GOING THE DISTANCE: the marathon of Distance-Learning Training


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.


November 12, 2011

Hello, everyone.  My name is Kim, and I have a messy little secret.

On September 2,with a heart full of hope, I moved into a two-bedroom townhouse. Excited about owning my first home, I picked out my furnishings carefully. I wanted my surroundings to reflect who I was and what I was interested in.  I planned to open my home to family and friends.

I especially had big plans for the smaller upstairs bedroom which I envisioned as  a teacher’s haven. A place to compose inspiring  lesson plans. A refuge for sipping coffee  while grading stacks of essays.  Ideas firmly in place, I drove to Rooms-to-Go where I picked out  livingroom, kitchen,and bedroom sets  and was almost out the door when I spied  it –a big-honkin’  cherry computer armoire  with drawers, shelves, and nooks galore.  It was tall enough to pierce the heavens. Shoot, that bad-boy even had a whiteboard on the inside of one door and a bulletin board on the other. As I gazed at it, I salivated, imagining  the heavy-duty computing I would accomplish.

“Fix me up with that, too,” I told the salesman, noticing dollar-signs in his pupils and his tongue hanging out.

Having  picked  out my furniture,  I needed a place for  books — text and otherwise, so I moved in a wobbly metal bookshelf  from my  parents’ home.  I finally had  everything I needed, right?

Whoa! Not so fast. Planning lessons and grading papers  require caffeine. Lots of it. So, to Target I trotted to purchase a mini-fridge for  diet Cokes and a coffeemaker. After all, why interrupt those spurts of creative genius by trudging all the way  downstairs to the kitchen of  my 889- square-foot home?

Then, one more detail began to haunt me. What if company came? Where would I bed everyone down? Grabbing purse and keys, I hightailed it  to a bedroom shop and purchased a futon. After all, I could always use it for a daybed. After all, doesn’t sleep induce creativity?

Now, I was really on a roll,  snatching up two second-hand filing cabinets from an office-supply store that threw itself into my path, one day, when I was en route to Staples for office supplies for my computer cabinet.

Soon, my dreams of  a  cozy teaching and writing retreat met their Waterloo.

You see, filing cabinets are for storing documents. I had planned to store personal files in one and school and writing documents in the other. But pack-rat that I am, I was afraid of shredding files —  even those of my parents’ from the 1990’s. What if I were to need them?

Well, you know where I’m going with this, right?  Yes, once I moved it all  — the computer-cabinet, recliner, bookshelf, mini-fridge and coffeemaker, filing cabinets, and futon, I had  barely room to turn around, much less sit.

No longer able to walk into the room, I turned it into a storage space — a burial ground for mail, dead laptops, cast-off high-tech gizmos,  shattered dreams.

Now, here I am, facing all of you today.  It’s taken me five years to gather the strength to admit my weakness.  With time and your support, one day I’ll be able to be you for someone else. Someone with a messy little secret just like mine.