Student, professor go the distance in online learning

Jeffery Brotherton ’86, adjunct professor in WCU’s emergency and disaster management program, had never met online student Alan Jopson ’12 face-to-face until the program’s post-graduation reception last spring. Jopson hadn’t met any of his other three online instructors until then either, but while taking terrorism and homeland security courses, he was physically a little closer to Brotherton.

Col. Jeffrey Brotherton

Col. Jeffrey Brotherton ’86, at the Iraqi Special Forces headquarters in Baghdad, taught classes for WCU while stationed in Iraq.

Jopson was stationed in Afghanistan at the time, and Brotherton – also known as “Colonel” – was stationed only about 1,300 miles away in Iraq.

“Despite being deployed to a combat zone and under austere conditions, Alan was able to fully participate in the distance learning experience,” Brotherton said. “He had an eagerness to learn and immersed himself in the course materials. His completed assignments were always on time and on point.”

Brotherton met some new challenges in teaching the course. “Teaching a class from a combat zone was breaking new ground for me, but I knew I was up for it,” he said. “While deployed, my new normal was what many of us call the ‘17-5-2 work day’ – 17 hours of duty, five hours for sleep and two hours for laundry, answering personal mail, physical fitness, Skype and – for me – connecting with my WCU students by email. Initially there were challenges to overcome, such as Internet and computer access, time zones and my own limited time availability.”

Jopson, no doubt encountering some similar difficulties as an online student in a nation in conflict, was so grateful for the efforts of his instructors that he sent them a message of appreciation, telling them, “The degree from WCU will provide me with confidence as I continue my career and set future goals. I would like to let each of you know how you have influenced me as a student.”

Addressing a short paragraph to Brotherton, he said, “Knowing that you were instructing in a war zone provided me with the confidence that I could make it through the unfortunate situation we were both in. Also, your real-world experience made the classes even more interesting. Thank you for your time and service.”

Brotherton encourages WCU’s military students, even if deployed, to continue setting and meeting educational goals, something possible through distance learning. “Distance learning provides the opportunity to continue your educational pursuits – no matter where you are in the world.”