The Pioneer Post

The Pioneer Post is a resource for online students that provides tips and information about distance education.


Monday, May 7, 2007

By Gary Apperson, UWP Online Criminal Justice Instructor

My Quest

I see the distance learning quest similar to the heroic literary tales that culminate in a search for knowledge or enlightenment. While the quests have a common goal, the pathways are different for the various seekers. My particular knowledge quest started like many other quests -- at a young age and at a local university.

Because I was Interested in a law enforcement career, I had chosen the criminal justice path. Two and a half years into my quest, the career of a lifetime with the Anchorage Police Department interrupted my educational quest for 25 years. Initially, I tried to take one class per semester for the next few years, but my career and life continued to intensify. There were airplanes to fly, cabins to build, and other social considerations to attend. I simply did not have the time to continue my education quest. Although my career was everything I could have asked, at some level, the ember of my knowledge quest continued to glow.

After retirement, I went back to school and completed my undergraduate degree. I really had no particular plan of what I would do with my degree at this point. After reacquiring my bearings, I soon found myself in the UWP distance ed graduate Criminal Justice Program. It was time to take the quest into uncharted territory. The tide had turned; the previously unreachable, unconsidered, yet coveted master’s degree was now the current quest! And why not? After all, I was now in the company with allies of the likes of Dr. Banachowski-Fuller and Dr. Hilal.

My quest had the advantage of career retirement, which I exploited by taking two classes per semester. One of the tricky parts for me was learning again how to write in active format. To say the least, 25 years of writing passive police report narratives was a challenge to overcome. Fortune smiled upon me as a very patient Dr. Hilal helped me shift gears to active writing. As the course topics came alive with renewed relevance and importance, my writing improved. Things were looking up as occasionally, a teacher’s feedback would mention the phrase “grad level writing” in the same sentence with my name. A gold nugget of information I picked up early on was to identify the best writers in each class and learn from them. Many students bring real-world experiences that link to course material, and some are very good writers. Teachers provide useful feedback, however, learning from fellow students is far too valuable to leave on the table. In a very real sense, the synergy gained from interacting with other students imparts an additional component of learning that is not necessarily found in traditional classrooms.

Another positive aspect of my distance ed quest is that I was able to work on the program from my home. While I was involved in my graduate program, my wife Deb was also completing her quest with a local campus for an undergraduate degree in business administration with a minor in art. For a couple of years, our house was essentially a small satellite campus. Between our social commitments, we studied in our respective programs, read and edited each other’s assignments, and ate meals in our dining room turned campus cafeteria.

Typically, I would read the text assignments during the day in a room we set up as a library that was complete with an easy chair. After dinner and watching our favorite TV shows, I would adjourn to my computer room and lurk in the online research databases while I crafted assignments. One night, the distance concept proved particularly humorous. While reading some feedback comments from an assignment, I noticed the instructor had given me accolades for my diligence in working on my assignment so late into the night. It seems that uploading an assignment at midnight, Alaska time, would log in the UWP drop box at 3 a.m., thus causing my instructor to think I had been burning the candle into the wee hours.

Another distance ed nugget I would share is that in hindsight, I should have upgraded my computer set-up prior to beginning the program. Once I had started classes, I did not want to change my set-up during the program. My older Mac desktop computer and dial-up modem proved to be a couple of speed bumps. The dial-up modem was painfully slow, especially when reading posts in the larger classes. This problem was worse during the cold, dry stretches of the Alaskan winter, which caused static electricity to invade the phone lines and caused dropped connections during assignment uploads to the drop box. I was often not sure if my assignments made it to the UWP drop box, as a result, I uploaded many duplicate assignments. The other computer related glitch was during statistical component of my research writing methods class. The RSM class required the use of a SPSS statistical software CD. The problem was that SPSS was Windows-based and I had a Mac system. I found a work-around by installing Soft PC in my Mac, and then installed Windows XP Pro into Soft PC. Finally, I installed SPSS into Windows. It was clunky, but it worked, and I was able to work through the RSM labs.

By the time the seminar paper capstone course rolled around, I was ready for the challenge. I would recommend taking on the capstone with confidence. I say this because there are inevitable set backs and humbling moments involved with the process, but it is the overriding confidence in your skills that gets one through. Traveling to the UWP campus for graduation was the highlight of the entire program – I highly recommend it. Meeting my teachers and fellow students was defining moment and an indescribable gift with smiles all around.

Is my quest finished? No. I have learned that the knowledge quest never ends. Since graduation, I have become involved in a couple quests that are "retirement jobs." My first post-grad quest came in the form of being offered an adjunct teaching position in the Criminal Justice program of my former undergraduate school, the Anchorage Campus of Wayland Baptist University. The second came when my mentor PhD, Dr. Hilial, called me one day out of the blue, and asked if I would like to develop and teach a criminal justice course for the UWP distance education program. This is an excellent opportunity. Even more proof of the distance education synergy came from some unexpected but appreciated sources. Two of my fellow student colleagues, Teresa Panek Ives and Dan Avenarius, jumped to my aid with editing help and assistance with course materials that helped to get my first course developed and off the ground. Did I mention that distance education students are the best? Trust me, they are.

In addition to teaching undergrad courses, I have since developed five undergraduate criminal justice courses, with more courses on the schedule. In my most recent quest, I have accepted Dawn Drake’s offer for a position on the UWP Alumni Advisory Board. So far, the Alumni Advisory Board has proven to be even more distance education synergy. I like the idea of contributing to UWP’s distance education mission from my "far point station" in Alaska. The quest continues.



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