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Many thanks to the Oregonian, which ran this editorial opinion today, Oct. 19, 2014, here:  http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/10/online_classes_can_serve_stude.html

By Kathryn Hubbell

In response to Ramin Farahmandpur’s Oct. 12 “In My Opinion” column, “Online courses shortchange their students,” I would like to defend online learning. I have taught both online and on-campus classes at Marylhurst University for the past six years, and prior to that earned my master’s in communications management from Syracuse University. The Syracuse program involved spending the first week of each term on campus, then finishing up via online learning from home. I was running my public relations firm in Montana at the time; the program meant I did not have to move in order to get the degree I wanted.

The experience at Syracuse was so good that when I came to Oregon and began teaching online classes at Marylhurst, I took those lessons into my virtual classrooms. Here are more of the benefits I’ve found to online classes:

I frequently get to know my students better online because they’ll tell me things through their student surveys and e-mails that they would not feel comfortable telling me face-to-face.

Because we teach many older, working adults at Marylhurst, an online class gives them the flexibility to juggle school with families and jobs. For some people, it’s the best and only way to get a college education. These students are driven and dedicated.

To make online learning more personal, I make small videos about once a week in order to explain something more in-depth, as do other professors on campus. When students can see and hear their instructor, they feel a greater connection to the class.

I also need to see and hear my students. I may have them produce video introductions of themselves, schedule video conference calls and phone calls or meet them on campus if they are local and need help. It’s always worth the extra effort.

A January 2013 article in The New York Times seems to validate this approach to online learning, saying: “Moreover, there are early indications that the high interactivity and personalized feedback of online education might ultimately offer a learning structure that can’t be matched by the traditional classroom.”

The price of our online classes is not reduced, which makes sense to me. Online teaching and learning both take more time and self-discipline than on-campus teaching and learning. The work can be harder on both sides in order to get the same results.

Farahmandpur wrote, “Collaboration, communication and community service are key to an engaging and relevant college experience.” I agree. Our online students continually talk with each other in discussion boards long after deadline; it’s often hard to keep up. They may collaborate on class projects; in our social media class they also collaborate on the instruction, since no one person has the answer. In addition, each student is assigned to work with a real-life organization in order to learn effective public relations. That’s service learning.

Granted, there are areas where online learning does not work. Music would be one example; certainly there are more. But in this day and age, the effective use of sophisticated technology brings a greater learning experience, both online and on campus. Using technology also prepares our students well when they go into new careers that demand the use of technology.

At a conference workshop in Washington, D.C., last weekend, I listened to Dr. Susan Aldridge, vice-president for online learning at Drexel University, talk about using avatars and simulators in medical school online classes. This is how students learn today, she said.

Perhaps the most inspirational online student I’ve had to date came through my classes last year. She was homeless, logging in from another state where she had received special grant money for her tuition. She joined on-campus classes via Skype and participated in online classes the same as everyone else. Once she reported reading her textbook by the light of her car. Often, she couch-surfed, begging friends and relatives for a place to stay. I worked with her closely all year, impressed by her drive. She earned her certificate in public relations on schedule, meeting the exact same requirements that our on-campus students must meet. I could not be more proud.

A Facebook post I made today in reaction to the Reynolds High School shooting – only about 6 miles from my home:

Facebook friends and family, don’t assume for a moment that there is not a shooter in your neighborhood and/or your school district, thinking that a gun is the answer. One of the reasons you can’t assume this is the prevalence of the mentally ill among us, who have tried to get treatment – or whose family has tried to get them treatment – but can’t, because they have not yet been proven a danger to society. That’s like our age-old problem of not putting a stop sign at an intersection until a child has died there, even though people have said for years that the intersection is unsafe. We never seem to be proactive, to think ahead, to imagine consequences of not acting; we’re always reactive, as if the incident, the thought, the idea, had never occurred to us before. Incredibly naive, if not downright stupid and inexcusable. We need to take care of each other, and we need to care enough to help prevent these shootings. That includes families who own guns keeping them locked up and away from their children – I’m also sick to my stomach reading about little 3-and 4-year-olds finding loaded guns and pulling the trigger. We need to question our own mentality as a country that we have a love affair with guns; that we unhesitatingly watch violence on TV and in the movies, and consider it entertainment; that we somehow STILL manage to think, as some have expressed this morning, “I didn’t think it could happen here.” It can, it does, it will continue – because we, as a country, do not have the will to rise up and stop it. It’s not entirely up to our elected representatives; it’s also up to us. Public opinion can move mountains; I haven’t worked in public relations for over 30 years not to know that.

