I occasionally meet with a group of other professors from online universities for social and academic reasons. At our last meeting, I volunteered to bring the “ice breaker,” an idea to get us talking. So after looking around the Internet, I decided to take a unique approach. I decided to bring what I dubbed an “edible ice breaker.”
The plan was to bring homemade beef jerky and have the group discuss parallels between the jerky and online students. Are there any similarities to reflect on? Any analogies we can make?
Not only were the team members delighted to be fed the delicious snack, but they also were instrumental in coming up with some clever analogies. Here are our favorites:
Variety is the spice of life.
The obvious thing that both beef jerky and online students have in common is that every single one is unique. Between my amateur knifing skills, the shape of the meat, and the need to trim the fat prior to drying, some pieces came out just right, looking just like you’d expect from the packaged ones at the store. But other pieces were much shorter or looked like puzzle pieces that the dog had chewed. And since I used a marinade, some pieces were coated inconsistently, resulting in different shades and flavors.
As we all know, no student is the same as the other. Each offers unique skills and challenges that must be used to reach their potential. Unlike jerky though, there is no “standard” for how online students should look; nor should there be. The goal is simply that they gain an education that can impact their lives and the lives around them.
A little nurturing makes a big difference.
Making beef jerky is a laborious process. First you select the right cut of meat, and then freeze it for several hours to ease the slicing. The meat is cut into eighth-inch slices and marinated overnight in a zesty, spicy mixture. This step is where it starts to become very labor-intensive. You turn over each piece in a low heat oven every half hour while examining for doneness. Periodically rearrange the pans so that each piece dries evenly and every 2 hours, remove all jerky pieces from the oven and layer for several minutes in paper towels to dry out the fat. Finally, after babysitting each piece for 5-7 hours, they are done, ready to be enjoyed. Phew!
Likewise, students of online universities must be nurtured as well. As an online doctoral student, I needed patient, empathetic instructors and school administrators to help me deal with things like class scheduling and developing sound study habits. Time management, however, is something that all students – and instructors! – need help with. This issue has been plaguing students even back to ancient days, when Socrates’ students spent countless hours staying up night after night cramming for the dreaded “What is Life?” end-of-course examinations.
The advantages of technology
The final analogy we’ll consider is the use of technology, which as we know, has changed the entire landscape of online learning (and cooking). For jerky, I finally bit the bullet and purchased a food dehydrator, which streamlines efficiency quite a bit. No longer will I need to crack open my oven door with a wooden chuck, allowing air to circulate around the meat and dry the jerky fast; the dehydrator does all that. And the constant turning of the meat is no longer required either. It’s simplified, and I can produce a beautiful and delicious end product.
Likewise for online learners, they can harness the power of the computer to efficiently get their work done. When I first started taking classes, my “word processor” was a Brother electric typewriter, a major step up from manual typewriters. Technology has come a long way since the advent of The Information Age, where smartphones (and college apps) are commonplace. Students have templates at their disposal, just-in-time APA assistance, how-to videos on demand, and mobile technology that enables schoolwork to be done anywhere anytime, resulting in a hard-earned college degree.
Analogies are a fun way to get your mind moving. So, the next time you sit down with a steaming bowl of macaroni and cheese, maybe you’ll think to yourself, “This pasta is cooked al dente, just right. And that’s how my instructor is as well. She’s not overbearing but is there when I need her. And this cheese is helping to keep the entire dish all together, just like my classmates, because they’re there for support when I need them. And these ingredients are fresh, just like the course material we’re learning about!” I hope you do.
Written by: Dr. Keith Pressey Dr. Keith Pressey of Warner Robins, GA is a full-time faculty member in Ashford University’s College of Education. He has a PhD in Professional Studies in Education, with an emphasis on Training and Performance Improvement from Capella University; a Master of Science in International Relations from Troy State University; a Bachelor of Arts in Human Resource Development from Hawaii Pacific University; and an Associate of Arts in Instructional Technology with the Community College of the Air Force. Dr. Pressey retired after 20 years in the Air Force as Master Sergeant (and honorary Chief Petty Officer with the Navy), where he performed as signals intelligence (SIGINT) analyst and SIGINT technical trainer.