Thursday, October 8, 2009

Visitors from Hungary to Georgia

Dr. Judith Kádar and her son Péti are visiting this weekend from Milledgeville, where she's on a short visiting professorship .  She's a lecturer of American Studies in Eger, and invited us to her house for delicious food many times. She even taught me to make gombóc (I think!), dumplings stuffed with túró (curd cheese). We had a great time cooking BBQ, and went to Wild Adventures for some waterpark fun--no rides, though!

On Sunday, we took them back to "Millivilli", as they call it! The distance between Valdosta and there, is about the N-S width of Hungary!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Learning: Distance Teaching and Learning Conference

It's a beautiful day in Madison, Wisconsin. Take a look!

I'm back home in South Georgia, USA.

The conference was very good, although not as well attended as years not affected by the recession. Lots of people came by my poster session, with many different interests in the topic of FAR distant online teaching.

There were people interested in delivering online instruction in various cultural contexts, including educators from the International Monetary Fund, Foreign Service Institute, and an NGO from Estonia. There were also visiting scholars from a petroleum institute in "the real Georgia", that is, the country, who are interested in online education.

Of course there were others who just wanted to know how they could go on faculty exchange to such a wonderful place as Hungary!

We all agreed that there were challenges in introducing interactivity in online education within cultures that don't practice interactivity in face to face classrooms, and that FAR distance probably didn't matter, as long as the instructor and students all stayed engaged on a regular basis.

Here's a slideshow that was the backdrop for the poster session.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Scholarship of Teaching: Distance Teaching and Learning Conference

This blog is featured as an illustration within a poster session at the 25th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, August 4-7, 2009, in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit the site to appreciate the wide range and quality of this great conference.

The poster session presents the experience of my faculty exchange through description, analysis, and visuals. While the framework of the blog was teaching, learning, culture, and fun, this presentation concentrates on reflection of the effect of the exchange on my teaching VSU students while in Hungary: Teaching at a FAR Distance. I will convey difficulties engendered by time and technology differences, sense of connection with my VSU students, parallel communications and interaction with colleagues, family, friends, and students, and observations of reactions of Hungarian students and faculty in regard to my distance teaching practices.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summary: Blog as Example and Blogging Advice

Documenting a Professional Development Activity through Blogging: Example and Advice

Off Off Campus: Teaching from Hungary is a multimedia blog consisting of over 80 entries, and constructed using Google’s Blogger. The purpose of the blog was to document my experiences during a four-month faculty exchange to the Institute of Media Informatics at Eszterházy Károly College in Eger, Hungary. As a professor of Curriculum and Instructional Technology at Valdosta State University, I was very experienced in delivering instruction from a distance. In fact, I continued to teach Valdosta State students online throughout the Hungarian exchange experience. I knew there would be some challenges in teaching at such a distance, mostly in relation to the time difference, and possible technology differences. The title of the blog anticipates the challenges of a long distance educator.

I’d never blogged before, but thought becoming a blogger would be a good immersion technology learning experience, as well as a good way to communicate my adventures to colleagues, family, and friends back home in the U.S. I conceived the blog as a work of academic scholarship as well, that is, a web publication relevant both to my academic discipline, instructional design and technology, and to the experience itself, international education. Since I saw this as a professional blog, I wanted the entries to convey meaningful information about educational and cultural experiences in Hungary, as well as about the experience of being on faculty exchange in a culture quite different from South Georgia, U.S.A. I didn’t intend to write a travelogue; I wanted a more general focus. As I worked on the blog, I found that I recalled my background in journalism and advertising, creating something that was more similar to an online magazine than anything else. Over time and varied topics, I used multiple writing styles, levels of formality, and illustration and graphic methods.

As in many technology-related tasks, doing is learning when it comes to a blog. Since the outcome of this project was intended to be educational, I did employ the first steps of the instructional design process by defining goals, purposes, and objectives for the blog, and considering the target audience(s). I came up with a very general framework as the underlying structure for the blog: teaching, learning, culture, and fun. It was my intention to categorize each blog entry under one of these headings as the main topic, and to try to balance my writings among the topics. Along the way, I jotted down discoveries, ideas, advice, and recommendations that would be helpful to anyone else who might use a blog to document a particular professional experience or interval. This article is a summary of what I learned and observed while creating Off Off Campus. Some of the following advice may seem relevant only to my particular project; other advice is more general.

Advice: Have a framework

As indicated above, I didn’t just start blogging. I started with a purpose and a framework. Without that structure, I think it would have been tempting to just report on happenings in a chronological way. With the framework, I often found myself writing on themes (e.g., transportation), and then combining a number of events and observations (e.g., a particular bus adventure, a harrowing ticket-buying experience, a comparison of US/Hungarian drivers) into one blog entry. I also think the framework really assisted me in staying focused and reflective about my teaching and learning.

Advice: Think of your audience(s)

I began the blog with a sure audience of one—me. I wanted a contemporaneous, multimedia record of my time in Hungary. “Post-production” activities such as creating photo books and DVDs have taken me considerable time following other overseas trips. I wanted to come back from this trip with my full experience in a ready-to-share format. I increased the likelihood that I would stay with the task by making it the basis for a conference presentation proposal (accepted for presentation 23rd Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, August, 2009).

