• September 11, 2014

Kentucky Professor Teaches Distance Course From a Bicycle

A University of Kentucky professor literally has gone to great lengths to demonstrate the portability of distance education.

In June and July, Gregory W. Brock taught a course in family studies while riding coast to coast on his recumbent bicycle, spreading the word about online learning.

"We're at the beginning of a revolution in higher education," he said in an interview by cell phone last month, as he took a break at a gas station in Montgomery, Ala. "By doing this trip, I'm sort of moving this discussion along of 'What is distance education?' and 'How is the general public reacting to it?'"

He could not actually surf the Internet while he cycled, though he said he talked to students on his cell phone while biking past farms and through deserts. Every night, he logged on to the World Wide Web page for the course using a Palm Pilot and a keyboard. He said he spent about an hour each night reading the class discussion, answering students' questions, or grading papers that had been sent in electronically.

The course is FAM252: "The Individual, Marriage, and Family," which Mr. Brock has taught online before -- once while he was in China as a Fulbright professor.

"The distance-learning part is easy," said Mr. Brock. "It doesn't matter whether I'm on campus or off-campus, the workload is the same." And even the technical problems were few, he said. But the biking was "taxing, physically." He traveled 60 to 100 miles a day, six days a week. He hit the road on June 1, starting from Santa Monica, Calif., and he reached his finish line in Savannah, Ga., on July 2.

Along the way, Mr. Brock served as a high-tech ambassador for the university, which paid for his trip with the help of some corporate sponsors.

Josh Thomas, one of the 14 students in the course, said in an interview that the road-trip aspect of the course was barely noticeable. "In his first couple of e-mails he would tell us where he was," Mr. Thomas said.

But Mr. Thomas said he was a bit puzzled at how biking fit in with the course. "It seems like a publicity stunt," he said. "I don't really see the relevance of it."

William Pfeifle, director of the university's Distance Learning Technology Center, said: "This is sort of one of those random acts of progress. The impetus for this particular trek was really Dr. Brock's" rather than part of some plan by administrators. Biking across the country has been a lifelong dream for the professor.

Mr. Pfeifle said the university was happy to support the trip. "What is important for the university is it demonstrates the feasibility of doing a course on the run." He added that the trip might show professors the freedom that online courses can bring them.

However, he added, "I don't know if I would recommend this as a way to go for a first-time distance-learning teacher."

http://chronicle.com Section: Information Technology Page: A39

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