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NEW EOU PROF KNOWS DISTANCE ED
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
He is a new face on Eastern Oregon University's campus, a professor who makes medieval Irish history come alive and long distances between teachers and students seem like short jaunts.
The professor is Jeffrey Wetherill, the new director of EOU's Union County Distance Education Center.
"He has a passion for distance education,'' said EOU administrator Dixie Lund.
Wetherill also has a passion for the study of the ancient Celtic cultures. For the past two years Wetherill has taught two medieval Irish history classes through EOU's distance learning program while living in England. His courses were taught via the Internet.
Wetherill grew up in Ohio and graduated from Taylor University in Indiana in 1988 and later from the Wheaton Graduate School near Chicago. He moved to Ireland in 1990 and acquired a British Isles manner of speaking.
"We have learned a lot of delightful British cliches at our staff meetings,'' said Lund, dean of Eastern's division of distance education.
For example, Wetherill sometimes greets people by saying "hiya'' and refers to flights over the Atlantic Ocean as "crossing the pond.''
At Eastern Wetherill is also in charge of the individualized study program. Through this program students take courses through a written correspondence program that does not use the Internet.
In addition Wetherill will also continue teaching classes on medieval Irish history through Eastern's distance education program.
Wetherill's background in distance learning is like the span between the United States and Europe Â— extensive. For example, while in Great Britain Wetherill was a writer and editor for a distance learning Web site based in Berlin, Germany. The purpose of the site is to help people study and understand how distance-education programs are delivered around the world.
The Web site addresses cultural hurdles, language issues and technology problems.
While in England, Wetherill was a resource faculty member with the University of London's Birkbeck College. He taught classes on early Christianity in the British Isles.
Wetherill lived in Ireland his first 10 years in the British Isles. There he helped found the Leadership Institute in Dublin. The school developed leaders in the church, voluntary and community sectors. Wetherill was a faculty member at the institute and its communications director.
Wetherill jumped at the chance to come to Eastern because of the quality of its distance-education program. "I think that Eastern is one of the leading distance-education schools in the country and around the globe,'' Wetherill said.
He is impressed with how faculty reach out to distance-education students.
He added that Eastern stands out because it offers actual degrees through distance education, not just classes. Eastern presently has about 1,700 students seeking degrees through its distance-education program.
Wetherill said EOU is helped in that it has been involved in distance education for more than two decades, far longer than many other universities.
Distance education helps students who cannot attend classes on campus because of family, job commitments or other issues. Wetherill has seen it bring out the best in students.
He recalled that one of his students wrote and told him that she was shy and probably never would have raised her hand in class. However, when she took a course via a distance-education program she lost her fear. She was not reluctant to speak up in computer discussion boards with other students and in correspondence with Wetherill.
The professor is new to the western United States but he has connections here. His parents, Robert and D'Aun, live near Redding, Calif.