The Case for Online School

Linda Hughes, Ed.D.

In 2000, I was working on my Doctorate degree in education at the University of Georgia. One of my professors, Dr. Karen Watkins, told me I needed to take the classes that would teach me how to design, deliver, and assess online courses.

I said, “But I’m never going to teach online.”

I’ll never forget her response. She said, “Yes, you are. You just don’t know it yet.”

Here we are, twenty years later, with thousands of teachers stuck during a pandemic, forced to teach online without the necessary resources or training. I’m so glad I took Dr. Watkins’ advice. Having been trained and knowing how much work it takes with my own online teaching, I ache for our teachers who have been thrust into this situation.

Not that they can’t do it. They can. Educators are smart, resourceful, caring people. It isn’t that they can’t figure it out; it simply wasn’t necessary for them to have been thrown into this disaster without the tools they need.

After I became a college professor teaching courses to future teachers; face-to-face, hybrid, and online; I and many other education professors tried to convince the Georgia Department of Education that it was imperative for us to provide future teachers with the skills and resources to teach online. We argued that prolonged emergency situations call for online school: natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes that destroy towns; epidemics like the flu that close schools; snow and ice storms that cause “snow days”; tragic school shootings that traumatize children; and, yes, even pandemic, although we didn’t have a clear picture of what that might look like. (As it turns out, few people outside of the biomedical scientific research community could picture that, until now.)   

The state didn’t accept that proposal, twice. I was on two state communities with twenty to thirty other teacher education professors from universities around the state, where these proposals were made. Our committee’s task in each case was to determine what should be taught to future teachers. About half of the participants in each committee saw the value of teaching teachers how to teach online. The other half didn’t get it.

I assume that by now that many of us get it. Think horse and buggy v. automobiles. Telegrams v. telephones. TV rabbit ears v. cable. Whether you like it or not, whether you get it or not, online school is here to stay.

I know the critics’ arguments against online learning. They need to get over it.

What about kids who don’t have internet at home? We proposed local learning centers where that would be available. In fact, where I live, I can walk into any county library in the evening and see where that is already happening.

 What if the internet is down? Software programs on an iPad, provided by the school, would allow kids to continue to follow lessons.

Who knows who is doing the work online? We don’t know who’s doing the work anyway. I used to be in a workout class with a group of mothers who would compare the homework they’d done for their kids. That happened – a lot.

Isn’t face-to-face group work important for learning? Sure, it’s great. But when it isn’t possible, facetime works, too.

What do parents who work do with their children during the day if the kids are home? Parents, families, community centers, businesses, learning centers, and schools can figure that out. It won’t be easy, but can be done.

Aren’t teachers already overwhelmed? Isn’t this one thing too many? No, it is not. But many other things are. If teachers were relieved of all of the useless things they are required to do, like paperwork that takes away from teaching, they would then have time to consider their online coursework. Besides, I’m suggesting that they be given enough support and tools that this would not be an additional burden.

The bottom line for online school is that we should all take heed of what Dr. Karen Watkins, professor and associate department head in the College of Education at UGA, advocated twenty years ago. Online schooling is here to stay. Our college education programs for future teachers need to provide training and resources for teaching online, state education systems need to support that endeavor, and school systems need to get onboard to support their teachers.

Let’s not let the next crisis knock us off our feet like this one did. Let’s stand strong, ready for whatever comes our way. Because, as we’ve learned, anything can happen. We need to be as prepared as possible when it does. 

Dr. Linda Hughes was an associate professor of foundational teacher education courses for sixteen years, preparing college students for careers in education. She worked at Georgia Perimeter College (now part of GSU) and at Georgia Gwinnett College. Dr. Hughes has retired from the field of education and is a fulltime writer. When teaching, she created an online learning game that made her AI (Artificial Intelligence) Magazine’s 2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year. Visit her at www.lindahughes.com

Brides and Brooms

Life Maps for Midlife Women by Linda Hughes

Halloween is almost upon us and I swear I’ve been haunted by articles about how ghastly midlife is for GenX women. I’ve been shown or accidentally run into three such missives lately that claim that it’s worse for them than it has ever been for anyone else.

Poppycock. 

Where have those writers been for forty years? Apparently not paying attention to history, or talking to their elders, or doing enough homework to know that for eons women have been complaining about midlife, a time of life when things go awry on the bad hand and new awakenings occur on the good hand.

Realizing you’ve hit the halfway point of your life can indeed be daunting. But it’s nothing new. Especially for a woman who’s been busy juggling work, a home, and a family. No age group has the corner of the angst that can cause for some people. Scales of “happiness” were quoted, with women supposedly being more unhappy now than ever before. Oh please! The only difference is that today social media advertises a person’s unhappiness. We used to be expected to just keep it bottled up.

