Grads put the "distance" in "distance learning"

Some people take distance learning very seriously.

This December 11 eight members of the online master’s in kinesiology attended ommencement from out of state—way out of state: three from Guam, two from Seattle and one each from Boston, Denver and Chicago.

The kinesiology master's degree, one of four online M.A. programs at FPU, prepares professionals in physical education, athletic training and sports administration. Depending on when students start, the program can be completed in 14 or 17 months. Jim Ave, Ph.D., is the program director.

Before the ceremony we caught up with some of the traveling graduates: Barbara Gilman, Jasmine Taitano, Jill White, all Guam; Michelle Hebner, Boston; Nicole Herchenbach, Chicago; and Ryan Walker, Seattle.

How did you get to know one another?

Jasmine: Barbara and I both teach physical education at a local high school. Through her connection with Jill we were able to get together and form our little study group here on Guam. Getting to know the other members of the cohort came through the various interactions within discussions and assignments we had throughout the program. 

Ryan Walker (started the program in Fresno, where he coached basketball at FPU in 2008-2009 and Coalinga High School in 2009-2010. His family moved to Seattle in April 2010.): Initially, we all made contact during the first two classes in May via class discussion board and social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, as required in the Technology in Kinesiology course.

Michelle: Posting work in forums gave me an idea about the people in my classes and then through those interactions I started to email, Facebook and Skype with several people.

Nicole: We all started to get to know one another through Skype and Facebook; we all had to create accounts for the Technology in Kinesiology class. I think we were all relieved that we ended up in the same group because we all had the same work ethic, morals and values for the most part. It was nice to finally have people to vent to about classes, teaching and just everyday life. We also had discussions we would have to respond to through out the program and it really helped to get to know everyone from class.

How did your friendship develop?

Jasmine: I believe what drew us to each other was our common interest in the field of kinesiology.  Through the various discussions and social networking sites we were able to develop friendships along the way. Not only were we able to get a glimpse into each other’s lives, but we also were able to share our thoughts and ideas with others who are going through similar experiences.

Barbara: Learning to use Skype, Michelle was the first member of our cohort that I actually contacted and developed a connection with. She happened to be online while Jill and I were working on an assignment in Guam. We are 14 hours ahead of Boston. In some introductory information we had provided for class, I found that Michelle liked to travel and also was a more experienced teacher. This provided some common ground. She wrote well. Consequently, I enjoyed responding to her posts as they were clear and well thought out.   

Jill: What drew our Team Talaya (Barbara, Jasmine and myself) to Michelle was the similarity in the amount of teaching experience. We are also of the similar generation than most of the rest of the cohort.  The friendship was developed through emails, Facebook and Skype.

Ryan: Friendships developed throughout the program as we typically shared common careers in coaching or teaching or as athletic trainers or common career goals that we hoped to achieve through completing the program. Working together in groups and having in-depth discussion throughout the coursework also played a role. 

Michelle: Being part of a cohort really made us a group with common goals and tasks, but I was drawn to physical education teachers and coaches that I felt I had a great deal in common. It progressed from discussions about class assignments to professional experiences, and then to a friendship.

How do you feel about meeting at commencement?

Jasmine: I’m looking forward to having my family with me to share in this accomplishment and meeting those who I feel like I have come to know. I’m going to enjoy meeting the faces and the connections that I’ve made. 

Barbara: It’s like meeting a pen pal that you've corresponded with for years. You feel like you know them, but have never actually met them.

Jill: I am anxious to be able to put actual faces to the names. I also look forward to learning more about each member of the cohort and create a list of contacts I may use in the future.

Michelle: Sometimes I forget that we have not met in person because there has been so much interaction!

Nicole: Michelle and I said that we would be going to graduation from the beginning but it seemed so far away. We just talked and we couldn't believe that we were actually done—the time flew by. 

 What is a strongpoint of FPU’s MA in kinesiology?

Barbara: Courses are pertinent to the field of physical education. Faculty members are willing to provide assistance over and above what would normally be expected. Accommodations are readily made to meet our varying time zones. The program took us out of our comfort zone, expanding our view of the profession and better preparing us to address issues and concerns. The curriculum was challenging, yet not overwhelming. Courses were well organized, with consideration of the work schedule of many physical educators, athletic trainers and coaches who generally have athletic obligations throughout the school year.

Jill: What drew me was the ability to do it all online. Living on Guam, it is quite expensive to travel back and forth to the West Coast. I also appreciated the time Dr. Ave and other faculty members gave to me as a student, especially since it has been over 20 years since I earned my undergraduate degree.  I appreciated Dr. Ave's willingness to Skype with me at an hour that may have been outside of his designated office hours due to the 19-hour time difference.

Ryan: It is not only challenging as far as the workload, which will help in my profession as a coach, but it also allows you to meet people from many different places and instructors that want you to achieve as they coach and challenge you along the way.

Nicole: The professors are the strongpoint of the program. Jim Ave, especially, pushes us to our limits because he sees what kind of students we can be. He has helped me grow not only as a student but personally and spiritually as well. I have become a more confident individual and teacher and I can only strive to be like him and the other professors.

Photo: From left, Jim Ave, program director; Wayne Thomas, Denver; Jill White, Barbara Gillman, Jasmine Taitano, all Guam; Nicole Herchenbach, Chicago; Ryan Walker, Seattle; Michelle Hebner, Boston; and Stephanie Harp, Seattle.