The next audience I considered consisted of my Valdosta State University departmental and college colleagues, as well as other faculty interested in International Exchange opportunities. They wanted to share the adventure with me, and several had actually been to Eger a couple of years earlier for a conference, and would be revisiting places and people they knew through the blog. So, the blog had to be professional in tone, but interesting, with enough detail to communicate my activities. Most importantly, there couldn’t be too much emphasis on having fun—after all, I was working!

Family, friends, and current and former students were also invited to read the blog, in most cases, in lieu of exchanging emails. There just wasn’t time to do both. One elderly aunt and uncle became such followers that they printed each entry and send it to other relatives who lacked Internet access. A former student became my ‘perfect follower’, willing to leave comments and troubleshoot Blogger features. My current U.S. students, whom I was teaching via distance during the exchange time period, were an audience, too. I hoped they would take an interest in the novelty of having a professor who was six hours removed in time zones. Some did, and would make comments in the blog. However, we had so much direct (and usual) contact within the course management system, that they didn’t have the time or inclination to spend much more time with me by visiting the blog.

The audience of which I was very aware, and somewhat uncertain, consisted of my Institute of Media Informatics colleagues and administrators of the college in Hungary. Although I informed them of my blog from the beginning, and even used it as an illustration of how they might use blogging in their instruction, I wasn’t sure of their level of interest. It was quickly communicated, however, that many of my colleagues were my closest followers, and they would ask me questions, for example, about how I liked last night’s concert (that I’d blogged about), and add to my knowledge about events I’d observed. I was a little self-conscious sometimes about writing, knowing that people involved in what I was reporting were reading it. However, response was very positive.

Advice: Illustrate your blog

I take lots of digital photos and really find it natural to illustrate my writing with graphics. I found myself taking photographs in a different way than on most trips, more journalistically than artistically. I would anticipate writing a blog entry and then purposely take photos that would carry some of the meaning. Thus, photos of street signs, posters, and products in stores were often more useful than beautiful sunsets, flowers, and mountain scenes. Photos didn’t have to be great, just representational, and simple enough to convey meaning in the small scale display within a blog entry. In fact, I came to realize that using a ‘great’ photo in the blog was somewhat wasted, and a bit frustrating for the viewer to not be able to enlarge or see it in full resolution. I saved those few ‘great’ photos for printing when I got home.

Organization of digital photos is always a challenge, especially when on a long trip. Knowing that I was going to be inserting photos into blog entries really helped me stay organized. I took photos, and then downloaded them from my camera card onto my laptop. I used iPhoto albums, named to indicate specific topics. Some photos from the iPhoto library went into more than one album, if they would be useful for illustration of more than one entry. I kept the iPhoto library intact, and backed it up on CDs for safety.

In some cases, such as substantial out-of-town trips, I knew I would upload the album to Picasa, and then insert a link to the Picasa album within the blog entry. For those albums I tried to be very careful to edit the photos for quality, remove any photos that I didn’t want to be public, put the photos in a “storytelling” order, and, sometimes, add caption names to the photos so the titles would be displayed in a Picasa slideshow. There are choices as to how to offer viewers access to Picasa albums, and I utilized them all at different places in the blog. A simple URL link sends the blog reader to the Picasa album where he can look at the photos one by one, or see them in a slideshow. If you create a Picasa slideshow, with titles, you can either insert a link to that slideshow, or you can embed the slideshow, which actually plays the slideshow within your blog entry.
On other topics, I knew I would simply want to choose a few photos to insert directly into the blog. Those albums were private, only available on my own laptop, and so didn’t get quite the scrutiny for editing as did the public albums.

Inclusion of photos of people in the blog was a bit tricky. I tried to ask permission of anyone I would include, and made sure that photos of children were absent or not identifiable. When I did include people in a blog, whether in photo or content, I would tell them or email them a friendly notification and ask them to please tell me if they wanted me to edit or remove. I didn’t ever get a request to alter a blog entry—everyone seemed flattered and happy to be ‘published’. I hope that was because I was always cognizant of my audience(s), and tried to see my writing and photos through their eyes as well as my own.

I can share some specific photo ideas that were useful to me in the international context. Take the same photo from the same place over time—that was a great way to document change over time (e.g., the long awaited arrival of Spring). Take photos of posters for events—great to take home and use a dictionary to translate, and then use as illustration of the description of the event (and reminder of date/place/correct spelling) in a blog entry. Make PowerPoint slides into jpg graphics and use as illustrations in the blog, whether as an original custom graphic, or to represent an actual presentation or class. I also used to store my PowerPoint presentations and sometimes included links to those presentations within the blog entry.

It’s possible to upload movies into blog entries, and I did so occasionally. I took the movies on my digital camera, uploaded into iPhoto, and then inserted directly into the blog entry. I had mixed reports from viewers as to whether the movies worked very well, but even to have a tiny 10 second glimpse/sound of a gypsy violinist added atmosphere. Keep the movies very short and small, and realize that the sound is probably more important and clear, than the picture. In one case I did want to include a longer movie (walking the 192 steps to my office). I didn’t want to embed that in an entry, so I put it up on YouTube and created a link to it within the blog.

