This week’s IVS Teacher Spotlight is Bonita Walker-Jones.
Ms. Walker Jones holds a BS in Computer Science from Roosevelt University, an MS in Secondary Education from DePaul University, and has taken Post-Grad courses at Walden University in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Ms. Walker-Jones is a movie buff who “binge watches streaming series”. She is also a Jazz Aficionado.
Ms. Walker-Jones recently answered a few questions from IVS, and shared her thoughts on online education.
IVS: Tell us about yourself.
BWJ: I am a mother of 4, grandmother of 8, and great-grandmother of 11, who refuses to retire from teaching, and I’m a lifelong learner. Staying in contact with the younger generation gives me energy and inspiration. I enjoy traveling and spending time with family learning the latest dances and listening to their perspectives on the current issues in the news. As a jazz-lover, when I am not watching movies or streaming series, I listen to music. Sometimes both at the same time and I attend live jazz events as often as possible. My future goal is to go on a jazz cruise.
IVS: Why did you decide to begin teaching online?
BWJ: As a computer science major, using technology to teach was the only strategy I ever wanted to use in the classroom. Working as a computer operator and programmer for 20 years before going into education, to meld technology and education together was inevitable. The computer lab was my first classroom, so I taught: Keyboarding and Microsoft Office skills, Animation, Computer Technician certification, and Cisco Networking certification.
In 2001, Dr. Sandy Atols walked into my computer lab and asked if I wanted to pilot online classes for Chicago Public Schools. I jumped at the chance. I started with five students taking credit recovery classes during their lunch period and grew it to four sessions during lunch periods and two sections after school that increased the graduation rate at my school. In 2005, I took the next step and applied to teach English classes. In 2007, Dr. Atols and I created the first Chicago Public School offering one-to-one laptops to facilitate blended learning. It was called Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment (V.O.I.S.E.). We used online learning in the classroom to allow students to work at their own pace and for new teachers to learn how to incorporate technology in teaching and learning.
At V.O.I.S.E, I used online resources to develop curriculum, instruction, and assessments for all our courses that vendors were not offering at the time. I created and taught Broadcast Journalism, College/Career Prep, Senior Seminar, Reading and Writing Workshop, African American History and English classes using multimedia. In 2016, when CPS closed V.OI.S.E., I retired from the classroom, yet I wanted to continue teaching using technology as the medium of choice.
IVS: What aspects about the online teaching and learning environment do you appreciate the most and why?
BWJ: Allowing students to learn at their own pace, anytime, any place, using multiple digital devices, I believe is the essential aspect of online learning. There are four elements of online education I appreciate. The ability to deliver content, lessons, and activities using teaching strategies that meet the needs of the students with multiple learning styles. The option to offer assessments to diverse learners to evaluate competency skills. A source to provide educational opportunities to students who cannot attend schools for multiple reasons and for schools to augment course offerings.
IVS: In what ways do you interact and get to know your students? How does this compare to your experience teaching a brick-and-mortar course?
BWJ: The first assignments in the course provide several opportunities to develop teacher-student relationships. When students post their responses in the student lounge, I try to connect to their interests, activities, or hobbies by sharing personal experiences. I quell the concerns of students new to online learning by letting them know I am available via text, FaceTime, or phone call while they are working in the class up to 10:00 p.m. When students send the introduction text, I text back immediately to prove I am here for them. When necessary, I reach out and partner with parents to motivate and encourage struggling students. When communicating with students, I relate to what they are going through by using positive statements that build self-esteem, self-discipline, and self-motivation to offer ownership of their learning.
When comparing online course interaction opportunities to brick-and-mortar course interactions, is the time teachers have to work with students. One-to-one communications in f2f classes are hard to schedule due to student and teacher schedules. Working one-to-one with students in the classroom while they are working on assignments is minimal due to the number of students and the amount of time during the class session.
In Chicago Public Schools, teachers and students are not allowed to exchange cell phone numbers, and communications outside of school are only allowed through the parents. Giving too much attention to a particular student’s interests, activities, and hobbies would be considered questionable by other students, colleagues, and administration.
IVS: What benefits exist for students when taking an online course?
BWJ: The critical benefit I hear lately from my online students is the opportunity to pursue their talents and interests while continuing their education. Over the years, some of my online learners were: training for the Olympics or other sports meets, training and performing ballerinas, working missionary-teacher in Africa, traveling with parents around the world, visiting students from other countries, competing equestrians, and working-on-site movie stars. Finishing several classes within a semester to graduate high school early, are becoming very common for gifted students to attend college or schools to advance their talents.
For struggling students, online courses provide the opportunity to make up credits to graduate on time, receive more one-to-one help, or improve grade point averages for college entrance. Learning at your own pace benefits students with medical issues to continue their education until they can return to the classroom. Homeschoolers benefit from online courses because the curriculum aligns with Common Core Learning Standards and high school course requirements. Over the years, several of my online learners were non-verbal autistic students and young adults struggling with extreme psychological challenges. I believe online education will continue to benefit these specific diverse learners.