Distance Education Professor Responds to International Need

by ABBY TOMLINSON

May 06, 2009

Nora Griffin-Shirley is willing to go where she is needed. During the next academic year, her experience and expertise in the field of visual impairments, in concert with her knowledge of distance education delivery methods, is needed in India.

Griffin-Shirley will travel to India as part of the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program. She applied to be a part of the program after a call for experts in the field of visual impairments was announced. She was chosen to receive a grant that will enable her to travel to India and teach on the subject of Training Professionals to Teach Persons with Blindness and Visual Impairments from July through December. She will utilize web-based instruction and Interactive Video Conferencing to instruct students at a distance.

She said that she plans to learn, not just teach, while she is there.

"I want to learn about the population of people in India with visual impairments, and the causes of blindness there," Griffin-Shirley said. "The causes of blindness are different than they are here, and I plan to research those differences."

Griffin-Shirley said that she has been interested in blindness since she was very young. She attributes this interest to the influence of two blind men; one was a Baptist evangelist and the other, her grandfather. After spending time with both, she elected to attend a summer camp for blind adults. At the camp, she was able to job shadow professionals in the field of orientation and mobility who provided rehabilitation training for the visually impaired adult campers.

She said after that experience, she knew a profession in orientation and mobility was her calling.

"I knew I didn't want to work in an office every day," Griffin-Shirley said. "With orientation and mobility training, you are constantly moving."

After earning her master's and Ph.D., she began teaching university-level classes that train students to become visual impairment and orientation and mobility professionals and teachers. Most of the classes she teaches utilize distance delivery methods, making it possible for people all over the country to pursue an advanced degree, regardless of where they live. She will do the same in India.

She said that the only downfall of her career choice is that it decreases the direct contact that she gets with visually impaired people, but she knows that what she is doing helps to alleviate the shortage of professionals in the fields of visual impairments and orientation and mobility.

"We are in a critical manpower situation. We simply don't have enough teachers," Griffin-Shirley said. "There is a shortage nationwide and especially in Texas."

India is experiencing a similar shortage, causing noted universities to request experts in the field. Ideally, the program will garner as much attention as it has in Texas, where Griffin-Shirley said interest is growing.

Interest that, she said, has a direct correlation with the marketing efforts of the College of Outreach and Distance Education (CODE). CODE has partnered with the College of Education to market and promote the many distance education degrees, certificates and certification preparation programs that the College of Education offers.

She attributes the notable student increase in distance education programs to increased marketing efforts.

"We have a wonderful arrangement with the college," Griffin-Shirley said of the partnership. "Working with the college has been a marvelous experience."

Griffin-Shirley's recent accolades are not limited to her Fulbright grant. She has also been granted full professorship.

"It is good to be recognized within the academic community as a person who deserves a professorship. It is good to be acknowledged as a leader in your field," Griffin-Shirley said with a smile.

The main reward for her hard work as an orientation and mobility professional is having the ability to help people, she said.<

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