Advice: Prepare, then write

There were lots of preparation tasks that had to be done ahead of actual writing. I would take a look at a list of ideas for blog entries I’d jotted down in a notebook. Ideas would include content, but also sometimes, form. As time went on, I started to think of ‘fun’ ways to present the material outside of straight narrative. I presented interviews, jokes, short stories, and a simulated advertisement for the stellar qualities of a famous Hungarian cave as a wedding venue. Sometimes I combined ideas to create larger themed entries.

As mentioned above, preparation included organization of the photographs I might use in the entry, placing the photos in files and nearly always replacing the numerical file name with a text name to help me spot the photo when I needed it in iPhoto. If the entry had to do with an event or place, I’d assemble printed materials such as tourist materials, maps, dictionaries, and other reference materials, so I could do a good job of spelling and getting names and facts correct. Speaking of spelling, the Hungarian language is full of diacritical marks, and they are essential to writing. Early on I had to learn how to make the marks using my Apple laptop, and, differently, my PC at the office (thank goodness they gave me an English language keyboard!).

Once I had everything together, I would usually write directly into the blog. I’d write a paragraph, and then load photos in, placing some aligned left and some right. I nearly always used the ‘small’ setting for the photos, but occasionally made a photo a large highlight within the entry. I’d continue writing, and move photos around to make for a pleasing layout. I used WYSIWYG settings, occasionally making font changes or putting in display colors. There wasn’t a great deal of control in Blogger, and so the perfectionist in me had to relax. When I was finished, I’d do a preview and try to fix any really bad formatting or other mistakes. Unless I thought the entry was incomplete, or I needed to check some facts or get a permission, I went ahead and published right then. It was always easy to edit even after publication. Sometimes I would go back in and make an addition or observation through the comment feature, and occasionally even left myself notes in the comment area to remind me of a change I wanted to make.

I often did two or three blog entries in a day—when I’d get ‘on a roll’. It really does take a lot of time to craft blog entries, including formatting and arrangement of photos. The entries varied greatly in length and complexity, and were probably almost always longer than recommended by professional bloggers. But I was documenting an experience, not trying to sell products in pop-up ads, so I wasn’t concerned. I ended up with a blog of more than 80 entries. I wrote over 150,000 words, illustrated by 600+ photos, either embedded directly or linked from Picasa albums. My blog, if printed, would translate into well over 300 printed pages, without the photos. I’m exploring various ways to transform the blog into an e-book to preserve my lasting sense of accomplishment.

Summary and Evaluation

The blog was a success from my point of view, meeting the purpose of communicating to multiple audiences, and documenting a unique and wonderful experience. Blogging was quite a different way of communicating than through email, in some ways better (more in-depth, organized, and lasting), and some ways worse (less personal and one-way). I immersed myself in telling ‘my stories’, and so missed eliciting the news of others, especially those back home.

The blog did not have a wide impact, at least not at the point of the end of the exchange. I certainly could have publicized it more, adding other audiences to the mix. I did make the blog public, and allowed search engines to find it, but the topic, especially as indicated by the title, was probably of limited interest. I had hoped to have more reader comments in the blog, but an early period of technical difficulty in Blogger discouraged some from making comments, and then they didn’t return to try again. In particular, I’d hoped that my Hungarian colleagues would comment, and I even asked them to do so. Likewise, I’d hoped that some of my colleagues would be willing to do guest blogs on my site. However, they were, for the most part, hesitant to write in English in a public place—I know the feeling having made many Hungarian writing errors in my few attempts!

The blog was not only for the record and communication; it also contributed to my e-teaching practice. I was able to use the blog as a teaching tool in my faculty development seminar while in Hungary, and as the basis of a blogging workshop for Hungarian education students. I definitely have ideas as to how to incorporate blogging into online classes I teach here in the U.S., although I may want to keep the function within the course management system for simplicity.

Blogging was fun and a lot of work. I now appreciate the efforts of professional bloggers, and may even want to join them one day. The experience was like a ‘blast from the past’ in combining the skills and thought processes I once used in journalism and advertising. I encourage educators who are participating in a faculty development or school improvement process to ‘blog the experience’ as individuals, or, even better, in groups. You’ll find it worthwhile for documentation and reflection, and you’ll be surprised at how satisfying creation of a blog really is.

Teaching, learning, culture, and fun…the framework covered it all. I created the record of the experience as I lived it. Occasionally, but not often, I had to remind myself that I needed to close up the computer and live, not just blog about life! Of course, even after weeks passed since my return, I continued to work on the blog, including this paper as (the last?) entry. I’ve investigated methods of transforming the blog into an e-book, and even a printed book. So, I can’t quite let go!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reflection: Fun


Most of the blog postings labeled as FUN were in relation to going on side trips, entertaining visitors, or looking at an element of culture in a weird way (like a shark in downtown Budapest). I couldn’t label all postings as fun, of course, since this was a professional, academic experience, documented in a professional, academic blog. But pssst…it was all FUN! And if we remember that teaching, learning, and culture can all provide us with FUN, we’re in good shape!

