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A gadget-happy Sister

This article is reprinted from the summer 2011 issue of HOPE.

Sister Joanne Golding loves being plugged into all sorts of technology.

Sister Joanne Golding is a self-proclaimed computer nut. So, she seems to be well connected in ministry as director of academic computing at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, even though she plans to retire at the end of the current semester.

A lover of mathematics, she jumped at the opportunity when Indiana State University allowed doctoral students to switch from two foreign languages to one language and one unit of computers and statistics to satisfy their degree requirements. That was in the 1960s, and she’s been plugged in ever since.

“Shortly after I finished my doctorate, I was principal at St. Ann School (Terre Haute) for a while and then I went to work for a computer company in Chicago. I came back here when the college computer offerings were first beginning in 1982 and I’ve been here ever since. It’s like the kid who found her toys,” Sister Joanne said.

She is involved in “everything computer” on the academic side, including the Woods External Degree (WED) program. She has seen dramatic opportunities blossom for those who choose distance learning.

“Let’s take a regular professor who has a campus class. The faculty would go in two or three times a week, depending on the powers that be, and they would teach. For WED students, we used to give them the books, the syllabus and the assignments, and say, ‘Now, go home and do this.’ What we are coming down to now is understanding that teaching and learning must be more interactive.”

Come August and the new academic year, all SMWC classes will be available online. WED students, as well as Woods On Line students, and traditional resident students, will have access to everything at their fingertips, including peer discussion boards, contact with teachers and advisors, content that includes everything from recorded lectures to interactive movies, virtual office hours for faculty, even immediate feedback after taking a quiz. Another feature allows a student to post a report, or class assignment, and massage it up to 10 times before it goes to the professor for evaluation.

“Students can continue massaging their work. In doing so, they learn better,” Sister Joanne said, adding that students “had better not pass it along to their little sister” because of the plagiarism checking system.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface on what we are being able to do. I think there is going to be much more interaction. Much more of the work is going to fall to the student,” she added.

Sister Joanne also sees a shift to competency-based education. “I’m going to be educated. I’m going to talk to people in industry. I’m going to talk to professors. I may take a class, but there will come a time when I have to be tested on my competency. That’s probably what tuition will be in the future. You pay for the testing of competency, but that’s years into the future,” she said.

For now, “I think the programs we have are wonderful. I think we are the undiscovered gem in Indiana. Faculty and staff here do care about their students. They won’t let them fail if at all possible. It’s important for a student to walk away from this college feeling good about herself and saying, ‘I can do it,’” Sister Joanne said.

She emphasizes that the current trend is not without challenges. “There are some things that we have not conquered,” she noted. “How do I know you took the quiz? How do I know you took the quiz without looking at the book? We are going to need to develop ways to monitor everything. There are a lot of dangers, but if you really want to learn, the world is open to you,” she said.

And, what if this world had been open to her when she was a traditional, residential student, and not working at home, having a snack at 2 o’clock in the morning as some students do as they work on their courses?

“I would have been a much better student. First of all, I like the whole idea of gadgets. I’m gadget happy. I would have spent much more time with studies. It would have kept my attention, especially in courses where I wasn’t too enthusiastic. When I did my dissertation, we had to type it on a typewriter. You remember typewriters?”

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Dave Cox

Dave Cox was media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence for many years. Prior to his work with the sisters, he spent over 30 years in newspaper newsrooms.

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