Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Distance learning is viable option

Elizabeth on her very own shelf at my schoolwork desk.
After an interval of 15 years, I have returned to school. I am enrolled in distance-learning courses through Cuesta College.

Distance-learning is a new experience for me and I like its positive attributes. In many ways I find it far more compatible than attending classes face-to-face.

When I attended courses at Sonoma State University, I lived just down the street. My husband and I could walk together down E. Cotati Avenue and onto the SSU campus.

The really nice thing about going to school was that I could pursue studies for their own sake, especially at the two-year community college level. But even at a four-year school, where tuition was costlier, there was still room for me to explore my interests within the confines of applying credit toward my discipline.

The down side, however, was that attendance at class was subject to a pre-determined schedule, around which I had to revolve every other aspect of my life.

No other industry but retail would employ me at such variable hours and for very few hours at that, but combining that with my husband's income and with tuition assistance from my mom, the situation worked for me. In 1995 I graduated with a bachelor's degree in English from SSU.

Classroom attendance was also subject to its own limitations. Students sat either in desks and chairs connected by a metal frame that supported an arm rest on one side and left the other side open for access, or sat in rows of auditorium chairs that had an armrest platform that folded up and across the student's lap. In either situation, the arm rests were on the right-hand side of the chair to serve the student population's majority.

As a left-hander, I had to constantly ask for special accommodations. If none were available, I had to contort myself in order to write left-handed at a right-handed desk. It made full concentration difficult.

My attention during class was also hostage to distractions that were posed by other students such as conversations taking place around me.

Distance learning has none of those limitations. I begin and complete each of my assignments entirely on my own time.

My desk at home has been set up for my convenience as a left-handed student. The mouse and mousepad are on the left-hand side of the keyboard. My books are in easy reach on the shelves.

Best of all, the top shelf is set up to be a perch for my cat. A folded towel cushions the shelf and small pillows have been added that my cat can press against for full-body relaxing contact.

I like having my cat close by, because she's my peace barometer. Her calm-cat presence calms me.

There is no way I could bring my cat to a brick-and-mortar classroom. I'd be a bad and selfish kitty mommy if I subjected my cat to that trauma, let alone imposed the distraction of a loudly complaining cat on my classmates' concentration.

To be fair, distance learning is not for everyone. My husband is taking courses at Mendocino College and he said he prefers the classroom setting.

A person has to be self-directed to succeed taking courses online, according to Distance Learning information compiled by the Cuesta College library  (http://library.cuesta.edu/distance/who.htm). Students must also still contribute toward class discussions via online posts. Our contributions to online discussions and other class activities are being applied toward our grades.

Distance learning collapses the barrier that is imposed by geography. The certification I am pursuing does not have its counterpart at a Lake County community college so online is my only option.

Aside from one in-person orientation that took place on the Cuesta campus, the entire program of study can be completed online.

I realize, of course, that I am missing out on extracurricular activities, such as clubs or other social events, but even when going to classes on campus, those held little interest for me. I attended very few events on the SSU campus. My husband and I went to the student union pub once to hear the Celtic rock band Tempest and we returned once to SSU after my graduation to hear investigative journalist Greg Palast.

As before when I was at SSU and now when taking courses online, I've built connections and take part in activities through other areas of my life.

Bottom line is that distance learning will not be for everyone but for those people who want access to a program that is not taught locally and who can motivate themselves to follow through, distance learning is a viable option for expanding educational opportunities.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Library training offers chance at new career

I have relied upon libraries my entire life, beginning with the Napa County branch library in my hometown of Calistoga. My mother arranged for my first library card and brought me at least once every week to my local library.

LIBT 101: Orientation in San Luis Obispo

We drove late Friday afternoon to San Luis Obispo, about five hours south of Middletown. I had an orientation to attend for LIBT 101, Introduction to Library Services, on Saturday. It was pretty informative and now I have weekly assignments to complete. I think the course will be interesting.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tenacious Talkers: Select Distinguished Award

L to R: Cynthia Parkhill receives Toastmasters "Select Distinguished" award ribbon from Jeff Shute
Left to right: Cynthia Parkhill and Jeff Shute
By guest writer Sharon Shute

FINLEY – Toastmasters International awarded Club No. 8731 — Tenacious Talkers, the Select Distinguished Award for 2009 – 2010. Jeff Shute, Division – G, Governor, presented the ribbon to Cynthia Parkhill, President of Tenacious Talkers.