Reflection: Culture


“Culture is the ideas, customs, arts, skills, etc., of a given people” (New World Dictionary). I’ve read about Hungarian culture, talked to Hungarians about Hungarian culture, and observed elements of Hungarian culture. So what do I know? I know it’s different, and I like it a lot. Any comments I make are not on Hungarian culture, but on what it’s like for an American to live within Hungarian culture for a relatively short period of time. So here are three outstanding differences between my life in Eger and my life in Valdosta…

The automobile. Living without a car, and without the need for a car, for four months was wonderful. It changes everything, from shopping venues and frequency, to trip-planning, to automatic physical fitness.

Café society. Having lots and lots of small restaurants and cafes from which to choose. Talking for hours on end, without the necessity to clear the table and move on to make way for another customer. Great coffee, wine, and beer, to say nothing of the excellent food.

Hospitality. Over-the-top kindness and generosity from every person I met. Academic professionals, most of whom have to patch together multiple jobs and teach lots of students, make it a priority to entertain and assist visitors.

So, how was Hungary? Read this blog. Read history. Watch politics. Explore the language and literature. Go there. Talk to Hungarians. Find out. You’ll like what you find.

Reflection: Learning


Where do I start on this reflection? I WONDER….

Wondering is the start of all learning, and I certainly spent lots of time wondering what the heck was going on around me in Hungary. I wonder what that store clerk is asking me? I wonder what that sign says? I wonder what’s in that package on the grocery shelf (is it butter or nice spreadable pork fat)? I wonder what this poster is advertising, where the event will be, and when?

With my background as a librarian, a traveler, and my father’s daughter, I did prepare for my trip to Hungary. I bought guidebooks, phrasebooks, and dictionaries. I read about Hungarian writers and poets. I listened to Hungarian language CDs as I walked the neighborhood, secure in the belief that if people heard me speaking Hungarian to myself, they wouldn’t be able to criticize my pronunciation. I bookmarked helpful sites, including that of EKF. I asked questions about our likely living situation, work expectations, and climate. I determined what clothes we would need, resulting in: 1) too many, 2) too warm, and 3) too formal.

I decided that a blog would be a good way to demonstrate and document learning, and came up with a framework and a tool to use (Blogger). I prepared as best I could, and went into the experience with the attitude that I would carefully observe, risk mistakes, deal with resulting anxiety, push through shyness, and take advantage of every opportunity offered. That pretty much describes what happened.

Observing was pretty much a given. On the surface, Eger was not a very strange environment. A very pretty small city, with streets, stores, cars, banks, theaters, college buildings, churches, bicycles, and people that seemed familiar. First observation—yes, navigation is easy, but understanding where you are is not. Obviously the difficulty of the language was foremost—it doesn’t help if you’ve studied French or Spanish or German—the words on the sign are not readable, and they are definitely not pronounceable. So there was a lot of good reason to watch and learn—at the store, at the bank, and especially at the train station! Observing also led to speculation—again, to WONDER what was going on, come up with a hypothesis, and then check it out later with colleagues at the office. More than once, that resulted in great hilarity when I missed my guess!

But risking mistakes, and dealing with the resulting anxiety, was also an important component in my learning. Those of us who have been successful in our jobs and social interactions take everyday competence for granted. Living in another culture strips that competence away in a hurry. Take for example the butter example from above—yes, I bought the nice block of pork fat, widely used in Hungarian cooking. I learned from my mistake—but didn’t end up spreading my mistake on toast in the morning! It’s constant work to make sense of an unfamiliar world, and the experience provided me an interesting, personal, and concrete example of developmental learning processes. I have more empathy for learners, whether they are strangers in (our) strange land, or students beginning graduate work in an unfamiliar discipline. Anxiety, mistakes, and fatigue are givens, as are discovery, comprehension, and satisfaction.

Making the most of all opportunities was most important in learning from this experience. Most people don’t think of me as a shy person; I’ve learned to push through that in everyday life when I have to do so. I had to sometimes do the same in Hungary, and ‘play the part’ of a confident visiting professor. I was helped by an excellent piece of advice offered to me by a VSU professor who had been on faculty exchange to other countries, “Accept every invitation.” Doing so brought me into many different situations, and put me into lots of great ‘learning environments’. I would add another piece of advice, “Go to everything, no invitations necessary.” It became a habit to look for posters (events are often not advertised until just before they happen), take digital photographs of the poster, and then go home to interpret what, where, when, and how much, using the dictionary. Sometimes this method worked, sometimes not, and sometimes led to interesting confusions (is this a Hungarian dance where you dance or is it a Hungarian dance where you watch dancing?).

It is interesting to think about changes in learning over the four months. As I understood more, and was more comfortable and competent in the daily or common tasks, I think my pace of learning slowed. I noticed that I wasn’t studying language as much, nor taking as many ‘sense-making’ photographs. I found that some tasks (like buying train tickets in Eger) had become quite easy, a marked difference. I never did get around to learning metric quantities, settling for the foolish-looking (but effective) practice of asking for two handfuls of beans at the market. I eventually managed to answer my phone (usually, but always reluctantly), make calls (usually), and replenish minutes at the T-Mobile store. I figured out (duh!) why my colleagues wanted to call me rather than email (their oral English proficiency, written English lack of practice, and general cell phone addiction), and why I wanted them to email me (my oral comprehension anxiety, email addiction, and general cell phone aversion).

