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Teaching courses from Gander

Dr. Jeff Webb goes the distance

(February 24, 2000, Gazette)

Dr. Jeff Webb and daughter Megan.

Photo submitted

By Mary Elizabeth Archer
Special to the Gazette

In many ways, Dr. Jeff Webb is a typical university professor. He completed his BA and MA at Memorial, earned his PhD at UNB, specialized in various aspects of Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada history, published and won awards for his research. He’s been teaching at Memorial for eight years, the last three of which have been almost exclusively at a distance.

What’s unusual is that for all the classes had has taught over the past three years, he has not set foot on campus. You see, Dr. Webb doesn’t just teach at a distance, he teaches from a distance.

Upon his return from UNB, Dr. Webb settled down in his hometown of Gander. There, he taught first-year Memorial University courses through the local college. By the time that program closed down, his wife was established in her career and their daughter was only two months old.

He now had to make a decision: would he uproot his young family in search of a new position, or try to find work in Gander? In a small town, there’s not much call for a doctorate in history, but Dr. Webb discovered he could have his cake and eat it too.

Since the winter of 1996, Dr. Webb has been preparing and delivering distance education courses for the School of Continuing Education from his home in Gander. For him, it’s an ideal situation.

“Distance education teaching enables me to take care of my daughter while still being active in my career. I continue to teach and publish within my field even though I live in a town without a university campus.

“It also allows me to have a much closer relationship with my daughter than many men are able to have, and closer than most young male or female academics who are often under tremendous career pressures.”
Needless to say, Dr. Webb’s workday doesn’t follow the typical pattern. He enjoys recounting some of his experiences.

“During the first year I taught through distance education, for example, I was writing course manuals, changing diapers, answering student e-mail inquiries, feeding the baby, splitting firewood, reviewing textbooks, all in the same day.”

The communication system that is today part and parcel of distance education also fits in well with Dr. Webb’s work style. He finds e-mail tends to be faster than tracking someone down for a face-to-face meeting. The Internet is going to have an even stronger impact on his work in the near future. He’s recently developed a Web-based course covering the history of the 20th century just in time for the millennium, too.

“This method of teaching presents some opportunities to do innovative things, and it is exciting to be part of it,” he said.

When asked to dispense advice to future distance education instructors, he asserts that planning is the key. To ensure students are given complete and clear information, instructors need to consider the level of knowledge their students will have well before the students register.

To students studying at a distance, Dr. Webb recommends they keep pace with the reading and allow themselves ample time to do the written work assigned for each course. He says he is often impressed by the high quality of work his students produce on tests and assignments. Perhaps they have picked up on his passion for education.

“I think a life in which you are not learning new things and having your preconceived notions challenged is not worth living, and I am happy to play a small role in bringing an education to people who cannot get to the campus.”