Living/teaching digitally in the Year of Isolation 2020
By Jim Turner

Posted on May 23, 2020 7:48 PM


The year 2020 is destined to be recorded as one of the most transformational 12 months in not only the history of the United States but also of the world.  The COVID-19 pandemic has forced dramatic changes in the way we work, live, stay healthy, worship, socialize and educate.  We have transformed from fearing people wearing masks to being wary of those who don’t.  We no longer refrain from hugging just to avoid the appearance of improprieties but also to protect our health.  For now, we no longer conduct classes in brick-and-mortar classrooms, and the same is true for most office situations.


All of that has certainly affected the way I live my life.  I have always been a “people person.”  I enjoy in-person conversations, being part of a group, and most forms of face-to-face interpersonal communication, including classrooms.  From March 14 through May 17, I talked with only one other person besides my wife and daughter without electronic/digital assistance, and that was to tell the Riley-White employee who brought prescription medicine to my car window that I would pay in cash. 

Today marks 10 weeks since I have been in a business. Dr. C.H. Mathis’ office on the 65th day (Monday) was my first to set foot on ground that Elaine and I don’t have a deed to since I entered wife-imposed, daughter-imposed, self-imposed quarantine. If you wonder why, just check out the list of conditions that put people at-risk for the virus, and I’m pretty sure my picture will be beside it,

The transformation in education has certainly been in evidence since Spring Break.  The last day I set foot on a SKYCTC campus was Friday, March 6.  I spent nine weeks teaching six classes online, I’m teaching a biterm summer class online now, and all meetings with my peers have been conducted by Zoom or Microsoft Teams.  I taught four classes online a year ago this spring, but the students in those classes all knew that cyberspace was going to be the format for instruction. 

This spring semester four of the classes which were face-to-face the first biterm suddenly became involved in distance learning.  Three of them were predominantly composed of dual credit students.  Up until this juncture, SKYCTC had not allowed dual credit students to enroll in online classes; the justification for that is now proving to be sound. As I had learned from my former Panther Academy students from Russellville, being relegated to online courses from a private university this year was less than ideal.

Many high school students are not mature enough to take college courses online, as demonstrated by the lack of effort and/or success by some students who were not prepared for the self-discipline required.  While it is reasonable to expect students who enroll in online classes to have access to dependable internet service at home, the same logic doesn’t work for those who did not choose this format voluntarily. Some of my Franklin-Simpson students lived too far out of town to have internet suited for submitting speech videos.

I can only imagine how difficult it is to get elementary and middle school students to concentrate on lessons at home. Youngsters need adult figures around them as role models and steady anchors.

Still, I firmly believe the decision was correct to close school and college doors. The thought of returning to campuses in less than three months is scary under current pandemic conditions. We will have to wait to see how newly relaxed rules affect the spread of the disease.

Back to online education: I have not made a secret of my limited background in computer-aided instruction.  My first 28 years as either a student or a teacher came and went without knowing what a computer is. After a long break for full-time journalism, my next five years teaching at WKU we still didn’t have computers in our professional lives. Twelve years of radio and newspaper work later when I returned to WKU, computers were in every classroom and office, and Blackboard was a way of life.  By then, I had spent several years using a computer as a newspaper editor, but desktop publishing was done on Apple computers, not IBM/PC.  That made the transition to PC when I returned to education even more challenging.

The next seven years I “got by” with my computer knowledge, for a while as full-time at WKU and later as a three-classes-per-semester-each at WKU and SKYCTC.  I relied much more on email than Blackboard.  When I finally was granted an interview for a full-time position at SKYCTC at age 67, Dr. James McCaslin, the current provost who has been my mentor because of our association at SKYCTC’s Franklin-Simpson campus, told me that I would not be hired if I weren’t capable of teaching online.  He arranged for me to get special training in Blackboard before I was interviewed, and that has proved to be very helpful in the six years I have been teaching classes online.  I have grown each year in my computer knowledge and skills. Now I’m teaching my 36th online class in these six years.

This semester has provided more digital challenges, however.  Since all our classes have transformed to distance learning, we have been encouraged to convert our online teaching to more of a classroom setting.  That has made me a student again, learning about Screen- O- Matic, Microsoft Teams, and Blackboard Collaborate during a number of recent Professional Development sessions.  (Zoom has been outlawed at SKYCTC because of hacking concerns.) After two weeks of those sessions, I am suffering from information overload.  I plan to study the videos on those group-sharing programs to see which will be best for my classes and to learn how to use them to the benefit of my students beginning this fall.

During the final Faculty Senate meeting of the year, we were told to expect more hybrid classes (both Face to Face and online) and different types of classroom settings.  That makes it even more urgent for me to be prepared for more group online time by the time the fall semester begins.

Since I seem to have more time during these quarantine days, I’m afraid I don’t have an excuse for pleading ignorance in The Digital Year That Is—2020.


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