Muay’s Story

Online education in the fast-paced world today allows students to juggle jobs, family, and schoolwork.  Every semester I am amazed at the diversity of life circumstances represented in my courses.  It is a far cry from the traditional lecture hall packed with bright-eyed optimistic 18-21 year-olds.  Yet, their goals are the same – working toward a career and building opportunities toward the future they hope for.  Each student gets to share their story with me through an open-ended low-stakes assignment early in the semester.  Take a look at the response of Muay, a first-generation college student in one of my sociology courses:

“My family and I are the product of the Vietnam War.  My parents would tell me stories of them escaping from the War to Thailand.  Days without food and rest.  Scared for their lives not knowing if they will run into the enemies or step on a bomb which they witness many tragedies.   We arrived in the United States in 1988 from the refugee camps in Thailand, which it was a culture shock for my parents. Not knowing any English, they relied on kindness of others to help translate and get around…. I remember my mother words, “work smarter not harder.”  I took that to heart and promised myself to go to school and have a good job, so I can take care of my parents, for I see the struggles of my family.

My academic goal is to earn master’s degree in sociology and become a social worker, so I can help those in need.  Give back what was given to me and my family in tough times.  Completing this class is a step closer to my goal.  I do not have any personal challenges once I have put my mind to doing something in life.  I plan on finishing my education and making my family proud of me. I am the first person in my family to attend college.”   – Muay 

This student’s story illustrates so many themes that are playing out in our world today.  The story of an immigrant family seeking refuge in a safe country.  Parents struggling, finding hope and kindness from strangers.  Children seeing and acknowledging the hard work and struggle of their immigrant parents and seeking an education to change the projection of their life.

Education unlocks the potential for individuals to break out of the cycle of poverty.  Still, many barriers exist for children who lack the financial security to access quality education.  I am thankful to be part of a movement that seeks to provide opportunities to all students through the development of high-quality curriculum free of cost.  These materials, called Open Educational Resources (OER) are often cultivated by faculty around the country who see education as not a privilege, but a right.  Using free OER curriculum removes one more barrier to students reaching their potential and developing valuable skills to become effective members of our communities.

Learn about the OER Movement through OER Commons

Asking students to share their ‘story’ early in the process makes each semester more meaningful and allows educators to connect with each student.  As a result, their stories inspire others and enriches our learning community.  Does Muay’s experience resonate with you? What’s YOUR story?

The Next Steps…

At the completion of my certificate I am looking forward to the next season as an online educator.  It takes time to implement new changes in course design, troubleshooting tech issues and garnering feedback from student performance.  Questions linger.  Is it worth it?  Do these changes make a significant improvement in the ability for my students to access quality educational content?  Am I inspiring students to be curious about the world around them?

next stepsUltimately, whether the answers are yes or no – I know that I am on the right path.  It is an honor and privilege to instruct the next generation of leaders, and one that is a  meaningful part of my identity.  As I continue to educate students from the Central Valley of California through West Hills College, I also contemplate the underlying value of education for ALL… and how an educated society is a healthier society.  What can I do in my own local community in northern rural Idaho?  I live in an area that is much like the central valley of California.  It largely consists of a paper mill, agriculture, and hunting and tourism industry.  We have a large population of underserved Nez Perce students, high rates of migrant farm workers, and poverty.  I see so many parallels in our educational systems, although California dedicates a much higher percentage of their  state budget to education than Idaho does.  In fact, much of the improvement in online education has been made possible by grants to the community college system and a collaborative effort by faculty and staff across the state.  My hope is that eventually I will be able to consult with and help improve the quality and access to education for students in Idaho through similar channels in the the local colleges and educational systems.

Will I succeed?  I’ll have to take my own advice when encountering students who are experiencing apathy about the social problems we examine in my sociology courses.  It is better to take time and consider the small steps one can take to make a difference and be part of the solution than sit back and do nothing.

Will you join me?