The Downside of Distance Learning

The Downside of Distance Learning

Distance Learning. This term has come to mean a lot of different things, but to me it means learning from an institution or teacher from a distance – one that is not local to where you are but someplace, some distance away. I have experience with distance learning, both personally and with two of my boys, during their high school experiences.

Much of our experience, in fact almost all of it, has been positive. But, there are a few downsides, one of which has been occurring with me since last weekend.  I am having computer issues! Currently, I am enrolled in a graduate program about two and a half hours away from where I live. The entire degree, a Master’s of Science in Environmental Education and Interpretation, is online. I am just over half way finished.  As you can imagine, there is a lot of self-directedness involved in taking an online course. The communication patterns are different that being in a physical classroom. I know this is a stumbling block for some considering virtual education, but for me, it has worked out fine. I tend to be a very organized person, keeping track of when discussion posts are due (which replace classroom discussions), on top of all assignments, papers, and tests.

Yet, this past Saturday, I was thrown off track. I could not connect to my course pages! After several hours of trying, I contacted the help desk at the university. In the past, on the rare occasion that I have had to call them, they have been very helpful. Apparently, there was some WiFi problem going on effecting conductivity on campus. My weekly paper was not due until Sunday afternoon. Knowing I could work on this offline, it did not concern me. But, Sunday came, I finished my paper and found that I still could not connect!

What to do?

Well, about an hour before the paper’s final deadline, I emailed the professor and explained I was having computer connection issues. Proactively, I told her I would attach my paper to the email, so as to prove I had finished it in the required timeframe. She emailed back, stating that it was not a big deal, and I could post to the second discussion forum (which was also due) as soon as I had a connection, even if I missed the deadline. I appreciated her flexibility.

Yet, here it is Thursday. Two more discussion posts were due by 10pm last evening. I still had no computer connection to school. Now, all during this week, I had kept trying various ways to connect. Nothing from home worked, even after I involved my very tech savvy senior high school student. Calls to the help desk were made each day from Saturday through Tuesday. Tuesday, since I had online readings to do for this coming week of class, I went to a local restaurant/coffee shop with free wi-fi and was able to connect to the university with out a problem. Two afternoons were spent in our public library, using their computer to access my course pages. Our library is brand new, so my problem served a purpose in getting me there. It is beautiful and I enjoyed my time, so it might become a new place of study for me when I need to get out of the house during the dreary winter days to come.  Finally, yesterday, from home I emailed the help desk at the university, with a detailed list of what I have tried, and the difficulties I continue to experience.

Hopefully, today, something will happen to resolve this issue with getting on my university course pages. It is taking extra time to run around to get a connection, download materials and/or discussion questions, and upload my answers. Luckily, we do not have a paper due for ten days. During this time we are supposed to be working on a project, instead. That I can do. But, I am getting frustrated with the situation. Can you tell?

Placeholder ImageMaybe, today will be the day it gets resolved! If not, I will be contacting tech support again.  Not having adequate computer connections to complete distance learning, definitely presents a downside to learning this way.


Life Long Learning

Life Long Learning

There is no doubt that I am a life long learner! In the midst of obtaining a second master’s degree, twenty-five years after my first in an arguably different discipline, very few could accuse me of not being committed to learning and growing through my life thus far. Taking graduate courses during the school year, and the summer – as I am doing now, is being done because I want to do it. I see value in it. My aim was to give myself some legitimate authority as I began speaking at local, state, and even international conferences on interdisciplinary learning and gardening with children two years ago. It is a topic I know well, both in theory and practical experience, but there is always room to learn more – especially when it might help to give me credibility. But, the plain and simple truth is that I love learning, being a student, and being in school!  I think I love it almost as much as I love teaching.

It has been interesting, however, to notice some things about myself – some “student qualities” that I do not think I ever took the time to reflect upon during my two previous degrees. For example, as a middle-aged learner, I was somewhat reluctant to engage in a distance learning curriculum. But, that is – in fact, what I have done. All my classes are online. I enjoy being able to write what I want to say, whereas in person, I am much more timid.  The technology rarely throws me a curve, and when it does, I have two able adolescent boys to assist me in figuring out where I have gone wrong. I can scan, upload, use zip files, find my grades, and post to a discussion forum as well as the most able twenty year old college student! Having taken typing wayyyyyy back in high school, I also am an exceptionally fast typist. This has the extra bonus of avoiding those hand cramps that I get now that I am older and have to write long passages manually.

Motivation and drive are two characteristics that I have never been in short supply of having as a student.  It remains the same today. I strive to do well, learn the material, and be an engaged student. Much to the dismay of those who hold a popular educational philosophical belief, I am motivated by grades. True! I want the A/A+ and am willing to work hard to get it! And, it does not even matter – I am not in competition with anyone, do not have a class rank, or GPA that will count toward some unknown future college critique – I still want the A.

The other very interesting thing that I have learned is something I have always known but has been augmented in my most recent class, the class I am taking now.  This knowledge is that I am a very literal learner. I actually need to read and take notes to learn material. This is okay. I have the skills to do so. These skills include things like outlining from a text or journal article as one reads. Skills that I am not sure are being taught anymore or hold importance with today’s educators. The dependence on my style of learning was highlighted when I had to complete my first computer lab for an advanced interpretive media class I am taking now.  Essentially, this class is a graphic design course. A tutorial “packet” was  assigned to guide us through Photoshop and Indesign software. I completed each packet, taking my time. And each time, when I went to do the assignment I was somewhat lost as to what to do!  I had to look back at the packet of instructions! It dawned on me that the reason for this is because I am not learning by using my usual “style”.  It has made things a little more difficult for the class, but not impossible.

I then reflected on conversations I have had with my son who just completed his junior year of high school.   He has learned, at a very early age, that he does not learn like most students.  Most times, he has to adjust to the instructor’s teaching style. He is not a literal learner at all. While most times this is not a bad thing, and it is certainly preparing him for college classes, it has made his learning more difficult on occasion. He has had to adjust while learning, and the adjustments are sometimes just a stab in the dark.

Oh! Now, I can relate!

What does this mean for us as educators? I think it means several things. One is that we need to make sure our students are learning how to learn. There are many resources out there to help students determine what type of learning style they prefer. Likewise, there are many resources and theoretical foundations that tell us we MUST teach using many different styles (or models) if we are to adequately reach all of our students. Think about how you teach, and now, think about how you might teach the same content in a different way to enhance the possibility of reaching more learners! If learning is a positive experience, more students will go on to be life long learners well after they need to “earn” a grade.