I did continue to query my colleagues and asked advice and interpretation on everything from food to politics. I shared what I learned through the blog, including some reflection. I continued to have some frustrations, particularly around miscommunications, but embraced those “rabbit hole experiences”. I must admit I did sometimes look forward to the expectation that when I was “back home” I would be competent again, and not have to try so hard everyday to figure things out. That has happened (although I have had a time catching up at the office), but I find I miss the inevitable sense of WONDER that living in another culture brought to each day.

Reflection: Teaching


I was a visiting professor at Eszterházy Károly, and, as such, had duties that included a relatively small amount of formal teaching, mostly in the form of a weekly E-Teaching for E-Learning seminar. I also did a few formal teaching sessions for college age students on special technology related topics. Since I’ve been primarily an online teacher for the past few years, the opportunity (and challenge) of ‘getting in front of a class’ was welcome. I used all my instructional design skills in trying to ascertain what the needs of the audience were, in designing for individual differences, particularly in level of technology and (English) language comprehension skills. Anyone who had been in a class with me would, I think, have recognized my style—friendly, dynamic speech, well-planned and paced, with ample technology-based visual reinforcement, hands-on activities, and expectations for learner participation. Sounds good, huh?

Well, my faculty colleagues were very complimentary, even gave me a special kind of Hungarian ‘round of applause’ after the first seminar by knocking their knuckles on the tables. But I wasn’t too sure of the success, and struggled with that perception throughout my time there. But I did take notes, and keep track of observations about teaching and learning, and checked my observations with my colleagues.

Hungarian ‘students’ (even when they are teachers) are generally polite and deferential to the professor. With my status as a guest, ‘my students’ were especially polite. Language was, of course, one big problem. I tried to learn enough Hungarian for social exchanges, and for the seminar, tried to open each session with some attempts, even if just to break the ice as my colleagues alternated between discrete laugher, helpful correction, or bewilderment as to what I was trying to say. Everyone in the group spoke some English, and likely understood a bit more than they spoke. Two were very fluent, and they were most likely to speak up to explicate or to humor me by answering questions or posing examples.

Speaking of Q&A, it was exceptionally hard to maintain ‘wait time’ when asking questions—that’s never easy, but in the situation of not knowing whether you are understood, and not knowing if the audience has the confidence in their English speech to address the issue, it’s really hard.

One ‘constant’ in classrooms around the world is surely PowerPoint. My colleagues used that tool extensively in their lessons, and so did I. However, I found out eventually that my practice of limiting the words on slides, letting my oral lecture and visual symbolism carry the majority of the meaning, seemed odd to them. I found out that some of my highly educated audience thought I was using pictures instead of words because of the English language issue and could, I’m sure, have been a bit offended. When that perception came out, it provided a really good point of discussion, one of the discussions that involved nearly everyone in the seminar.

Each week I distributed my PowerPoint presentations with extensive notes pages that basically ‘said’ what I was going to say during the live presentation. This seemed to be appreciated by a couple of people especially, who said that reading the notes (sometimes with a dictionary) ahead of time made it easier to understand me in person. I was given high marks for how well I spoke English—good thing since I’ve been speaking it all my life! They found it interesting when I told them that I had grown up very near the ‘broadcast English’ center of the US, and that I’d studied broadcasting. I guess it helps to speak ‘CNN’.

One very familiar problem in the classroom WAS the classroom. Like in colleges in the US, this technology-oriented department (Institute for Media Informatics) may have gone overboard in ‘computerizing’ their classrooms. Each classroom I taught in had computers for each student, complete with CPUs that blocked knee space and monitors that blocked sight lines between teacher and students and among students. Group work, one of the tenets of my teaching, is almost impossible in such spaces. Again, that made for a good point of discussion in the seminar.

The content of the seminar, as well as other presentations that I did, was ‘what they wanted’ as explained by my assigned department mentor and friend. They wanted me to share my fairly extensive experience as an online teacher to gain insights as to how they could shape their online activities, courses, and programs to be more interactive—a very important, but foreign, instructional strategy for them.

I could (and did) show them what I do in my online classes; in fact, I was teaching a class in the US during this time and sometimes illustrated my seminar talks with real-time examples. But could I make what I do a relevant model for the instructional situation they found themselves in? That ended up being the unanswered question, but the basis of a constant learning experience for me.

Understanding another instructional context is difficult, and the challenges and constraints were numerous. I gradually found out through observation and questioning, trial and error, that they have barriers such as class size (too large), class length (variable), instructor training (little opportunity), design time (limited—in fact, the concept of instructional design was pretty foreign to them), and perhaps, a somewhat limited course management system (Moodle). No lack of familiarity with these problems in the US context. But there were also uniquely cultural barriers—for example, expectations that the majority of course grades come from end of course tests, and lack of perceived value of group activities by either professors or students. Grades result from individuals taking responsibility for memorizing the content of the course and may, or may not, be the result of actually attending class. So, sometimes the question to me was, “How do you make the students participate?” Yikes! Don’t let my students hear about this!