One article noted the incidence of divorce being higher than for generations past. Of course it is. Women now have the social, religious, legal, and economic means for getting divorced. They didn’t have that in the past. More divorce isn’t a measure of more unhappiness, it’s a measure of more freedom to get divorced when you’re unhappy.

In the 1980’s I did seminars for women about life’s transitions. I wrote a book called Surviving the Superwoman Syndrome. Then I wrote Action Plans: A Women’s Survival Guide. In the early 2000’s I did my Doctoral dissertation on self-development for midlife women and published LifeMaps for Midlife Women. I certainly wasn’t the first to address this issue. In my time there have been Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, and so many others. I’m wondering if those writers have even heard of them.

Do I think that all GenX midlife women think they have it worse than anyone else? Of course not. My hope is that they’ll start writing and share their important stories, too. We’re all in this together and need to help each other out.

Instead of haunting each other this Halloween, let’s celebrate our commonalities. And, most of all, let’s dance around the fire and have a good time.

Secrets of the Island

Mackinac Island is one of my favorite places on earth. I’ve worked in 13 countries and traveled to a couple dozen more, many spectacular; but, still, that speck in Lake Huron in Michigan, U.S.A., remains one of my favorite places to visit. A native Michigander, I’ve been going there since I was a kid.

The only way to get there is by ferry. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, except emergency vehicles. Therefore, if you want to get around you walk, ride a bike, ride a horse, or hire a carriage. It’s like stepping back a hundred and fifty years in time.

The small Victorian-era village is charming as all get-out. American flags dot the landscape. There are many Queen Anne, Gothic, Revival, Shingle, and other styles of “cottages,” which range in size from small to huge. Quaint inns, B&Bs, churches, and shops abound. The Grand Hotel, with the longest veranda in the country, is king of the hill. With its panoramic views of Lakes Huron and Michigan, it attracts visitors from around the globe.

The popular 1980 timeslip movie Somewhere in Time, starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, was filmed at the Grand and still has a large following. If you’re a fan of the movie like I am, every time you step into that hotel you’ll be struck by the emotional story of two lovers from different centuries. 

The history of the island is fascinating, as well. Native Americans from Iroquois tribes were there first, of course, then French fur traders, then French missionaries trying to save the rowdy fur traders, then an assortment of scallywags and fishermen, and then the British took the island and built a fort. But the French captured the fort.

Rumor has it most of the British soldiers were on the mainland at the time, with their wives and children left behind at the fort. A few years later when the Brits were able to finally take back the fort, not all of the wives were happy. A few liked the French better than their British husbands.

Eventually, the U.S.A. acquired that part of North America and the rest is history. The fort still stands, with reenactments throughout the summer. Well, not of the wives and Frenchmen, but of the British soldiers.

It’s an 8.2-mile journey around the island, an easy bike ride, as it’s mostly flat along the shoreline. You can also ride through the hilly inland part of the island if you’re fit for a hefty trek. There are caves, cemeteries, rock formations, and other things to see along the way. It’s tradition to build a cairn as you go, so make sure you leave yours behind. 

A cairn, stacked rocks, is on the cover of my new romantic suspense novel, Secrets of the Island. You guessed it: the story takes place on Mackinac Island. I’m thrilled to have finally written a book about this fascinating place. It’s 1943 and a Red Cross nurse sequesters herself in her grandfather’s cottage to escape the ravages of what she experienced in the war. However, one family secret after another emerges to remind her that she’s not the only one with secrets to bear.

Here’s my invitation to you: go to Mackinac Island. Visit the Island Bookstore and get Secrets of the Island. Find a nice seat on a porch facing the lake, have a refreshment at hand, and let yourself slip away in time. This story will make you wonder: what secrets are buried in your family tree?

The Three Amigos

I have a handful of best friends. How about you? I think most of us feel close to a few people, not hoards.

Today I want to talk about two of my sister-friends, Myra and Marka. We call ourselves the Three Amigos. We’ve known each other for thirty years and joke that we have to stay friends because we know too much. We don’t want anyone telling our deepest, darkest secrets.

When I first met Myra, we went to lunch one day at a Mexican restaurant. A roach crawled up the wall beside us in the middle of her telling a story. Without breaking stride, she took off her shoe, killed the pest, and went on with her story. I knew she was my kind of woman.

Myra introduced me to Marka, who is ten years younger than the other two of us. Beautiful, stylish, Southern as all get-out, and smart as a whip, I fell in love with her, too, as soon as I met her.