A response to Rory McEntyre’s guest opinion column in this morning’s Oregonian, complaining that he can’t get hired because of his facial piercings and tattoos (see   www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/05/portlands_tolerance_is_otheverrat.html#incart_river):

Mr. McEntyre, what you are not recognizing is that your appearance is more important to you than anything else – such as finding a good job.  You don’t want to change your appearance in any way for any reason, yet you berate others who judge you on it.  Well – you can’t have it both ways.  Women the world over can tell you what it’s like to be judged on appearance.  People with physical challenges and deformities can tell you what it’s like to be judged on appearance.  As a very general rule, I think it’s safe to say that most of us try to present an appearance suitable to our jobs and our circumstances, and most of us do not define ourselves solely by our appearance.

You seem to identify yourself solely by your appearance.  It is so important to you, that it doesn’t matter to you that it prevents people from seeing who you might be underneath; yet now you rant about it.  You have it within your control to change it, but you’d rather complain. Those piercings are more important to you than a job.  Believe me, if people born with physical deformities, or people who have gone through horrific life experiences such as a fire which disfigured them, or a war which caused the amputation of a couple of limbs, could look “whole” again, I’ve no doubt they would love it.

But do you realize what a lot of those folks do?  They work super hard to make use of what they cannot change; they work super hard to maintain a good attitude, to have a sense of humor, to develop other skills to compensate for what they lack – and they often outshine the rest of us.  But you?  You have an appearance totally within your control, and you blame others for not accepting you.  Look in your inward mirror; it isn’t other people causing your problem, it’s you.  As someone said in the comments below your article, it’s time to grow up.

Try to look inside yourself and understand why your piercings are more important to you than putting a roof over your head; why your appearance is so extremely important to you that it’s become how you define yourself, instead of any interior qualities or education you may actually have.  I’m so sorry for you; you may be a very gifted man, but you seem to have a compulsion to hide those things and put your appearance first – everything, absolutely everything, revolves around your appearance.  That is the message people are getting when you show up to apply for a job, and that is why they don’t hire you.  You actually don’t want them to see past your appearance – and they can’t.  Their fault?  Don’t think so; the fault, dear Brutus, lies within yourself.

Somebody on CNN this morning asked if the situation at VA hospitals – waiting months for care and possibly being put on a secret waiting list – is a recent   development, almostCollage2 a singular incident, or if this is a systematic problem.

Oh, it’s more than systematic.  It’s endemic.  It’s embedded in the VA culture. Veterans don’t just wait months for care – they often wait years – and this has been the situation since at least Viet Nam, if not before.

Back in 2000, I started getting involved with the protests against the experimental, highly reactive, and sometimes deadly anthrax vaccine that was being forced on troops deployed to certain areas.  If they didn’t take this experimental drug they could – and usually did – receive a dishonorable discharge.  If they took the vaccine, and thousands upon thousands did, they might develop tumors and cysts, severe bone and joint pain, terrible, ongoing migraines, partial loss of vision or hearing, vertigo, grand mal seizures, sudden blood pressure spikes and drops; the women might hemorrhage and find themselves unable to bear children; the men might lose testosterone permanently.  The list is too long to repeat here.

And that would just be the beginning.  Trying to get medical-boarded out of the service with a reasonable disability rating would always be the first major bureaucratic hurdle.  In those days, the military refused to admit any connection between the vaccine and a service member’s subsequent disability; certainly military doctors didn’t understand or recognize the symptoms at the time. Too often, service members were told that their symptoms – many of which were invisible to an observer – were all in their head; they were told they had mental problems, or were depressed.  After going through months, and sometimes years, of not being believed about their illnesses, of trying to get through each day in terrible pain, I always thought it was perfectly natural for them to become depressed… that was a result of how they were treated, not a cause of their symptoms.

Once out of the service, getting treated by the VA was the next major hurdle.  The common rating for disability – if a person didn’t get in and fight it – was 10 percent.  Ten percent!!!  Almost nothing – for someone who could no longer carry out his military duties.  And the waiting period for treatment was usually two years.   — And that was if a service member lived close enough to a VA hospital to get the care needed. 

What happened in the meantime?  These disabled service members were not getting the treatment they needed, or were paying civilian doctors out of their own pockets trying to find answers.  Too often, they were unable to work.  They lost their jobs – they lost their cars – they lost their homes – and their marriages very often broke apart under the strain.  Not a few of them literally went to live in the woods, homeless and alone, and rejected by – us.  Those they serve.

