ANGOLA – The faculty at Trine University bring extensive experience to the classroom, and the advent of high-speed internet has enabled the university to increase the expertise available to students through TrineOnline.
A faculty member literally teaches halfway around the world.
Ben Weller, Assistant Faculty Member of TrineOnline, is a journalist who has lived and worked in East Asia for 15 years. Based in Nagoya, Japan, since 2015, Weller recently published work in National Geographic Traveler.
“Japan is a beautiful country, and I will never tire of exploring here, camera in hand,” he said.
Weller grew up in north Manchester. He spent a few years teaching in South Korea after graduating from college, then returned to pursue graduate studies in journalism at Indiana University, with the intention of becoming a writer.
“A visual communication course really inspired me and I changed my path, focusing more on photography,” he said. “By the time I graduated from college, I was shooting regularly for a magazine in Bloomington and had commissions for the Washington Post and the Chronicle of Higher Education. “
He worked for a time as a communications intern for an energy cooperative in Bloomington, taking photos and writing for several of his publications. Although it was a valuable experience, he said he “felt like traveling”.
He returned to South Korea, where he taught photography, image editing, film studies, business communication and English conversation at a university. At the same time, he was building his freelance portfolio, taking photos for Reuters, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and multiple travel and commerce publications.
He met his wife, a university professor, while they both lived and worked in Busan, South Korea. After their marriage, they moved to Nagoya for her job.
Besides photography, his loves include teaching. When he moved to Japan, Weller wanted to continue working with students. Teaching through TrineOnline provided him with the flexibility he needed to develop his career as a journalist while teaching courses that matched his education, work experience and interests.
“Keeping one foot in the world of education and the other in the world of media is synergistic,” he said. “Thanks to my teaching, I am able to follow trends, topics and theories in the world of media and communication. My work as a journalist improves my skills and provides real world experience that I can bring back to class to share with students.
A typical day sees him get up at 5 a.m., start a coffee maker, and check his emails.
“Student emails are priority and I flag other important emails for follow-up later today,” he said.
He is currently taking a Japanese course, so he tries to have an hour of study before his children wake up. From 9 a.m., he is in the office to grade, check discussions, record videos and work on developing lessons.
All the remaining hours in the afternoon are devoted to story writing, editing and research. In the evening, once his children are asleep, he rereads his emails and watches a movie if he has time.
“I teach movie appreciation through TrineOnline, so watching movies is a job requirement,” he said.
He noted that this schedule “flies” during mid-semesters and finals, and that he can work in a hotel or on the train while on assignment.
“I recorded weekly videos for my students in Seoul, Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo,” he said.
While he may be in a very different place from many of his TrineOnline students, he said he has a lot in common with many of them.
“As a working parent, I understand the challenges that come with raising children, having a job and going to school,” he said. “Having lived and taught abroad for almost 20 years, I know various styles of learning and communication. I understand that all of our students have strengths and face challenges, and I think my experiences help me identify them and work with each learner to help them be successful.
Through his own online learning experiences, he is aware that he is listening to students. Although he initially worried about the time difference between Japan and the United States, he said it had been an asset.
“I usually settle into my office in the morning,” he said. “It’s the night back in Indiana where a lot of my students come home from training or work, and they just log into Moodle. I am able to answer any of their emails in real time or jump on a Zoom call to talk to them about a question or an assignment.
He appreciates the investment that TrineOnline is making in his faculty.
“I took the online teacher certification course and Apply Quality Questions workshop, both of which increased my value as an educator and benefited my students,” he said. “We have faculty development meetings on Zoom, which are a great source of ideas for increasing student engagement, getting the most out of Moodle, and so on. I have worked in other universities where the emphasis is not on continuous growth. Trine invests in its educators and I feel valued here.