By Hattie Bernstein
Full-time faculty facilitator Delilah Caldwell, who teaches philosophy for the College of Online and Continuing Education, never sees her students’ faces except in the photographs or avatars embedded in their emails. But lack of face time doesn’t prevent her from recognizing when a student needs an encouraging word or straight talk about a disappointing grade.
“You have to work harder to find these,” Caldwell says of the cues she reads between the lines of an email, or in a voice over the telephone.
Caldwell is passionate about philosophy and teaching, and optimistic about future web-based technologies that will give students and teachers an even greater feeling of being in the classroom together. Yet she feels an obligation to pass on what she received from her teachers, starting in elementary school.
“I still regularly think about the teachers who were important to me, and I know very well they don’t have any idea that what they said turned out to be so important to me. I keep that in mind with my own students,” she says.
Growing up in a blue-collar family in West Virginia, Caldwell never heard anyone use the word “philosophy.” But as a college freshman sitting in her first philosophy class, she immediately felt at home. “This is what I’ve been thinking about all these years,” she remembers thinking.
Online classes make it possible for many of her students to work, raise families and earn a degree at the same time. For those with serious medical conditions that keep them homebound, the classes are a lifeline, she says.
“I wonder, ‘What must it be like?’” Caldwell says, imagining herself in her students’ shoes, particularly those with the most daunting challenges. “I’m very fortunate to have had my education, earned my bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D., with no break. A lot of them didn’t get that chance.”