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Distance Learning and why I LOVE it!
by Adele Raemer


Abstract:

In this new column, the writer talks about how she became involved in distance learning, back in the days before extensive email and internet usage, and how it led her to e-teaching.

Background

I first discovered my attraction for DL (Distance Learning) when I was looking for a way to do my master's degree, in 1994. Part of the reason I was intrigued was because I wanted to further my formal education, at a time when different aspects of my personal life made it too intimidating to do a lot of traveling. Had I been living in an urban center, I would not have even given my now-beloved modus operandi a second look. However, living on a kibbutz (no car) in the boon-docks of the western Negev, and on the one hand, being the mother of three (one of whom was four years old at the time) and on the other, the only daughter of an aging, ailing mother, I felt that the only hope in heaven of me succeeding to keep up with any sort of higher education would be by doing it "distance", at my own pace. So, I looked around, and found a university* (Moray House School of Education, Herriot-Watt Univeristy in Scotland) that offered a master's degree (MATESOL) via a completely distance method.

Now this was BEFORE the days of the Internet. Heck - if I remember correctly, I didn't even have a computer at the time! I was still using my electronic typewriter. There were NO emails. I received my modules of work, and sent in my tasks, via snail mail. If I had any urgent questions, I had to go to my kibbutz's office to send a fax! Once or twice, ONLY when I was desperate, I telephoned. In those days,international calls were NOT cheaper than calling a mobile phone from a landline. Hang on .... no mobile phones then, either. (Gosh, I feel old!) But I digress.

However, it was certainly worth it. I worked very hard, enjoyed every minute of the interesting, challenging program they offered, and relished the days I had set aside for study, when - instead of getting on a bus and traveling for 3 hours in each direction to Tel Aviv (or an hour and a half to Beer Sheva), I could roll out of bed, into my chair and take advantage of those otherwise wasted traveling hours, by applying myself to my studies. Around the time that I completed the modules of work, and had begun working on my dissertation (1998) I had purchased my first computer, and hooked up to the Internet. Emails made the process very much easier, and less frustrating. Sending drafts back and forth, and receiving feedback, became much less of an issue. At this point, I learned that I could do some of my research online, by emailing sources and getting information first hand rather than from a book or a journal. That was a rush!

After 5 years of part time studies (with a break in the middle to care for my mother, until her passing) I found myself and part of my family, standing in a hall in Edinburgh, properly gowned and hooded, proudly receiving my hard-earned degree. (Attending the ceremony was not mandatory, but a treat that we allowed ourselves after all that.)

This very successful, satisfying experience left me hooked on DL for life!

Getting into e-teaching

I guess it's a matter of being in the right place, at the right time. Just when the Internet started taking off (and ETNI became a part of my professional life and source of professional enrichment), I was able to take my first online course (with Rene Wahl, one of the pioneers of online professional enrichment for English online learning in Israel, I believe) on the topic of the New Curriculum. From there, I jumped at the chance to learn to be an online teacher, when the course was offered by Matach.

I am, at the moment, busy as a bee preparing my units of work for two parallel online NBA courses (this will be my third year of giving this course, and each year, I learn more and constantly revamp - I am a sucker for punishment) which will have already begun by the time this edition of the ETNI Rag is published. I will also be facilitating one of the online CAT courses.

In addition, I am an "e-teacher" in training with a private company which uses another type of system, that takes advantage of different tools altogether - it is practically learning e-teaching from scratch (although a lot of the principles are similar).

Of course, I also enjoy my teacher-training endeavors that take place in person (also known, in "computer-speak" as Face to Face - or F2F). But the more I get into the online training field, the more I appreciate its qualities.

If you are interested, stay tuned for more

In future installments of the ETNI Rag, I will describe the different types of e-learning that are available, and discuss the pros and cons regarding e-learning in general, as well as the different e-learning environments which I have experienced personally. I will talk about how they operate, the "personal" factor (can you actually develop a significant learner-teacher relationship online?), who it suits and who drops out. I will look at synchronous versus asynchronous learning; text versus audio and visual tools - and who knows what else? The field is developing so rapidly that maybe there will be new ways of working that don't even exist yet! It is a fascinating field, and I look forward to being able to give you a peek at new possibilities, in case you have never considered DL as an option.

And now, it's back to working on my online course, which some of you reading this may even be participating in! Ciao for now!

* Warning: there is a down side to studying distance with universities abroad,, and that is that the Board of Education in Israel is very strict, and becoming stricter regarding which institutions they recognize and what the distance learning degrees are recognized for. If you DO decide to try and go this route, be sure to contact the Israeli Board of Education's Committee for Recognition of Diplomas and Degrees from Abroad before embarking on any such endeavor.

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