Distance Learning | Marcia Amsterdam Kean | Part 1

The profound pleasures (and superficial terrors) of distance learning…

As I sit at my computer here under virtual house arrest during the pandemic, I’m thinking back to my first encounters with the Roehampton distance MA degree in Children’s Literature.  If this is your first online learning attempt – not by choice, I presume – here are some tips from a Yankee ‘convert’.

First, the big picture.

Distance learning is different. Yup, it sure is.

There are countless advantages to online classes, such as avoiding the rigidity of classroom schedules, the swarm of students around the professor after class, the uncomfortable chairs, the over(under)-heated classrooms.  At your computer or other device, you can arrange the setting to be perfect for you.  You, master of the universe, can overcome time and space. Accept that, and enjoy it.  Someday you will return to the classroom, but forget it for now.

The software works quite well

The so-called Moodle system that Roehampton uses takes a bit of getting used to, sure.  But instead of envisioning it as the technology-from-hell designed by an angry programmer, imagine it simply as a four-lane highway that you are driving down. 

You can traverse the lanes at any speed, and have fingertip access to:

  1. All the ‘stuff’ for each module (Americans say “course”), such as email forums, reading lists, weekly assignments, online articles and book excerpts.  And don’t forget those sample submissions from prior year students – they are invaluable, to see how the smartest folks did the assignment.
  2. Resources to assist and ensure your success.  Links to the library.  To the Tech folks (who are the kindest people on earth, except for librarians and archivists, who are saints).  To Studiosity, a study help center that offers feedback on grammar and spelling, and syntax (no one has mastered syntax since 1941) etc!  It’s almost as if Moodle were your Mom-away-from-home.
  3. A ‘magic carpet’ called Turnitin, which carries your Assessment documents from your hands into your instructor’s safekeeping… and in return, will provide you some weeks later with your grade and possibly a marked-up version of your work.

The University portal is important. Visit it daily.

Your University email is there, including notes you wrote just to your instructor so everyone else wouldn’t see your confusion.  And messages from the university administration.  And helpful things you didn’t know you didn’t know.  I log onto it at least once a day.  (By the way, I can see some of my module emails in my University email, but not all of them. To see all the messages in the module forums, I must log onto them via Moodle. Why is that?  If you figure this out, please write to me at keanm@roehampton.ac.uk.  I’m in my last semester, but better late than never for enlightenment.

Oh, and one quick tip:  some of the email will be marked as “Do Not Reply”.  Why?  I’m guessing the answer resides in the Rosetta Stone, but in the meantime, before writing a response, always look for that warning.  If you want to reply to an instructor’s group email, compose a new message with a new subject line.

Participation is now easier than ever before in your life

You don’t have to raise your hand. Your comments won’t elicit a smirk from others. Email forums are a delightful exchange, in which students build on each other’s ideas, make suggestions for resources or books, and encourage each other.  And the instructor chimes in if you pose a question!  I love reading the forums, and have made good friends this way, whom I’ve never met in person.  Once you participate in a forum, you will never be lonely.

I hear everywhere that – post-pandemic — the world will never be the same, and that trends already underway will accelerate.  If that’s true, distance/online learning may be in your future. So, ignore those ancient and outmoded materials called bricks-and-mortar, and start enjoying yourself!

Part 2 coming soon…

Best wishes from a distance,


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