst of energy into  tired legs and blistered toes  to  lunge triumphantly across the Finish Line.

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GOING THE DISTANCE: the marathon of Distance-Learning Training


10-30-2012

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.Working to Create Lesson Plan

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.

Or not?

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.

A TASTE OF MY OWN MEDICINE


Distance education
Distance education (Photo credit: mcwetboy)

08-22-2012

Adjunct Orientation

“Kim. I’ve submitted your name to the Dean for Distance Learning.”

Strains of “Hallelujah Chorus” streamed from the ceiling and swelled in the hallways.  Sexual harassment be damned, I  hauled off and hugged my Department Chair.

“Thank you! When do I start?”

I’ve waited for this opportunity since a   friend  started teaching online.

“How do you get on?” I asked her, one day.

“Simple. Just put in your name for it. When there’s a spot, someone will call you.”

Imagining myself  learning the trade at my own pace, setting my own virtual office hours, and teaching computer-savvy students, I wasted no time in tossing my name into the hat.

After a five-year lapse,  the opportunity presented itself  with a shiny, red bow.  My colleagues rejoiced.

“You’ll never have to  worry about not having a class.”

“Even when you’re in a  retirement home, you can teach class from your laptop.”

Now, as I sit in the sparsely-populated Distance Learning Orientation, search for the “Any” key, and read and re-read instructions intended for the Geek Squad, I can identify with my students’ frustration with my well-intentioned instructions for “simply” logging on to the school site or www.turnitin.com.

“What’s the matter?” I felt like asking them, in the past.  “You have photos, diagrams…cave-man drawings…right in front of you, so why can’t you upload  your papers by the deadline?”

Now, here I am in their seats.  Now, I understand.

Once, I saw a movie about a doctor who became more empathetic with his patients after becoming a patient, himself. Wearing the same gaping hospital gowns. Being roused from  a sound sleep for tests in the middle of the night.  Choking down hospital food he wouldn’t feed his dog.  Reclaiming his dignity and self- respect only after he walked through  his own front door.

Last night and most of today, after I nearly pulled my hair out and almost forgot my Christian upbringing over the frustration of having to repeat an activity at least ten times, could I relate with what my students must feel.  I expect that trading places with them for  six weeks will refresh my memory and restore my empathy for those young people  on the sunny side  of  my desk.