So, was my teaching a success? I think I set a good example, and gave opportunities for the faculty to participate in some online simulated activities that were new to them. But the majority of the value of my ‘teaching’, I think, came in the post-seminar sessions we dubbed ‘brainstorming’. Yes, they were often held at restaurants or cafes, always accompanied by wine, and sometimes, food. The topics ranged widely from online teaching and learning to explanations of all that is Hungarian, and all that is American. I think my greatest accomplishment as a visiting professor was in providing the stimulus for these busy, busy professionals to occasionally take time out, sit down with me and each other, and talk about the art and science of teaching and learning. Car trips, lunches, hallway and office conversations extended the brainstorming throughout the weeks. Anytime I could be helpful in specific ways such as peer observation, English language editing, or presenting at a conference (the only English language presentation!) with my peers, I did it. Again, nothing different than in the US—we learn from each other if we take the time to be together in social environments. That reminds me of my involvement in an important legacy to Valdosta State University…HUB.

Two comments stick with me when I think of my teaching in Hungary. One colleague complimented me by saying that he thought I had elevated the technical skill of online teaching to a work of art. An audience member at a professional conference started his questions about my presentation by saying, “It’s obvious that you are a very good teacher.” Both may be exaggerated praise, but let me tell you, when you teaching in a foreign country you take your confidence-building where you can get it!

Reflection: So How Was Hungary?

That’s what friends, colleagues, and family members have asked since we returned (almost a month ago now!). “It was great, a wonderful experience…having a hard time getting settled back in here. The people were great, the food was great, the wine was great…” All true, but insufficient to describe the four-month experience of living and working in Eger.

So, as a possible end to this blog ☹, I have decided to reflect upon the experience using the teaching, learning, culture, and fun framework I used when constructing it. I have a feeling that I’ll be adding or editing this entry for a while, at least I hope so. I’m hopeful that getting my thoughts in print will help me to remember the many lessons learned.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Culture: Farewell to Eger

Culture: Objects as Reminders

Of all the farewell events, the hardest involved leaving my departmental "family." A wonderful dinner at a colleague's house overlooking the Bükk Mountains was the formal goodbye event-- visits to the office, lunches, and exchanges of appreciation and gifts went on all the last week.

Most of what I gained in Eger can't be held--but I did come back to Valdosta with some wonderful tangible reminders of the people and places in Hungary. The engraved Parádsasvár crystal piece was not that easy to pack, and I worried about it breaking all the way home--but it arrived safely and is in a place on honor in our living room. The Hollókö ceramic pitcher, Transylvanian palinka cups (thanks, Lehel), and the Zsolnay porcelain tea set (thanks, Zoltan) survived as well. The bronze rose (thanks, Gabi), and Hungarian music (thanks, Laszlo and Bert) are a part of our lives now. Sorry to say, the Tokaji wine (thanks, Csaba) is not still with us, but it sure tasted good with the goose liver pate. And, of course, our Eszterházy Károly gifts will be worn and used as fond reminders.

Fun: Swimming Pools and Pools and Pools

When our friends Dennis and Luana came to Eger, they had a plan--they would concentrate on spa and wine culture while revisiting the campus and town they'd enjoyed as the first VSU - EKF faculty exchange in 1995. We certainly weren't going to get in the way of that excellent plan.

They stayed a few days at the Hotel Flora, adjacent to the Eger Thermal Baths. I'd been there a few times during the cold months, enjoying the relaxing and therapeutic qualities of the hot steamy mineral baths. But I hadn't been to the baths complex since 'summer' had begun, although I observed the large numbers of children and adults swimming in the multiple pools as I walked by each day. Little did I realize what a huge and interesting complex it was!

The Strand is a large grassy park with all kinds of pools and fountains, ranging from hot thermal baths to an Olympic size pool with lanes to pools with slides, mushroom showers, and river currents. There's something for everyone. For one small admission fee, you go in and can soak in a mineral pool, eat at a cafe or restaurant, swim for exercise, meet friends, go to the wellness center, look at flowers and lily ponds, and spend the day with the family, making everybody happy. Here's a slide show that gives you a taste of this great park, right in the middle of Eger.

Eger Thermal Baths in Summer

Teaching: AV Past and Present

It was always fun to see the "AV Memorial" on the way up to the department offices--glass cases full of cameras, projectors, sound equipment, and who knows what from the dawn of AV (audiovisual). At this point there were only a few more steps to go to the office, a chance to take a breather. The last 'wide spot' in the tower, however, so it was wise to tune your ears both up and down to hear whether hundreds of school children on field trips were approaching!

Culture: Contrasting Wine Cellars

When I think of a wine cellar in the U.S., I think of a space under or in the house/business of a wine connoisseur, that is temperature controlled, where bottles of wine are stored. Now that I've been to Hungary, I have several other kinds of cellars to add to my experience.

As described in an earlier blog, the Rector and Vice Rector of Eszterházy Károly have cellars in the area of Eger known as the Valley of Beautiful Women. This area is commercial, with lots of foot (car, bus, and little train) traffic as people go there for wine tastings, tours, or just to buy their weekly supplies of good, inexpensive (or fine!) wine. Their cellars (actually three) look like doorways into the side of the hill. Since Hauser and Kis-Tóth make and sell Magister wines, their cellars serve the functions of 1) wine shop, 2) entertainment area, and 3) working wine-making and storage areas.

