Cheryl Kinkaid works in the Dean’s Office in the UBC Faculty of Applied Science. She has been taking distance courses as a way to work towards her degree while still working full-time. The diversity in her course work reflects the over 30 different subject areas and 130 distance education courses that are offered by the Office of Learning Technology. She is currently taking HIST 104: Topics in World History: Cultures in Contact but has also taken “two Earth and Ocean Science courses, another history course, a writing course and a music course” in the past.
In HIST 104, Cheryl is covering “topics rather than studying a specific period of time.” Some of the topics she has covered include “contact zones, the slave trade, and “discovery” of the new world.” HIST 104 isn’t limited to teaching students about particular themes; “as well as the actual history, I’m learning critical thinking skills.” A valuable ability Cheryl is gaining is to “not take everything [she’s] learned in school about the discovery of North America for face value. [In this course, she has been encouraged] to question what the author or teacher was trying to say, who they were talking to, what their biases may have been and to find if there are other sources that show a different perspective of the same event.” Learning to be critical and question the validity of arguments is a transferable skill that Cheryl can apply to her work in the Faculty of Applied Science, as well as in other aspects of her life.
With multiple interactive assignments and activities on WebCT Vista, it’s no wonder that Cheryl is able to gain knowledge and critical thinking skills from HIST 104. To test Cheryl’s understanding of the course material she has been required to “do three different kinds of essays, a group project with a wiki, and to take part in online discussions about the reading material,” in addition to “readings and viewing films.” Because of the course format, “there’s a lot of interaction between [Cheryl] and fellow students during the online discussions, and as well, the professor and TA take part.” HIST 104 is an example of one of the many online courses which utilizes different kinds of emerging technologies to enhance the student learning experience.
Cheryl offers a word of caution for students planning to take distance education. “Taking distance education courses can be challenging, you have to be willing to work by imposing a structure on yourself in order to meet deadlines when you don’t have a class to be prepared for every week.” Although this can seem like a daunting task, the advantages of distance education have outweighed the challenges. The advantage for Cheryl has been, as mentioned, the ability to “work around [her] family and office commitments to do [her] class work.”
Cheryl shares what many students unable to participate in on-campus courses feel; “I wish there were more options available for studying outside of the classroom.” With new courses and sections being developed every year, the university is trying to keep up with demand and make Cheryl’s, and others, wishes come true.