The day started with a brief breakfast and brisk communicate to DIS to meet my guide who would lead me to my first session of the day “European storytelling, from Homer to Harry Potter”.  I arrived to a  prepared group of 21 students from schools all over the USA and Canada and took my seat at the back of the room. One of my objectives was to observe and learn the teaching practices of DIS faculty. I settled in to learn from a teaching professor.

Session One Storytelling – “Great teaching in action”

The teacher walked into the class on time as if arriving for a performance. On cue they picked up where they left off the previous class by reviewing objectives, detailing on the white board two versions of the epic Norse story the Volsungsaga and the Nibelvnggenlied. They queried the class and together with students contrasted the texts. The mood in the class was focused and light. The language of the first twenty minutes was colorful as befitting the texts. A little break was given for 2-3 minutes and the session started again. The teacher was prepared with exercises, video and plenty of content. Students were off their phones and in their studies. During the break the students were at ease with themselves having enjoyable moments with the tutor and several discussed the texts from different perspectives without prompting to do so.

The second section of the class used a scene from the Hobbit movie “Desolation of Smaug” based on a scene from the Volsungsaga. Its use connected the past with the present. The teacher had the students share the reading between themselves with a specific discussive emphasis on the agency of women (contemporary point of view). Both texts were read to compare their treatment of the same scene. The teacher was supportive when tricky words were spoken, they knew students names. Students were split into discussion groups for 10 minutes to compare texts and the treatment of female agency. 13 students spoke in class in addition to the assigned outloud reading. The balance of voice in class was about 50/50 between the teacher and students. The teacher moved between discussion groups, listening and noting student points. Occasionally they challenged, corrected and redirected students to focus on more central content matters.

They led a debrief by eliciting comments specific to female agency. Students demonstrated their understanding and offering their own analysis in dialog with the teacher. Throughout the session the teacher checked the time, used wait time and emphasized the quality of analysis over perfect answers to questions. To go deeper and further with analysis was most important. Talking about female agency, power, status, strength for the female students against today’s discussions in the USA I imagined it is quite contemporary in the minds of students. The teacher summarized the work to date and gave a view of women’s roles told through stories. A fantastic closing for those interested in these kinds of matters. I witnessed a teaching masterclass.

DIS Stockholm

After a short lunch I attended the DIS Stockholm update. The presentation gave us an insight into the reasons for the growth of DIS in Swedenand the foundational concepts to how studying abroad will be approached. Courses in medical practice, psychology, public health, gender and sexual realtions. The objective choice for students to study in Scandinavia is the academic framework. There is a partnership with the Karolinska, and the College of Music. The model includes a core course, integrated course with elective course choices too. The second half of the program was an outline of our day trip to see the DIS Stockholm model. This was a punchy and upbeat presentation. I’m ready for our visit to Stockholm on Thursday.

Science Students Studying Abroad

A panel of DIS faculty and program directors presented the DIS public health, medical, health science and related disciplines including kinesiology and nutrition. An open discussion between attendees from New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana and California concerning the program qualities and challenges faced. There is a sport medicine, exercise physiology program in existence and 2018 will see a nutrition program option come into play. Most concerns were about course appropriateness, content and credit transferability. It was interesting to hear several US institutions adapted their financial processes to promote study abroad opportunities. DIS offers a positive undergraduate research experience with paper and poster presentation as the capstone experience. It was an interesting 75 minute session learning about the front and back end of course and credit matters concerning students and their institution.

Student Meet Up

A UIC student studying with DIS and I met up today and chatted for an hour about their experiences. Our student chose DIS because the academic opportunities provided matched well with their career goals for medical school. Despite being a self stated introvert it was clear this was the kind of student we hope all UIC students might be. They were academically focused and in spite of any worry or anxiety they had, they accepted living with a Danish family, studied with a range of students, traveled alone in Europe and got on making the most of their experience with or without other people. They demonstrated a great deal of personal responsibility and accountability, always mindful academics came first. Because of their particular interests they had top notch professionals teaching the course in the DIS “teach what you do” model in areas of neuroscience, Nordic culinary culture, (their teacher worked at the world famous Noma restaurant!), health economics, psychopharmarcology, masculinities in Scandinavia and environmental impact of humans . They studied in western and southern Denmark and in Munich as part of their program. They told me something like future students should “just do study abroad” and “not over think” their time in Denmark.

Hygge (Danish for ‘community’)

My day finished with a hygge with hosts from DIS and attendees. Hygge is a strong Danish custom of community where the energy of everyone in the group is focused on fellowship, humor, talking, enjoying candle light and sharing a meal. The conversation was easy and although we arrived as strangers we left as friends. Colleagues from the the east coast, west coast and the midwest followed our hosts lead and enjoyed traditional Danish fayre of good wine, fish and chocolate desert. In this way we learned a lot about each others institutions, the highs and lows and everything in between. Talk time was shared easily and our hosts were gracious in all ways ensuring the hygge was warm.

A splendid finish to another great day of learning.

Things I learned today.

1. A prepared DIS faculty member can elicit reading, writing, discussion, content engagement, group work, student engagement focused on learning objectives in 75 minutes. Why can’t any faculty member do this at any institution anywhere where the possibilities are similar to DIS? This is. good model for faculty teaching abroad or not.

2. Student engagement means creating the conditions for content, critical thinking and communication to be integrated to achieve learning objectives. (I think this is the DIS model).

3. There are two objectives in study abroad education 1) establishing and holding high academic standards and 2) assure a positive student experience.

4. Learn from everyone around you. I met colleagues from many faculty levels and advising experience. Each had something to teach me I realized in the process and good academic leader should be a good learner. The different position a colleague has allows you to see the world in their shoes.  Allow yourself to be influenced by the people around you and listen hard for the things said as well as not spoken out loud. With so much information exchanged here and consistent interactions all day with colleagues and students you do not know you have to surrender yourself and allow yourself o feel your way through.

5. Titles mean little. If you are poor teacher, administrator or researcher someone else knows it and most likely someone is experiencing the outcomes of your poor performance. Be yourself and keep improving. A colleague told me during our hygge her experience with these types of event,s the people who attend are not complacent, they are the folks who desire competence. I interpreted this to mean put yourself in situations to grow and not be poorly recognized for the way you operate in higher education.

6. Education should be matched with the critical questions of the day and big challenges concerning the future. I have seen so many contemporary courses attached to questions of high importance since we started two days ago. It made me wonder about how stagnant and staid education can be when courses are taught without contextual relevance in mind. Here at DIS a classroom is a place where one part of learning takes place but the integration of the world with the classroom is the intersection where the magic in learning can happen. How sad it is that so many courses I have taken and taught have lived in a classroom and not with the world. Food for thought.