The limestone caves are carved out of the hillsides (and under the Basilica) all around the Eger area, and provide perfect conditions for both wine-making and storage. But they are also great places for entertaining (provided you wear a sweater!). Hungarians use these cellars for dinners, parties, weddings, and other special occasions--like the great party we got to attend!

Dr. Lehel Vadon, head of the Department of American Studies, hosted a party at his cellar, in another part of the "wine valley". The cellars are carved into the earth, but the front almost looks like a veranda, with stone facing on the hillside.

Lehel's cellar is meant for entertaining, rather than wine-making, and it is a beautiful place. It's a u-shaped cave that has a kitchen, a rough storage area, a lovely tasting room with the table carved from the limestone floor, and a long formal dining area with a vaulted ceiling, electric candelabrum, and recessed and lighted niches to display Dr. Vadon's wonderful ceramics collection.

If you'd like to read a blog posting about another person's visit to Eger's wine cellars, click here. Her opening description of the bus trip to Eger is a little over the top (we didn't find the buses THAT bad at all!), but her story of the hospitality at her wine cellar destination definitely seemed accurate to me.

Culture: Habilitation Achievements

An academic accomplishment at a higher level than the research doctorate, or Ph.D., is not generally a part of the U.S. system. One such designation pursued by a few highly accomplished scholars in Hungary (and some other European countries) is called habilitation.

Dr. habil. Komenczi Bertalan has held the designation for some years, and explained the process to us. Two colleagues in the Institute for Media Informatics, Vice Rector Dr. Lajos Kis Tóth (toasting, left) and Dr. Sandor Forgó (far right, above) each prepared for and successfully achieved this status during the Spring term. Congratulations to both!

Jack and I had the privilege of attending the habilitation lecture by Dr. Kis-Tóth in Budapest. At least thirty people from the Institute either got up early and went by caravan from Eger, or met us there at the University of Budapest Pedagogical Institute. You could really see what an important occasion it was, and it was impressive how many colleagues came out for the event. We listened to an introduction outlining Dr. Kis-Tóth's accomplishments, then heard his lecture (in Hungarian), and a summary (in English). The panel of experts asked all of the audience to step out, and then in a few minutes, back in, for the announcement of the new habil. status of the Vice Rector. Champagne, wine, and pogacsas came next, of course!

Sandor Forgó's habilitation lecture was scheduled for the day before we left Hungary, also in Budapest. We weren't able to attend, but found out that he, too, did well and was successful. It was very interesting to be a part of these important academic events.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Learning: Through the Eyes of Visitors

It's hard to decide how to classify this blog--through our various visitors while we were in Hungary, I learned, I taught, I experienced and conveyed culture, and I definitely had fun. Let me just use this blog to thank Susan, Catherine, Dennis, Luana, Robert and Elsie for coming to Hungary. It makes such a big difference to have others here in the U.S. (and in Scotland) who can share with us..."remember when we were in Eger...?"

Learning: Lifelong Learning through Libraries

While it was a great opportunity for me to get to present at the NETWORKSHOP 2009 conference in Szeged in April, I must admit I was relieved when told there wasn't enough time for me to do a presentation (on blogging!) at the ENTITLE: Lifelong Learning Conference in early May in Eger. I wouldn't have been the only English-language presenter at this conference, and they did have the equipment for simultaneous translation. But what do I know of lifelong learning services in European libraries? Actually, as it turns out, quite a lot. At least the topics discussed seemed familiar.

I have a doctoral student at Valdosta State University who is working on quality of life and lifelong learning, and found that some of the same research she had cited was also relevant in the European context. Libraries seemed to be poised to be centers for lifelong learning activities, both in place and virtual.

The format of the conference was familiar-- keynote session, concurrent sessions, and displays and vendors. As often the case at Eszterházy Károly, the venue for the meeting was beautiful--the original chapel with an impressive ceiling covered with murals in the Lyceum.

The conference audience seemed familiar--mostly female, professionally dressed, mostly from Hungary, but from other countries as well. The speakers were, unfortunately, also predictable--mostly male administrators. Some things about library conferences are definitely cross-cultural.

And, as usual in Eger, the refreshments and hospitality were GREAT! Interesting and informative conference. I'll have to tell my doctoral student all about it!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Culture: Szépasszonyvölgy Picnic

Earlier in this blog I went on a lot about the arrival of Spring--the arrival of May was momentous, too, because it was finally (supposed to be) warm enough for a picnic at the Rector and Vice Rector's wine cellar. We were invited to come to the Valley of Beautiful Women (or reasonably pretty women, as one of my colleagues translates it) around 2PM for the start of cooking process that was almost as good to observe as the result was to eat.

Outdoor cooking culture, and wine making and tasting cultures were also on full view during this wonderful day sponsored by our host and chef, Rector Hauser. English speaking predominated with visitors Dennis Bogyo and Luana Goodwin from Georgia, Paul Swann and Lisa Manheim from Pennsylvania, and folks from International Programs, the administrative offices, and the Institute for Media Informatics.