What I’d like to know, Congress is this: why did it take you so damn long to notice?  Where have you been?  You say you support our troops, but after you issued the 1994 Rockefeller Report calling on the military to stop its medical experimentation on our service members – and included the anthrax vaccine in that last – you did nothing to enforce it.  We’re supposed to have civilian oversight of the military in this country, but those civilians we elect to the highest offices in the land do not seem to have spines – or eyes and ears.

So it takes a scandal like a secret list causing veterans to die while they wait before this suddenly becomes an issue.  I’ve got news for you, media people and Congress and Americans: our veterans have been dying for a long, long time waiting for the right care from the VA.  To make matters worse, some of those deaths are suicides – because nobody believed, or helped search for the right treatments.  It’s better to wait for a whole generation to die, we get that.  That’s why it’s only been in the last few years that Agent Orange was recognized as the presumptive cause of severe medical problems for the troops (http://www.banderasnews.com/1004/vl-davidlord05.htm).  Delay payment and responsibility for as long as humanly possible, then say, “Whoops.  We were wrong.”

My cynicism is hard-earned; most of it comes from the veterans themselves.  These problems didn’t just start; this is not a sudden, new development.  It’s been going on for years.  To this day, when veterans write in to us at www.mvrd.org,  we have to counsel them on how to work with, and sometimes fight with, the VA to get the disability ratings and the treatment they need.

Kick out Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shinseki? Accept Dr. Petzel’s resignation? Band-aid measures; these do nothing to address the real problems.  They inherited this mess, they didn’t cause it. The real problems have a lot more to do with how we proudly send our sons and daughters off to war, encouraging them to give all for their country – but don’t want to pay for it when they come back injured, debilitated, depressed, and permanently changed.  It’s part of the cost of war – the fact that our men and women come back disabled, sometimes with illnesses that are not visible.  It’s part of the deal, yet we seem to refuse to step up to the plate in a timely, caring manner. Meanwhile, too many veterans languish in their homes or homeless shelters – or in the woods – unable to continue to fight.

 

We think we support our troops and veterans in this country.  Not by half; not by half.

 

There are many reports out there telling older workers that no one wants them, or that they will have a lot of difficulty finding a job. One such report in U.S. News two years ago listed misconceptions about older workers, such as short terms on the job if they planned to retire soon; higher salary expectations; and reluctance to report to younger bosses (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/planning-to-retire/2012/05/18/why-older-workers-cant-get-hired). Fortunately, a number of articles since then have refuted the myths (http://www.recruiter.com/i/truth-and-lies-about-hiring-older-workers/), detailing why hiring older workers is a very good idea.

Brian Solis, an expert in social media public relations whose work I use in my classes at Marylhurst University quite a lot, reminds us that one of the things Baby Boomers bring to the office is a “raw work ethic.” He gives an excellent guide to Millennials navigating the workplace in this article: http://www.briansolis.com/2014/04/millennials-guide-surviving-corporate-america/ – and advocates for mutual respect between the generations.

Group of business people sitting around a table compressed
I teach a lot of older workers, and I’m one myself. Let me weigh in for a moment on some of the great, practical attributes older workers bring to their jobs – and by “older,” I mean more than Baby Boomers. I also mean workers aged, say, 35 to 70 or so, encompassing at least a couple of generations:

