Like many other working adults, Joe Hough is enrolled in online classes through Western Carolina University, using his spare time to make progress toward a graduate degree. Hough, an assistant principal at Reynolds High School in Asheville, began taking courses this spring toward earning an education specialist degree in educational leadership.
But, these days, when Hough heads to work, instead of entering the halls of Reynolds High, he joins his fellow National Guard members in helping keep the roads open around Tikrit, Iraq, where he has been stationed since August 2006. Major Hough and the other soldiers of the 105th Engineer Group of the Army National Guard are responsible for clearing the roads of IEDs – improvised explosive devices – and for roadway repair.
But once he’s back at the computer, even though he’s studying in a war zone, “It’s no different than another student sitting at home in Asheville, taking the same class online,” Hough said.
A native of the Vance County town of Henderson, Hough graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences at Gardner-Webb University in 1991. He earned his master’s degree in school administration at WCU in 2004 and received the Don Chalker Award for Excellence in Education Leadership from WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions.
Hough previously taught at Tuscola High School in Haywood County for one year, and at Rugby Middle School in Henderson County for six years. He joined the staff at Reynolds High as assistant principal in 2002, but was deployed for a year of homeland security duty just after being hired, and 2003 was his first full year at the school.
Hough enrolled in two online courses for the spring semester to begin work toward his education specialist degree, and one of the courses, appropriately titled “Leadership in the Integration of Educational Technology,” includes a live voice chat session once each week with other educators taking the same course online.
John LeBaron, who holds WCU’s Jay M. Robinson Distinguished Professorship in Educational Technologies, is the instructor for that course and said Hough has been “a constructive and active participant all semesterlong.” Focusing on developments in online learning, the course features real-time communication in a variety of media, LeBaron said.
Other students enrolled in the course did not want Hough to be left out of the audio chats that normally occur during the evening, which would have forced Hough to participate in the middle of the night, and they agreed to hold the chats each Monday at 6:15 a.m. local time – 2:15 p.m. for Hough, LeBaron said. The communication was carried out through the WIMBA Direct live voice tool, which provides communication similar to a live telephone conference call, he said.
Hough said he appreciates the willingness of his classmates back in the states to schedule the chat session for early in the morning. As the class went on through the semester, many of the students said they wound up preferring that time because of their hectic schedules at the end of the day, he said.
Hough said he wasn’t surprised to find the technology to allow him to take an online course when he arrived in Iraq. “Many soldiers take some type of online course if they are seeking degrees,” he said.
Since he is just getting started, Hough has nine or 10 more courses to take to earn his degree. He hopes to enroll in more online courses, but that may happen after he is back home in Hendersonville. He expects to return to his wife, Karen, who teaches in Buncombe County, and their two boys, Daniel and Andrew, in late summer.