Overcoming Allergic and Health Barriers With Distance Learning


Written by Kelsey Beninger; Originally published at olt.ubc.ca.

Elke Hutton offers a story of hope and inspiration to any student facing obstacles that may hinder them from fulfilling their educational goals. After starting at UBC in 1997 Elke’s health began to interfere with her studies. When her health and severe allergies became an obstacle for her to continue on-campus courses, instead of throwing in the towel, she looked for alternative outlets for fulfilling her Bachelors of Arts requirements. Through the collaboration with her doctor, who “recommended that [she] finish [her] degree via correspondence,” UBC, and a disability advisor, Elke has found a successful and rewarding way to continue her studies in Psychology and Philosophy, at her own pace and with the consideration of her health.

Elke is currently registered in ENGL 304 and PSYC 320 and shares her experiences with previous philosophy and psychology distance courses: “I thoroughly enjoyed learning at my own pace, but mostly I enjoyed being able to keep my mind active, focused and challenged. Of particular pleasure to me were my philosophy courses, which helped me expand my mind and thinking about the world in general tremendously.” ENGL 304 is teaching Elke to strengthen her composition writing by focusing on such topics as audience, authorial voice, and style. In her PSYC 320 course Elke will explore the meaning and influence of gender on every aspect of life, an important topic for a Psychology major. Elke’s dedication to her courses, despite geographical, time, and health constraints, reflects her drive for lifelong learning.

Due to her health, Elke has completed most of her degree via correspondence and has had the unique experience to see how emerging technologies are changing the way distance education is distributed and maintained. “Most of the courses were [in] the old [print-based] format, where you had to send in your assignments by mail to get them returned and graded by your professor. Now my recent courses are in the online format with a greater variety of assignment formats such as online interaction with peers.” Elke emphasizes the benefits this contemporary online format delivers, noting that “there is a greater focus on student interaction” in her online courses. She appreciates the higher level of interaction and collaboration between students, especially considering that the print-based format is more impersonal. Despite the lack of interaction that Elke had in the print-based courses, she maintains that “if I did have a question I was always able to ask my professor [in the] distance course.”

In addition, Elke enjoys the variety in the types of learning activities available through the online format, in comparison to the print-based format. In her PSYC 320 course, Elke will be able to participate in a diverse group of activities, including journal writing, teleconferences, group activities, and discussion forums. This diversity in activity formats is a huge benefit for all students, as it provides students with multiple opportunities for learning and applying their knowledge. Furthermore, exposure to such unique technologies like teleconferencing in ones education leaves students better prepared for using such interactive models in the work force upon graduation.

The flexibility of distance education has provided the environment Elke needs to excel. “Distance Education is going to add a degree to my personal credentials. This is an opportunity that I would not have had, had I not been able to study from the comfort of my own home. I need a tightly controlled environment in terms of allergens and without the ability to study online that option would not have been available to me.” As a distance learner, Elke is free to learn, discover, and contribute from wherever she is, and is not bound by physical boundaries.

This mode of learning has been extremely useful for Elke, as she currently resides in Saskatchewan and has found that distance education courses have “allowed [her] to have other responsibilities besides school.” In addition to her courses, Elke cares for her family and runs a small business on the side. What does the future hold for this incredible woman? Elke shares, “I’ll be thrilled to receive my degree and plan on continuing my online studies by applying to the Creative Writing Program, also offered by UBC. Through online learning I have discovered my love for writing, a purpose and a career as a writer…all because of the distance education format.”