• This isn’t their first rodeo; nearly all older workers have either held a job recently, or are holding one now while they’re going to school. I’ve always said that when I tell my adult students to turn left, they turn left; when I tell them to march straight ahead, they do; if I say it’s time to jump, they jump as high as they can. This comes from knowing what it takes to hold down a job; they know how to follow instructions. They will readily ask for clarification and the rationale for those instructions, which I always appreciate; they want the whole picture.
• Older workers have learned to take criticism – constructive or not. They’ve developed fairly thick skins over the years, and if they need to hear something negative in order to improve their performance, then so be it. They’ve learned not to take everything personally, and often that comes with plain old experience.
• No, older workers are not as enamored with social media, but they know how to use those social media outlets in a very important way – as an implementation of sound business strategy, not just as a forum for chatting. Moreover, older workers are keenly aware that social media tools are just that – tools for communicating. Actual communication depends upon content, response, and a two-way conversation. It doesn’t depend on the latest online innovation.
• Older workers know that what is fast is not always better.
• Older workers tend to be loyal to their employers. For the most part, they aren’t job-hopping, looking for the next, exciting opportunity somewhere across the country. They work because they need to work, even up to and often beyond the age of 70, and because they like to work and value the feeling of being needed. They are often content with part-time jobs and flexible schedules. We live in a society that does not value us as we age. What a waste. We have vast repositories of information and experience to pass along. We are the storytellers.
• As much as older workers know that fast is not always better, they can be extremely fast at the jobs they’re assigned – because they’ve done all this before. They know the drill. If a senior public relations practitioner takes three sheets of information and writes a press release from that information in about half an hour, it’s because she knows how to cull out the information that isn’t really relevant, isn’t all that important, and doesn’t help make the point. That ability to cut to the chase comes from years of experience, and from years of developing a mind that thinks strategically and is capable of seeing the consequences of decisions.
• Older workers make great mentors and teachers to the younger generations coming up through the ranks. Having a huge amount of energy is great for any business, yes; but so is having someone with a steadying hand on the tiller, who can help steer a ship that might start to careen off course. That larger perspective is a valuable and steadying influence.
????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? • Finally, older workers know how the world works. They don’t tend to be so singularly focused that the changes in society and the world around them are surprising or a mystery to them. They’ve been out there dealing with people and situations and circumstances for a long time, and the result is that they understand the needs of their employers and of other people.

Hire an older worker. You’ll get great value for the dollar.

 

 

Jordan’s story

Jordan’s story

Jordan's winning photo

This is the photo that resulted in Jordan being named one of 10 finalists word-wide – and the only one from North America – in Sony’s international student photography contest.  Marylhurst University is extremely proud! Copyright Jordan VanSise, 2014.

Nov. 22, 2013 -

Dear President Kennedy,

Very few of the retrospectives playing in all forms of media this week on the 50th anniversary of your death really explain why so many of us feel huge holes in our hearts even now at your absence.

One person thought it was because Americans have suffered a crisis of national identity, not believing that we would ever become a country where violence would overtake the rule of law.  That might be one little piece. One person thought it was because we’ve been so disappointed in our subsequent presidents.  That might be another little piece. People who have been born since your death often wonder why we continue to hold you in such high esteem after all we’ve come to know about you in the years since: your womanizing, some of your crass political moves, the money from your father which seemed to buy your elections, the fact that you were on a huge regiment of drugs to deal with your pain and illness.

But you came along at a time when we were regaining our footing after WWII.  We’d had strong leaders all through the war, and regardless of whether or not any of us thought of Eisenhower as a particularly strong leader, he was still a president who garnered enormous respect.  But he was, indeed, moving past his time on the stage when you came in.

It wasn’t just your youth, or the fact that you and Mrs. Kennedy were such a glamorous couple – although that added to the enjoyment.  It wasn’t even “only” that you called us to a better vision of who we could be, both as individuals and as a nation.  You called us to service in the Peace Corps; you called us to put a man on the moon; you called us to ask what we could do for our country; you confronted the issue of civil rights and authored the Civil Rights Act; and, little remembered today, you instituted a physical fitness program in the schools that we should never, ever have discarded – and that is all the more remarkable considering your life of constant pain and illness.

There is one more layer which explains more about why I miss you:  your leadership had us believing we really could be better people, that we really could blaze trails into the future.  We felt confidence, and we felt hope.  Even as a 14-year-old, I knew that then.  Just barely starting out on my own journey, I still knew.

We no longer work from a basis of hope and confidence, Mr. President.  Everything today is about coping and about survival.  Instead of moving forward together, with the “can-do” sense that we were so well-known for at one time, we have split into angry groups, too often relying on guns to settle our so-called differences.  We have a Congress that has been completely deadlocked for a long, long time.  Some of us think back to Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex, and shake our heads.  We roil in an enormous health care crisis, and nowhere does there seem to be a clear voice holding a clear vision for the future.

You didn’t always make the right decisions, Mr. President – but I, for one, will forever be in awe of the fact that you pulled us back from the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.  That alone speaks to the wisdom of having a president with some military experience: you knew when not to listen to the generals. Your style of decision-making relied more on you as an individual rather than a consensus of people whom you leaned on for advice.  But the plus side of that style was that you weren’t at all afraid to lead; you weren’t afraid to step out there and hold out a better vision of what could be rather than what was expected.  The vision you held out, and the hope and the confidence that went with it, have not been seen in this country since.

A lot of younger people won’t understand this.  It’s one of those things where the only possible reply is, “You just had to be there.”  I wish you were still here, somehow, in some way, to demonstrate that to them.

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