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Settling In

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Settling In, a set on Flickr.

Photos of Malbork castle and other orientation activities.

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Fulbright Update

I realize now, that I have waited much too long to update the status of my Fulbright experience, but in my defense it has been a very hectic couple of weeks. I’m finally feeling settled, now that I am in my flat, and I’m making great progress in learning my way around the city of Torun, so it seemed a good time to take a breath and reflect on the last few weeks. It seems ages since I first landed in Warsaw for the welcome session and first meeting of the Fulbrighters to Poland.

I arrived in Warsaw on Tuesday, September 11, had a quick briefing at the US Embassy on Wednesday morning and meeting of the Fulbright commission in the afternoon. We arrived in Torun by bus on Thursday to begin our orientation.

Most of the Fulbrighters (50 or so) are students who will either be English Teaching Assistants (ETA’s) or conducting research on various topics – all really fascinating and quite outside the scope of my expertise. There are only about 7 senior Fulbrighters, me included, so I spent a lot of time with students which was especially rewarding. We have a Facebook page for staying connected and reaching out in case we need a place to stay when visiting other cities.

In addition to Polish language instruction, the orientation also included some pretty intensive cultural immersion activities which I found most helpful. I attended a concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Bydgoszcz, home of the Academy of Music, have been to the Gingerbread Museum (they are famous for their “Pierniki” in Torun), the Modern Art Museum and Malbork castle (when this region was controlled by Germany, it was known as Marienberg), and I’ve even had Polish folk dancing lessons. I’ve listened to lectures on Polish literature, poetry, art and the Tuetonic Knights, on Polish Nobel Prize winners and the influence of Communism on all of it. I completed 24 hours of Polish language instruction. I can say my numbers to 20, hello, goodbye, excuse me, please, and my address. I can order mushroom soup (grzybami zupy – my favorite here because the mushrooms are local and fresh), goulash, pierogi, nalishniki (crepes or pancakes, but not like any pancakes you have ever tasted) and wine at a restaurant. I can buy a few staples, meat and vodka (woodka) at the grocery store. And I think I can purchase a train ticket but I haven’t actually tried it on my own yet. I’m pretty comfortable with the public transportation system and now have a permanent pass to use the system whenever I want. I have found the major shopping centers and can get there relatively easy by tram or bus. I’ve gotten used to walking though – it’s just what everybody does here. I’m about 15 minutes walk from Old Town and about a 10 minute bus ride from the university.

I’ve also had a chance to meet several times with the Department Chair and faculty in the department where I am housed. I am using my time now to learn about the department and to understand their processes which are somewhat different that those at a typical university in the US. The goal is to find opportunities for partnering in the future. I will also be conducting special lectures and workshops for students and faculty during the semester but in the meantime, I plan to sit in on classes taught by my colleagues. Yesterday (Monday, Oct. 1) was the inaugural address and official opening of the new academic year. I was surprised and excited that the Vice Prime Minister of Poland spoke at the ceremony.

In the middle of all this, I was invited to attend a reception at the home of the US Ambassador to Poland, to recognize outgoing and incoming Fulbrighters. It was also a special celebration to say goodbye to Andrzej Dakowski, the Executive Director of the Polish-US Fulbright Commission. How could I refuse? This meant a quick trip to Warsaw, which I managed to accomplish on my own. I did get off at the wrong train station though. After a moment of panic and walking in circles, I managed to find a taxi to get me to my destination without any further problems 🙂

That pretty much covers it. I have many photos of my activities that I will post separately here and on Facebook.

Eating in Poland

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Food 2012, a set on Flickr.

You can’t visit Poland and not talk about the food! I’m especially enamored with the mushrooms – they are extremely abundant and come in every shape and size. The mushroom soups aren’t anything like I’ve ever tasted in the US. It’s also interesting to see the variations on popular American dishes like Pizza and hamburgers and the “kabob” is not anything like you’d expect.

The Journey Begins…

The time is drawing near. I will be leaving Boise to lecture at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland on September 10. I have been asked by numerous colleagues and friends to blog about my experiences. So, I will begin a new series of blogs as I venture across the ocean on this great adventure.