But oral explanations in any language would not have substituted for watching the many steps of cooking (including a stirring technique that required very strong arms!). The fire was welcome, too, because the warm picnic weather didn't exactly materialize. We warmed up by palinka and wine, feasted on Hungarian bacon and pork chops (no American equivalent!) and bread, and got out of the wind in the (also cool) adjacent cellars. The Hauser guided tour of the wine cellars, through showroom, entertainment area, and barrel and bottle storage showed us just why Magister wine tastes so good. Dr. Hauser also showed us the spiritual side of wine-making by inviting us to be generous to all loved ones who were no longer alive--any extra sips should be tossed on the cellar walls to go back to the earth.

Share this day in May with us by watching the embedded slideshow at the end of this blog entry, or, for a larger view with captions, click here. And, for a culinary lesson in gulyás, watch Dr. Hauser in the "stirring video" below!

Guylás and Wine Picnic

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fun: Too Busy to Blog

The past two weeks have been very busy here, with visitors, farewell events, report-writing, visitors, farewell events, article editing, and more farewell events. This entry will be a placeholder, illustrated with only a funny photo I took in Vienna. This photo should remind me to smile for the wonderful time I've had here, and to labor to keep a 'stiff upper lip' when saying Viszonlátásra to the city and people I've grown to care so much about.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fun: Ascent to my Office

It's been fun to lead visitors to "my" temporary office (thank you, Lajos), up in the tower of the Lyceum. I'm sure the 192 steps have contributed to my fitness this semester, making it possible to eat all the good food and drink all the good wine.

Arrival at the gate signaled the last part of the journey up into the tower, and if the gate was locked (from either side, each night) a call to security was necessary.

The floor plan to the right shows the tower--my office is on the bottom area shown, so the number of steps to the top is really high!

So, here is the tour for those of you who were not able to make it to see me in Hungary this Spring! Youtube Virtual Tour!

Fun: Aggteleki Nemzeti Park

Planning a wedding? A party? A concert? Any special occasion that requires a large and naturally beautiful setting, with seating for hundreds, marvelous acoustics, and special mood lighting will find a home in the Baradla Cave. Stalagmites and stalactites in rich colors of red, orange, pink, and brown are reflected in pools of still water. The quiet is only interrupted by occasional drops falling from the dripstones, and a distant sound of running water far below. Be sure to dress appropriately for the cave is cool all year round, and waterproof partywear would be recommended. Plan your special day in a special place today!

Our visit to Aggtelek National Park, including an hour guided walk through Baradla Cave was great. They really do have weddings and concerts there, and our tour included a sample of the acoustics of the part of the cave they call the Concert Hall, when "Chariots of Fire" rolled in (could have been worse--they could have played the theme from "Rocky"). The park is very large, and includes the largest dripstone cave system in Europe. We only saw a small part of the cave, and a small part of the aboveground park, which extends into Slovakia. There's much more to see, so be sure to invite us to your special occasion!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Learning: Now you see it, but maybe you don't

Our experiences in Hungary have included equal amounts of serendipity and regret. We've bumped into auto rallies, and missed folk dances. We've thought we deciphered festival schedules and venues, and been wrong, and we've found ourselves in the middle of activities we didn't even know were scheduled. We've done the best we could by gathering as many resources as possible, asking for local help, and just being open to whatever happens. Sometimes I've taken photos of posters for later translation through the dictionary, web translation, or, best of course, translation by friends.

At the beginning of our "Auto Outing" we stopped in Gyöngyöspata on the recommendation of a friend. He hoped, but didn't consider it likely, that the Gothic church would be open so we could see the inside. Another church, says the jaded European traveler (not me). Well, we were definitely lucky that the church was open for cleaning. We walked to see the unique altar shaped like a tree with branches holding a representation of the family tree of Jesus. The photo doesn't do it justice. More information about the church can be found by clicking the link above.

A later part of our "Auto Outing" included Szécsény, a town not far from Hollókö. We wandered that way because we'd heard there was a 600 and somethingth town anniversary celebration. It was a Saturday, and we found a parking space not far from the Center (we thought). There was something in the air....utter silence. Not exactly the festival atmosphere we thought we might find. So we looked around...

If only we'd read the guidebook ahead of time...

Szécsény is worth visiting for the beautifully preserved and renovated Forgách Palace (saw that but didn't go in) in the area of the former castle (didn't know that) that forms the historical town centre (thought so). The building, constructed in rural Baroque style (learned something), houses a museum (saw the sign) and its park is a nature reserve area (thought there was green space back there). You do not necessarily have to go to Pisa to see a leaning tower (at a distance, didn't notice the angle). The Fire Tower, the symbol of the town (whoops), is spectacularly leaning due to a sliding clay-bed. And do not forget (we forgot) the remnants of the former castle or the Franciscan church (I think we saw) while in town.

For all that we missed in Szécsény that day, we did find a festival eventually in the park behind the museum. Drawn by the sound of the loudspeaker, and having no idea what was being announced, we made our way down the hill to find that we'd missed (of course) the archery competitions by people dressed in mail and peaked hats, but could watch the horse jumping contests.

We also saw the sure winner of a competition not held that day: Hungary's best set of dog ears! And the matching sweater is very nice, too!