From Pipi’s Pasture: Teaching the long distance way
Like many other people, I’m working from home these days, and I feel very fortunate to be working. When I was first introduced to teaching by long distance I could have never predicted that I would be using it on such a large scale.
About fifteen years ago I was working part-time on campus at Colorado Northwestern College in Craig. The college wanted to find a way to meet the needs of students in surrounding areas, like Meeker and rural Rangely, so they began experimenting with a long distance system. I don’t remember the name they gave it, but the students called into a central area, they were “hooked” up with an instructor, and they had class. It was all by voice—no video.
One semester the class originated in Denver. When I called in early for class I was told that no students had shown up yet and was put on hold. I envisioned myself in a waiting room with music playing (and perhaps it was) as I waited for students to arrive. I taught college biology this way. I arranged for the students to have microscopes lent to them for the semester and made up little kits of slides, cover slips, stains, and other supplies. Believe it or not, I was able to lead them through the laboratory experience.
So I got in on the ground floor with distance learning. Then one day the central distance system in Rangely crashed. So I offered to teach students on a one-to-one basis by phone. In some cases several students got together in one location and shared a speaker. I was given a headphone so my hands were free. I provided students with a detailed syllabus, including due dates for work, and they sent in homework assignments by postmark dates. Tests were open-book. Students met with me two or three hours a week, and I had a lot of students. It worked.
Distance learning provided needs for students in a lot of interesting situations. I met with one student when she drove a truck with a livestock trailer. Another, in rural Rangely, drove to a telephone pole where he talked to me on a community phone. Though it was probably not true, I always imagined how he climbed up the pole to talk on the phone. Another group of students met around a table in a kitchen.
I got to the point that I could tell whether students understood the material by the tone of their voices. A few years ago, while on my way to the Morapos ranch, a deer ran out of the ditch and into my car. The investigating patrol officer remarked that my name sounded familiar. It turned out that his wife had been one of my students. I had never met her in person, but the strange thing was that as we talked I could see her handwriting on paper. Over the years I have had the privilege of meeting several of my distance learning students in person.
So now it seems that things have come full circle, and I am teaching life skills by distance learning. Life is wonderful because it has its unexpected turns.
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