Monday, May 19, 2008

Sweden, Day 3: Söderhamn & Växhuset

It amazes me that it can be so light, so late. Driving home tonight from Växhuset I felt so tired, unreasonably tired (I thought) given the earliness of the hour. After all, it was still light enough outside to read a newspaper easily. But when I looked at the clock, it was almost 10 o'clock. I keep forgetting that we are above the 60th parallel, further north than the BC-Yukon border. So I will write quickly & go to bed.

Today was a full day at the Centrum för Flexibilt Lärande (which translates unsurprisingly as Centre for Flexible Learning - CFL). Pauline & I got a very thorough tour of the facility, then a demonstration from an instructor who uses a complicated but very efficient & effective process to digitize his math lectures. Lunch was in the centre cafeteria, then I got to interview 2 middle-aged students who are completing a degree in social work by distance education.

The net effect is that I am feeling a bit in awe of the whole thing. If there is a better facility in the world for meeting the adult education needs of a rural community, I cannot imagine it. The building is large, bright, welcoming, clean. Original art graces every corridor. The interest & support for educational technology is impressive. There are all kinds of learning spaces, from a large lecture theatre designed for videoconferencing, to regular classrooms, to many comfortable corners with tables & chairs designed to support informal learning in groups. Every possible type of adult learning is supported.

The 2 students I interviewed were especially interesting. With only 3 weeks to go, they are at the very end of a 3.5 year social work degree program. The program is delivered from a mid-Sweden university & utilizes an online portal to deliver student services, WebCT for course content delivery & discussion forums, twice-monthly visits from a social worker mentor, & optional videoconferenced lectures. It seems that ~90% of their cohort will be graduating -- a success rate that I wanted to understand. According to the 2 women, the most important contributor to student persistence is the support provided by informal small study groups at learning centre sites such as CFL.

After supper, we went to a very interesting ecological project called Växhuset. The project is located 20? km out of town, "in the middle of nowhere" according to our Swedish hosts (although a Canadian would not describe it that way!) The owner, a man named Ralf, paraphrased something that Einstein had said: that the problems for the earth were not a result of not enough knowledge, but of not enough fantasy. He has applied his fantasy (& quite a bit of knowledge too!) to constructing a number of buildings which incorporate as many ecological, green, and alternative energy strategies as can be imagined. There are composting toilets & thermal mass walls of many kinds & pipes distributing water warmed on the roof & a house-in-the-making with walls of sand-filled car tires. There are windmills & 12-volt electrical systems & a satellite-dish solar oven & a garden "tractored" by chickens & many more applications than I can think of in my sorry jet-lagged state.

Perhaps this is the Swedish way? When faced with a problem (adult education, energy conservation), try everything! Forget about stopping with the first marginally acceptable solution that presents itself. And be positive.

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