We’re all married, so the husband stories have abounded, as you can well imagine. We love our families but treasure our time together. We meet informally for lunch throughout the year, but it’s tradition to meet before Christmas for a long lunch to exchange small gifts, and then wander through an antique store or two. 

It’s this friendship I used as a model for my latest novel, Secrets of the Island. A romantic suspense story, the “Three Musketeers” band together to solve a family mystery. When they solve one, another crops up, so they keep going. It takes place during World War II, so wartime issues intertwine with their lives. 

As I wrote, I would think of Myra’s effervescent take on life and Marka’s way of turning a phrase. My characters took on their personalities, with someone a lot like me in the middle orchestrating the solving of the mystery. 

I think this is what we as writers do. We don’t disclose our friends’ secrets, but we automatically use who and what we know to write. As I wrote about the Three Musketeers, I fell in love with those characters. Do you as a writer fall in love with some of your characters? I hope so. That’s what will make your readers fall in love with them, too.

This writing also made me fall in love with the Three Amigos all over again. Here’s to sister-friends everywhere. May you stay friends forever, holding those secret stories locked away in your heart.

Secrets: Points to Ponder

While creating the trailer for Secrets of the Asylum, I kept rolling over in my mind the comments and questions regarding the book that folks have posed on Facebook and Twitter. So here are some points to ponder, first notes to answer some of your questions about how I came up with this story and then some questions from me to get you thinking about your own reactions to the book.

These questions are great for your own private musings or for public discussion, such as a coffee klatsch or book club. I’ve also included the resources I used to research time and place, in case you’d like to investigate more on your own.

I’d love to read your comments here.

Author’s Notes:

Elizabeth lived in my head for two years before I knew the setting for her story. She’d sink into my thoughts during yoga, while walking my dog, and as I nodded off to sleep at night. Then I toured the former Northern Michigan Asylum and immediately knew that was where she belonged.

I also recognized there were undoubtedly many secrets like hers buried within the walls of that stalwart institution that had harbored the “insane” for almost a century. 

When I visited my Aunt Hope, who resided in Cottage 23 after it had become an assisted living facility, I knew that her room, with its spectacular tall ceiling and long windows affording a view of the lush yard, would be Elizabeth’s room during that earlier era.

As soon as I decided it would be Elizabeth’s twenty-one-year-old daughter who would seek out the truth about her mother’s situation and that the year would be 1921, I knew this would be the first book of a trilogy. The second book takes place in 1942 and the third in 1963. Yes, each time a daughter turns twenty-one another romantic suspense tale will be revealed.

Now I’m bursting to tell those stories, Secrets of the Island and Secrets of Summer. So stay tuned. This family’s generations of dark deceptions will come to light one-by-one in 2018 and 2019.

Questions for You:

  1. What did you think of Elizabeth in the beginning of the book? Did you admire or abhor her bohemian behavior? Why?
  2. What would you have liked most and least about living in 1921?
  3. Do you believe in psychics like Abby? Have you visited one? If you have, what’s the most profound reading you’ve ever had?
  4. Are you aware of how the mentally ill are treated today, now that “asylums” are gone? What would you suggest to improve treatment?
  5. What do you think should happen in the next book, in 1942 when Meg’s daughter turns twenty-one?

Resources:

This certainly isn’t an inclusive list, as I did a boat-load of research for this book. However, these are the books and documents I found to be most helpful. Naturally, I used many online sources are well, readily available if you search.

  • Northern Michigan Asylum for the Insane: A History of the Traverse City State Hospital, by William A. Decker 
  • Traverse City State Hospital (Images of America), by Chris Decker 
  • Angels in the Architecture: A Photographic Elegy to an American Asylum (Great Lakes Book Series), by Heidi Johnson and Nancy Tomes 
  • Beauty is Therapy: Memories of the Traverse City State Hospital, by Kristin M. Hains and Earle E. Steele 
  • Report of the Board of Trustees of the Northern Michigan Asylum at Traverse City, June 30, 1908 
  • The Traverse City State Hospital Training School for Nurses, by Virginia M. LeClaire 
  • Traverse City, Michigan: A Historical Perspective, 1850-2013, by Richard Fidler 
  • Michigan Railroads & Railroad Companies, by Graydon M. Meints 
  • Justus S. Stearnes: Michigan Pine King and Kentucky Coal Baron, 1845-1933 (Great Lakes Book Series), by Michael W. Nagle 
  • Al Capone’s Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition, by John J. Binder 
  • American Family of the 1920s: Paper Dolls in Full Color, by Tom Tierney
  • I readily confess I spent too much time looking at 1920s fashion. It was wonderful!