Finish Line
Finish Line (Photo credit: jayneandd)


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.




Distance education
Distance education (Photo credit: mcwetboy)


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.


Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

August 29, 2011

They watch me as I walk into the classroom on the first day of school.  The boys  fidget. The girls giggle. Some eyes are sparkly and eager. Others, lost and confused.

First-graders? Good guess.  Try  community-college freshmen.  Yes,  during my twenty-some years as an instructor  in a two-year college, I continue to be amazed at how  young and  naive these students  seem .  Other than the size of their clothes, the hair on their bodies, and the pitch of their voices, I’d swear I was teaching the first grade.   The second first grade.

As in the first year of elementary school,  these fledglings also have to  learn a new way of life: buying their own textbooks, developing college-level study skillls, reading hundreds of pages for the next class, and learning to type and  upload essays online.  Still,  despite the tougher  requirements heaped upon this new breed, there are  striking similarities between them and their pint-sized progenitors.

First, although both have to furnish their own school supplies, the Big Chief writing tablets and Ticonderoga pencils with number-two leads have been replaced by iPads,  laptops, and portable hard-drives. Crayolas have stepped aside for highlighters. And  book satchels have taken a back seat to backpacks.   As for lunch pails? Look on Ebay. Today’s kiddos subsist on Cokes and potato chips from the vending machines or burgers from  “Mickey D’s“.

Second, since community colleges  are also commuter colleges,  they  do not offer dormitories. Therefore, many students  still live at home.  Although  privacy policies prohibit parents from becoming  involved,  many of these newbies  still depend on Mom and Dad for emotional and financial  support.

Finally,  both groups are highly distractible.  Surrounded by television, video games, and other electronic gizmos, it is no easier task for an eighteen-year-old to concentrate than it is for an eight-year-old.  Some of my colleagues even pass around a shoe box, at the beginning of class,  into which students must toss their cell phones. Only when class is over are students and  phones reunited. Moreover, to guard against students checking their email and Facebook  during lectures, teachers can  activate  programs that block students’ computers from  the Internet.

Is this new generation of students changing the definition of college, as we’ve come to know it?  I’m turning the floor over to you. What are your observations?