It’s not my first time in Poland or in Torun but this time I am traveling to Torun under a Fulbright award to work with the Department of Didactics and Media in Education Faculty of Pedagogy at Nicolaus Copernicus University. I will spend five months at the university lecturing preservice teachers on emergent technologies in education and helping education faculty design curriculum that incorporates Internet and emergent technologies into teacher education. However, my goal is not just to teach. I expect to learn a great deal from my colleagues in Poland and build a partnership that will serve us both well into the future. Wherever possible, I intend to bring faculty and students from my own Department of Educational Technology at Boise State University together to collaborate and partner with our Polish colleagues.

Needless to say, it’s been a hectic summer for me – despite being on sabbatical – or more likely because of it! With the changes in my work responsibilities, I decided the time was ripe to finally bite the bullet and downsize/move to a smaller place. Time has been tight though, especially when simultaneously unpacking from my move and packing for a five month stay in a foreign country. So far everything is on track. There have been a million small details to attend to. Of course there were the obvious details like medical clearances, passport, visa, travel insurance, transportation and hotel transactions which I tackled at a regular pace over the summer. Not to mention the added confusion of change of address and forwarded mail from my move. Now I am left with figuring out how to transport five months worth of clothing, shoes, home goods, textbooks and gifts from point A to point B, how to manage communications with family and friends without breaking the bank, and what to do about lingering print-based mail while I am gone. And there is one final detail that is causing just a little stress – I’m still not sure where I will be staying while in Torun! The apartment hunting has not gone as well as I expected. However, I remain confident that something will turn up soon.

I am very excited to have the opportunity to participate in this exchange and can’t wait for it to begin! First on the agenda is a welcome reception in Warsaw on September 12, then on to Torun for a 10 day orientation before classes begin on October 1. I will keep you posted.

Reflections on the Future of Education

I recently presented a keynote address at the Missouri Online Distance Learning Assocation (MoDLA) annual conference in St. Louis on the role of online education in educational reform. The process of preparing to present was actually what spurred me to agree to do it in the first place. Keynotes are not my favorite thing to do 🙂 But in this case, I was really interested in the opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture – I’m usually so immersed in my everyday teaching and research activities. What I concluded was that we are on the verge of real change – it’s absolutely unavoidable given the  evolutionary trajectory of technological advancements creating more rapid innovations in learning, and the increasing involvement of the private sector in public education along with their ability to respond quickly to market demand. Whether it occurs as a complete implosion of our traditional educational systems or a swift transition to new models of teaching and learning is anybody’s guess.

Fast forward a week or two and now I am heavily immersed in 3D Game Lab Summer Camp. One of my assignments is to reflect on an interview with Jim Gee back in 2008…

Jim Gee also draws a similar conclusion is his interview with Edutopia (2008) on the role of gaming in educational reform – he refers to the crisis of global competition in spurring innovation and a paradigm shift in how we think about education. Chances are good that the shift will come first in higher education where student choice has a more resounding impact on the economics of higher ed institutions. Jim denotes the same barriers in our educational system that most reformers do, although not necessarily responsible for preventing a paradigm shift, as much as creating the opportunities for one – deprofessionalization of teachers, schools as test prep academies, etc.. And don’t forget, we are still arguing whether or not technology should even be in the classroom in 2012!

What gaming does is take advantage of children’s natural ability to learn (see Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall Experiments), recognize mastery and competency-based levels of advancement, acknowledge kids as producers and co-creators, provide language on demand, promote problem solving, and encourage participation in communities with high standards. I would say that these characteristics parallel those of all effective online learning environments and further argue, it’s not a far stretch to anticipate a convergence of gaming elements into mainstream education regardless of modality. Jim Gee predicted a paradigm shift in 2008. It’s clearly evident we have the tools. The only thing stopping us, is us. And it’s time already!!

Making the Move to K-12 Online Teaching

Yes – it’s finally here! After two years in the making, my text Making the Move to K-12 Online Teaching: Research Based Practices and Strategies was published in November 2011 and made its debut at the iNACOL Virtual School Symposium in Indianapolis. Alas, this is the first chance I’ve had to announce it on any of my networks. The associated website for the book is located here: https://sites.google.com/site/bestonlineteacher/ and includes supplemental materials and updated links to resources included in the book. Take a look and let me know what you think. I look forward to your comments and feedback.