Karin Pekarchik 2018-02-16 23:46:24
What we learned from teaching in another country Teaching in Germany for three weeks sounds a bit like a dream, and by and large, it was even better than anticipated. The students who participated in the University of Kentucky (UK) education abroad (EA) program grew as individuals and increased their knowledge of Germany and the global community through participation in carefully chosen events and activities. ASABE member Joe Dvorak, P.E., the lead instructor, and I had a memorable time and learned just as much as our students, albeit slightly different things. However, after returning home, Joe and I had time to consider some changes that we need to make for the next iteration of our Digital Germany program. If you are planning or interested in developing an education abroad course, our insights may help you prepare. Start planning early We began planning more than two years before we left for Berlin, Tübingen, and Munich with our 15 students. They were enrolled in Joe’s required three-credit course, BAE 305 DC Circuits and Microelectronics, my UK Core course, UKC 390 German STEM, Culture, Agriculture, and History, and a onecredit EA course. Thanks to generous support from UK Education Abroad travel grants, Joe and I both traveled to Germany for advance planning, which was immensely helpful. Overall, Digital Germany was a success, and the changes we’ll make will be minor. We’ve already started planning for 2019, the next time we’ll offer the program. The seven-credit total for the program was economical for the students, which was a definite consideration in the planning process. However, cost will be less of a consideration the next time. It’s important to have an affordable program, but focusing too much on cost caused us to schedule several long drives back-to-back, making for long and exhausting days. Next time, we’ll space out the day trips, even if it costs more. BAE 305 was taught in a traditional manner—daily, condensed lessons in conference rooms in the hostels where we stayed. UKC 390 was the experiential part of Digital Germany, and the wide variety of experiences—from visiting a biogas facility, hiking up a mountain to tour Hohenzollern Castle, walking through the sobering sights of the Dachau Holocaust Memorial, and admiring the graffiti that covers what remains of the Berlin Wall, to spending hours learning about the engineering marvels in the Mercedes-Benz Museum—increased the cultural competence of our students, exposing them to a different history, political viewpoint, and economic reality. As instructors, we experienced these rich cultural experiences through our students’ eyes. Answering their questions and explaining the different social, engineering, business, and political norms found in Germany increased my own understanding. Take cues from students Afternoons, evenings, and weekends were packed with activities, some requiring additional travel by car, bus, subway, train, and especially on foot. Our pace was intense, and by the program’s end, we were all exhausted. Some of the students asked if they could skip the final weekend’s planned activities so they could just sit by the river and relax! Despite our best intentions to provide balance, we had to pack each day because of our limited time, constrained by the end of the semester and the start of summer internships. Next time, we don’t want to maintain such a hectic pace, but we haven’t come up with a solution yet. We’ve discussed taking a longer trip so the pace can be less intense, or teaching some of the material here at UK before we depart. Neither of those solutions is ideal, so we haven’t come to a firm decision on how we’ll teach the Digital Germany program in 2019. Is walking a lost art? In the required pre-departure workshops, we stressed that there would be a lot of walking, and that some of the walking would involve carrying luggage. Despite our warnings, the students were surprised by how much walking we did. It was challenging. We averaged between 7 and 15 miles of walking per day, with a lot of climbing, but at least we had warned them. WiFi Our students’ needs often exceeded the available WiFi capacity, and we had to scramble to accommodate them. This was the hardest issue to manage because not only did our students’ expectations go unmet, we also needed WiFi to teach. Even UKC 390 required that students have access to the internet to read assignments, write journal entries, and create their final presentations. We had checked the WiFi at the hostels in advance, but we failed to anticipate the needs that we would have as a group, and how frustrating it would be, for everyone, when those needs went unmet. Food Food in Germany is wonderfully fresh and often local, and even with our focus on keeping the program’s budget in check, we had many opportunities to eat out. Next time, we may include fewer meals at the hostel, since the institutional food there was a minor source of disappointment at times. Our students were in Germany during the spring, which is prime time for spargel, the thick white asparagus that typifies the season. Takeaways Germany is a great fit for an ongoing EA program in our department. The engineering, agricultural, and cultural experiences translated into great student learning outcomes, which were boosted by six pre-departure workshops and labs. We have put in place a strong framework to increase the cultural competence of our student body, which is exciting. And Digital Germany Cohort 1 will always remain special— their enthusiasm, openness, and generosity of spirit made the trip exceptional. They got us off to a great start. Karin Pekarchik, Senior Extension Associate for Distance Learning, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA, email@example.com. A Student Reflects Jordyn Tucker Twelve hours after my last final, I boarded a plane to Germany, where I would spend the next 24 days traveling the country, seeing amazing new cities, and learning how to manage myself in a country where the only word I knew was schmetterling, which means butterfly. It was by far the least prepared I’d ever been for a big trip, and by far the most rewarding experience of my college career. While I had traveled abroad before, this trip was different. Everyone was an engineering student looking for an academic adventure, which really changed the tone of the group. We all were open to new foods, new ideas, and preferred to wander and discover rather than sleep in. I wore a Fitbit the entire time, and we averaged 20K steps a day, just about ten miles of walking. It was an incredibly active trip, with every day bringing new discoveries and experiences. “Digital Germany” was only digital in the sense that our schoolwork was completed online. The rest of the time, we were completely present in beautiful Deutschland, which is not quite so foreign any more.
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