Tenacious Talkers is having its Division Fall Contest, Aug. 26 in Finley.

Tenacious Talkers meets at 6:15 p.m. each Thursday at 2150 Argonaut Road in Finley. For more informa­tion about the club, call 279-0381 ext. 5704 or visit http://tenacioustalkers.freeto­asthost.net.

Sharon Shute is vice president of public relations for the Tenacious Talkers

Enrolled in Cuesta College for library and information certification

Fifteen years after earning her BA in English from Sonoma State University, Cynthia Parkhill has re-entered the community college system. Drawing upon her lifelong reliance upon and support of libraries, Cynthia is pursuing certification in Library and Information Technology.

Cynthia is an editor and columnist for two Northern California newspapers, the Clear Lake Observer American and the Lake County Record-Bee. Cynthia frequently discusses support for the library in her weekly newspaper column.

Cynthia volunteers as administrator of a church lending library for her local Unitarian Universalist community. She also volunteers each week at the Lake County public library, pulling hold requests for users of the library throughout a three-county shared catalog system.

Other interests near to Cynthia’s heart include zero tolerance for bullying. Cynthia was bullied by her classmates at school and when, as an adult, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder), she learned that being the victim of bullying is a common experience among people with Asperger’s syndrome.

Cynthia cites her local public library as a vital and important resource for learning about her diagnosis.

When people approach Cynthia wanting information about Asperger’s syndrome, the public library is the first place that she recommends that they go. Cynthia envisions someday curating a library collection that specializes in Asperger’s syndrome and ASDs.

Composed for DIST 101, Introduction to Online Learning

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Prop. 8 ruling restores equality

What a great gift to be given last Wednesday, the knowledge that loving and committed couples are that much closer to being able to wed. I was overjoyed that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8 on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

Prop. 8 was nothing more than an exercise in mob tyranny. A majority of only 52.3 percent approved amending the California Constitution to eliminate same-sex couples' right to marry.

A California Supreme Court ruling in May 2008 struck down California marriage laws that banned marriage for same-sex couples. As an aside, I believe San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom should earn an honored place in California history for first putting events in motion that brought about this landmark ruling.

When Prop. 8 eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, it preserved the legally-wed status of same-sex couples who married during the brief interval of time from when the California Supreme Court ruling took effect, until Prop. 8 successfully amended the California Constitution.

The first challenge to Prop. 8 was a waste of time and energy because its focus was procedural instead of on people's rights. The challengers should have heeded what is written in the California Constitution: that while the California Legislature must achieve a two-thirds majority vote to amend the constitution, California voters can amend the constitution with a simple majority.

Hence my characterization of Prop. 8 as an exercise in mob tyranny. I'm sure that those people railing against Walker as a so-called activist judge who overturned the "will of the people" don't concern themselves with the 47.7 percent who were opposed to Prop. 8. Far from representing the will of a vast majority, the outcome of Prop. 8 was determined by a mere 5 percent.

This latest challenge, the subject of Walker's ruling, made more sense to me. It directly addressed what was so objectionable about Prop. 8: that it eliminated people's rights. Heck, it even said so on the November 2008 ballot.

In spite of a pending appeal, I share the joy of same-sex couples who have made commitments to each other and who are that much closer to having their equality restored. I believe that legitimatizing same-sex relationships will strengthen our society as a whole.

My husband and I have been together for 18 years and I've never understood the rationale that denying same-sex couples the ability to wed was a "defense" of marriage. In what way has my husband's and my relationship been strengthened and protected by other people being denied this right?

The top reasons that people divorce, according to Linda M. McCloud on AssociatedContent.com, are money, infidelity, poor communication, changes in priorities, lack of commitment to the marriage, sexual problems, addictions, failed expectations and physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

If people want to strengthen or "protect" marriages, than these are the problems they should address, instead of attempting to impose restrictions upon whom can be legally wed.

If anything, marriage will be strengthened with that much more couples able to wed and to share and model their strengths as they overcome the genuine obstacles cited in McCloud's article.

To follow the Prop. 8 ruling and its aftermath, including requests by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to immediately allow same-sex marriages to resume, visit http://prop8trialtracker.com/.

Published Aug. 10, 2010 in the Lake County Record-Bee