Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sweden, Day 5: Söderhamn & parts unknown

It's been another interesting day in Söderhamn. We started off in a session with Pär, who uses a SMARTboard to deliver some of his history lectures. If you are not familiar with the SMARTboard, it's an electronic device that looks like a typical whiteboard except that it's connected directly to the computer. So it displays whatever you have running on your computer but can also be used with its own software for a number of interesting applications. For example, if you write on the SMARTboard using the special markers that come with it, the special software can recognize your handwriting & turn it into standard digitized text. You can use your hand to tap on the whiteboard just as you would use a mouse to click & drag items around the computer screen. In this way, the SMARTboard is a highly-interactive vertical surface that marries the best of both worlds -- the computer & the whiteboard -- to let the teacher interact in a very natural way with the students.

To show off the best features of the SMARTboard, Pär showed us one of his prepared presentations (a lecture about 'Imperialism'). As he explained, "first you start off with your stories": your notes or your storyboard or the main points that you are hoping to get across. Then you prepare a PowerPoint-like sequence of slides that link to websites, notes & other documents that support your story. Pär supplemented with Google Earth so that he could use those maps to illustrate the story about the colonization of Africa. The SMARTboard let him stay at the front of the class rather than popping up & down: now to navigate the computer, now to make notes or draw diagrams on the board.

I am pondering whether the SMARTboard would be useful for us back home. It would cost more than $1000 so it is beyond the 'sweet spot' for easy purchasing at the college. The great multimedia lectures can be recorded but the file size is apparently exorbitant. It looks like it could be very good for distance delivery of math or for simultaneous delivery of both f2f & online class groups. But can it do that much more than a good graphics tablet & a motivated instructor? It's something to think about.

After that, we met with a small group of students who are studying at a distance from the Policy Academy just outside of Stockholm. This distance program was set up originally to address the problem of so few police graduates choosing to serve in small rural communities. The educational delivery setup is very similar to that of the Social Work students I described earlier: the students attend f2f sessions every once in a while but mostly work through their coursework using what appears to be a Moodle-like portal interface. They also practice practical skills with the local police department. Apparently the results show that these distance students score better on the practical skills evaluations than do the academy-only students in Stockholm: it's hypothesized that they get more realistic practice working with the department. Makes sense.

Our afternoon session was cancelled so I took a long walk instead. You wouldn't think it's possible to get lost in a place so small as Söderhamn but I managed. I finally had to stop & ask for directions back to CFL.

In the evening we took a wonderful boat trip down the Söderhamn inlet (or whatever it's called) & enjoyed a shrimp dinner on board. It was cold out on deck but cosy in the hull restaurant, & it was delightful to view the islands & Swedish summer cottages while munching on rye bread & brie cheese & washing it down with Hälsingland local beer. That's a long sentence, isn't it? Life is good.

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