Taking online learning one step further

Jan Garrison

Special evening classes


October 28, 2020

Instructor Josh Danforth has been in the Humanities Department since joining Culver’s faculty in 2008. He has taught at the freshman and senior class levels before moving to AP World History for sophomores. He holds the John R. Mars Chair for Teaching Excellence.

Danforth serves as a faculty advisor to the CMA Honor Council, which he calls “one of the most privileged positions on campus to watch character develop both in the boys who break the Honor Code and the in the nine cadets who are elected by their peers to uphold the standards that bind our community together.” He also meets with Protestant students as Spiritual Life volunteer; and is taking advantage of Culver’s foreign language department to learn Spanish.

When Culver Academies pivoted to online learning on April 1 due to the coronavirus, special accommodations were made for those international students living in the Asia/Pacific region. With a time difference of 12 to 14 hours, students couldn’t be asked to attend classes in the middle of the night.

The Zoom sessions were recorded and placed on Schoology so they could watch and they could set up times to meet with their instructors as needed.

But Danforth believed they were missing out on an important part of class: the opportunity to be actively involved in the classroom discussion. With four students in one class and three in another, Danforth combined his international group into a special class. He then met with them at 8 p.m. (8 a.m. in Beijing).

It was one of the changes Danforth made to make sure every student was given the same opportunity to participate and learn. And, as the AP test moved to an essay format, Danforth adapted his classes to give his students more opportunities to write in order to prepare.

Danforth gives much of the credit to the Culver students, who he describes as “highly motivated.” Their ability work at the level they have with so many distractions. Their willingness to try, learn from their failures, and their grit to try again still amazes him after 12 years. “Teaching in a community of learners like this is a privilege.”

On a personal level, Josh and his wife, Kimia, have three daughters and “a wanna-be subsistence farm” in nearby Plymouth. They spent the first 17 years of their lives in Africa as missionary kids. They also did a two-year stint after graduate school, teaching agricultural development in the Central African Republic. Danforth received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Davis and his master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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