For Dr. Norine Wark, finishing her doctorate in distance education is not an endpoint, but just the beginning.
At Athabasca University’s (AU) convocation on June 7, she received her Doctor of Education in Distance Education degree and the 2019 Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal, awarded annually to AU’s top graduate student.
As a dedicated life-long learner and educator, her education journey was slightly different than most kids. It began at the kitchen table, lit by a kerosene lamp and surrounded by her mother and older siblings.
When Wark was young, her parents packed up their family of six and moved far away from civilization to rural, isolated northwestern B.C., where they could only cross the rivers when they were low enough or frozen.
From early on, she recalls an insatiable desire to learn, right from when she received the first manila envelope filled with her Grade 1 curriculum, and when she would marvel at the wondrous world beyond her wilderness home. That first year of distance education was where she realized just how much control she had over her education, having finished the entire Grade 1 curriculum in only six months.
Distance education became second nature during Norine’s life, she completed her Bachelor of Education from Simon Fraser University at a distance, her Master of Education in Distance Education, and Doctor of Education in Distance Education, both from AU.
Learning about learning
Wark began her career as a public school teacher, where she developed many beliefs about learning, which sparked the idea for her doctorate research. She found that “you had to teach learners from where they were at, and how they learned” as opposed to teaching one specific way, and soon realized how individual learning is.
She said she wanted to learn how to empower learners and to “return to the natural learner we were before we went to school in the first place—when we were curious, insatiable, and very much the masters and directors of our own learning.”
For her dissertation, she focused on just that and pioneered a study that was the only known one that employed a critical pragmatic research paradigm within any educational setting. It was also the inaugural attempt to explore shifts within the context of online learning and education.
Wark said winning the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal is a surreal but validating experience.
“There’s one person that I compete with, and that’s myself. I’ve been so humbled and honoured to share whatever I’ve learned with whoever wants to hear what I’m saying. If anything, it says to me keeping doing what you’re doing,” she said.
She plans to continue following her passions as long as she can. She’s currently working on a book on the female pioneers of distance in distance education, six different research projects, including working with Dr. Mohammed Ally on a project focusing on artificial intelligence and sustainable development for the world and the field of education and presenting her work at various conferences around the world.
Home at AU
Of her experience with AU, Wark found that one of the greatest things was the ability to meet and collaborate with learners and educators from across the world. These collaborations broadened her passions and enabled her to join the global world of learning.
As an expert long-distance learner, she credits organization as the key to balancing schoolwork, work, and volunteering. Once she realized she was in control of her education, she was able to plan her schedule and plan it well.
“I believe each learner needs to be given the right to be empowered to pursue their own learning—and when we are empowered, there’s no stopping us.”