Time Zones Pose No Problems for Students with Professor Living in Ukraine
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 6, 2013 – Dr. David Fisher, Associate Professor in the Department of History at The University of Texas at Brownsville, concludes his workday around 2 p.m. in Brownsville. By that time, the clock has already struck 10 p.m. in Kyiv, Ukraine, the physical location of his office.
The Fisher-Cahn family of Brownsville is living in Kyiv, the 1,500 year old capital and largest city of Ukraine. Perched on the Dnieper River, Kyiv has a population of more than 2.5 million. Here, the family is visiting Saint Sophia Cathedral, which celebrated its 1,000th anniversary in 2011.
For the 2012-2013 academic year, Fisher is conducting his classes from his home office via the technology of distance education, 6,300 miles from the university campus.
An opportunity for Fisher’s wife, Dr. Jennifer Cahn, to participate in a fellowship with the Fulbright Program, prompted their family’s relocation to Ukraine in September of last year.
“From my perspective, there are a number of plusses to online teaching,” Fisher said. “Students can get more attention from me than in a traditional classroom. Rather than meeting two or three times a week, we are always in contact electronically. Problems can be solved, questions answered and situations explained much faster than in a traditional situation.”
Teaching Across the Miles
Fisher records his class lectures on Tegrity, a video-capture tool available to faculty through Blackboard, an online platform used by many colleges and universities, including all the University of Texas System schools. Students can watch lectures online at their convenience and as many times as they like. Not only is the professor seen on the screen but also visuals, such as PowerPoint presentations, outlines, images and maps, are included as part of the session.
Gracie Cano, a senior history major from Brownsville, said her History of the Middle Ages class last semester was a positive experience and she is taking another online course with Fisher this semester.
“I had never taken an online class before, and at first I was a bit nervous about it, but it worked out really well,” Cano said. “In fact, it wasn’t very different from taking a regular class with Dr. Fisher; the way his class is organized translates very well to an online format. I knew what to expect and what was expected of me.”
Cody Ferguson, originally from Lubbock, Texas, is a history education major who plans to graduate in 2014 with a teaching certificate in social studies.
“Dr. Fisher leads students through the material without holding their hands the entire time,” said Ferguson, who hopes to teach in the Brownsville area after graduation. “His instruction allows the student to discover the knowledge needed, and he allows the student to take ownership of their own education. Compared to other online classes I have taken, Dr. Fisher provides the correct balance. I do not feel out on a limb and I do not feel smothered.”
Several of Fisher’s students commented on the ease of communication with not only Fisher but among the classmates for their online discussions.
“Dr. Fisher was very accessible,” Cano said. “We could contact him through email, Blackboard Chat, or Skype.
Fisher also believes he and his students get to know each other better because their communication must be written and, therefore, more precise than oral communication.
“Because we have a bit more time to think of intelligent responses to post on an online discussion board, this format has the potential to provide better discussion than in-person meetings,” said Jordan Penner, a graduate student originally from Reedley, California, who was in Fisher’s World Revolutions class last fall and is taking Fisher’s Research Seminar course this semester.
Living in Ukraine
Fisher and Cahn are no strangers to the former Soviet republics. As a young, adventurous couple, they lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, 20 years ago. Fisher worked for an educational non-governmental organization and Cahn was conducting research for her Ph.D. dissertation.
“We arrived in September 1992, just eight months after the dissolution of the Soviet Union,” Fisher said. “The Communist system had come off the rails, but a capitalist system was not yet in place, so shopping was a bit of a nightmare. Now and then, librarians I worked with would bring in cases of butter or fish to sell – things they had picked up from a contact or a trip to Poland. Jennifer rooted around for potatoes and onions delivered in bulk to the museum where she was working.”
Fisher said the situation today is remarkably different.
“Capitalism has arrived and just about anything you want or need is available,” Fisher said. “Advertising for everything under the sun has replaced Soviet propaganda promising a sunny future. The grocery stores in Kyiv have more variety than anything we’ve seen in Brownsville.”
The couple’s two daughters have adapted well to their new home, where they attend a private, Montessori-based school. Their classes are taught in Ukrainian, and they receive additional lessons to help catch up in the language. The school is a 45-minutes subway ride from the apartment; Cahn takes the children in the morning and Fisher picks them up in the afternoon.
Cahn is on temporary leave from her position as a Development Research Associate in the College of Science, Mathematics and Technology and an Adjunct Assistant Professor teaching Art History Survey and Art Appreciation in the UTB Department of Visual Arts. As a Fulbright Fellow, she is a Visiting Curator at the Ivan Honchar Museum and Ukrainian Centre of Folk Culture and a Visiting Lecturer in Museum Studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.
“The biggest change here is not unlike those we've experienced in the U.S. with the growing ease and speed of communication,” Fisher said. “Twenty years ago, moving to the former Soviet Union meant becoming isolated from family, friends, and news from back home. There was one dial-up e-mail provider in St. Petersburg, Sov-Am Teleport. Now, broadband Internet is easily available, and I keep up with folks via Facebook or Skype, no differently than at home.”