Formal and Non-formal Activities
Approximately 60 % of the time was dedicated to each participant’s personal
research, and the remainder of the time was dedicated to organized activities slotted
into participants’ schedules:
- • Group meetings with program head—there was a weekly meeting between participants and the program head. These included learning and updates about future programs, reports on different activities and research progress, providing instruction and guidelines with regard to the program and upcoming special activities, and more.
- • Study meetings—once a week there was a two-hourly meeting with one of the College of Education faculty members. Here, we were given reviews and explanations of the curriculum, the history of the American education system and different educational frameworks available to American citizens. These meetings included discussing fundamental problems currently on the American education agenda and being shown the perceptions and vision of the College as expressed by its teacher education programs.
- • Participating in lessons as active students—Every participant attended two courses of choice from the second degree (Masters) graduate program, which enabled them to learn how the university operated, to witness the relationships between students and lecturers and more.
- • Observations in schools—each participant was placed in one of the schools in the city, and visited it once a week for the purpose of observation and becoming familiar with pupils, teachers, study programs and the way school operates.
- • Personal meetings with program head—from time, at the request of either, individual meetings took place between a participant and the program head. Participants would report on their research progress, were able to present their successes and achievements as well as difficulties and obstacles and request assistance and guidance.
- • Study tours—A number of study tours took place during the program, whose purpose was to broaden our knowledge of characteristics and activities of the American education system. The tours included state and private school, University of Memphis, a resource centre established by parents of home schooled children, a municipal education committee meetings, museums and so forth.
- • Leisure activities and entertainment—throughout the program a number of leisure activities were organized whose purpose was to get to know more about the United States and its culture as well as consolidating friendships among participants. There were outings to a variety of attractions such as: a nature reserve near Nashville, CNN Center and World of Coca Cola in Atlanta, Elvis Presley’s residence in Memphis, a visit tour in Washington DC and so on. There were also a number of social events including group meals, some at restaurants and some at private homes of faculty members.
Every participant was given a university domain email address, through which they received ongoing information and updates about activities taking place on campus from all different sources. Messages included updates about conferences, seminars, celebrations, sporting activities, fairs, competitions, workshops, shows, films, festivals, guest lectures, etc. We were invited to take part in these activities and encouraged active participation with students.
The fascinating variety and high frequency of events were very interesting, and program participants often joined in. The university email address also helped participants with their research and enabled them to correspond with interested and significant role holders at the university.
This unique experience allowed me, as a researcher experienced in teacher education, to study intensively, go through an enriching experience, accumulate widespread knowledge, reach professional insights and important conclusions and extract professional implications. It was possible to see how important it is to find meeting channels that enable teacher educators to cooperate internationally and as researchers who benefit from knowing of and contributing to different models of teacher education and a variety of teacher education institutions.
I had many concerns as a researcher as I began this study despite the fact that everything had been organized by program leaders and the fact that help and guidance were available. The challenges and question marks raised many considerations such as: would I be able to recruit research population and would I receive help from program leaders or other university role holders for this? How would the faculty members relate to me, as a researcher? As a teacher educator colleague? As a visitor? As a stranger? Would I recognize all the professional terms and concepts customarily used by them? Would the time table allow me to use all planned research tools to gather data? Would I succeed in maintaining research ethics, and whether when I examined and interviewed I would preserve the dignity of interviewees?
Together with these concerns, I also had expectations that during my stay at the university I would be able to establish collaborations and work links with the faculty members for the purpose of conducting future studies and writing academic publications. I expected to have the opportunity to get to know and study the teacher education model in place at the host university in order to draw ideas and ways in the area I have been researching for years. As a higher education member I expected to get to know American university life, to learn about campus life, to get to know various departments and programs, as well as how the institution was managed.
The work done in the framework of this program fulfilled the requirements for professional teacher educators to continue learning, be up to date with innovations and what is happening in the world, developing knowledge of the world and profession and contribute to colleagues through one’s own experiences and expertise. All this is done through learning about familiar and local values, beliefs, opinions and cultures that are not local.
One of the most impressive things for me was residing on an American university campus, which was the realization of a long held dream. I wanted to stay at an academic institution at which I would be able to enjoy learning about other worlds of higher education and carry out research. Everything seemed so familiar at the outset, and everything was so different. Students rushing from building to building during breaks, crowded cafeteria, notice boards, the library - all these reminded me of the college where I work. However, from the earliest days I noticed how different everything was. The plant colours, leaves on the sidewalks, weather colours and the look of the physical environment. The most striking difference between the host university and the college where I work were the buildings that housed faculties and classes. The buildings were built in an ancient style, with columns and porticos, each one with a carpeted entrance hall, heavy wooden chests, huge chandeliers, pictures in thick gilded frames and heavy leather sofas for use by visitors to the building. Other differences were found in the structure of classrooms and offices, students’ conduct on campus, the variety of shops operating on campus, cafeteria for use by all, and more. Everything was different and time was needed to learn where everything was on a huge campus.
Our introductory tour on campus included a tour of the College of Education’s library. In many respects, this was a fascinating surprise for me, not least in comparison to what I was familiar with. Firstly, the library was open for long hours, from six in the morning till three at night. These opening hours turned the library into a central point on campus for both students and lecturers. Along the walls of its central hall are shelves of journals, but no books. Books can be found in other rooms and the hall is filled with computer terminals. Every computer terminal has headphones for audio visual use or to listen to spoken texts and articles. Word processing tools in a number of languages (Chinese, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, and even Hebrew), many online resource and more can be found on every computer. The library has lots of different sized rooms intended for meetings, gatherings and quiet work. Workshops are held at the library for faculty members and students in software and how to use it for studying or research. Library users are allowed to eat so take-away restaurant menus are scattered throughout. There are a large number of staff who provide loyal service to users and contribute to the library being a central and useful campus entity. The library stated policy calls on students and lecturers to stay at the library as much as possible and to feel comfortable while working there. They can work, read, have meetings, rest on couches, surf the internet and read daily newspapers.
Throughout my stay, I asked myself, how can I pass on everything that I experienced and learned to all my teacher educators colleagues? How can I contribute from everything I learned, everything I took part in, the research I carried out and the experiences I went through from different perspectives—presented as the voices arising from the different roles I fulfilled.