Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

June 4, 2013

You can teach an old dog some new tricks

By Mike Redmond
CNHI

— Because I am a With-It type guy who is Down with all the latest Technostuff, I recently agreed to teach an online summer class for one of my local universities, which shall remain nameless but whose initials are IUPUI.

All I can say is it is a good thing they didn’t have this when I was in school or I would have flunked out double quick.

That’s because this is education on the honor system, requiring the students to set their own standards and keep pace with the material. It requires a self-starter’s drive and a good worker’s dedication. None of which I had back then.

Online course? Work at your own pace? In Mike Language, this would have translated to “put everything off until the last possible second and then try like mad to catch up or, failing that, pretend that a near-fatal hamstring injury kept you from studying and beg for a second chance.”

Like I said: Flunked.

Not so with my students, however. I am in the happy position of having to scramble to stay ahead of them. I wonder how many teachers can say THAT. However many they are, they’re the lucky ones, of that I have no doubt.

I sort of fell into teaching. After I left the world of Big Time Daily Newspapering — or to be blunt, after Big Time Daily Newspapering left me — I was thrashing around as a freelancer, trying to establish what the “How To Get Rich Freelancing” books called “revenue streams.” I called it “trying to scrape together enough money to make the truck payment.”

One of the first opportunities to come a-calling was to teach journalism at a university that really WILL remain nameless. It didn’t go so well. I think the problem was that in order for it to work, both the teacher and the students need to be interested in the subject being taught. I know I was, but thinking back over some of the papers I got back from the students, I don’t think you could say the same thing about them.

(I don’t blame them. I had a few of those classes myself in my student life. To this day, you can make me yawn — automatically, a completely involuntary reflex — simply by saying “laissez-faire economy.”)

I thought I was all done with teaching. Then IUPUI came calling with offers for me to teach, not journalism, but music. This was, as they say, a horse of a different hue. I could draw on my journalism background — I was, after all, a music critic for many years — without inflicting it on unsuspecting students. I took the job and there I remain, and I can honestly say I love it.

Which gets me back to this newfangled way of doing it. There are things about the oldfangled way that I miss — meeting the students face to face, getting their immediate feedback, the lively give-and-take of a good classroom discussion. But the ease and convenience of online learning cannot be denied, and if the give-and-take is typed rather than spoken, well … it’s still give-and-take.

I’m just glad I’m the teacher and not the student. I think I’d still probably put things off until the last minute, and what a shame that would be. I’d hate it, but I’d have to flunk me.

© 2013 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.