Final Faculty Exchange – Dr. Afshan Huma [AIOU]

The third and final Faculty Exchange  took place  over a three week span that started in October and ended in November. As the  Pakistan Distance Education Enhancement Program [PDEEP]  rapidly approaches its’ three year  deadline, the faculty exchange was a wonderful way to end our term. Below  Dr. Afshan Huma from Allama Iqbal Open University [AIOU] describes here experience in participating in the final faculty exchange and beautifully articulates her overall experience with PDEEP.

It was Oct 30th 2015 when we reached at San Jose. I already had a feeling that the upcoming three weeks would be another worthwhile learning experience for me, and indeed it was! I came with an  idea that this is going to be a three weeks’ workshop about online teaching, tutoring, course development and instructional design. But the schedule that our coordinator shared with us on the second day of our arrival made it clear to me that it is much more than what I was expecting it to be. On the first day of our visit we went to see Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco. The clouds float on this city and just above the bridge all day, which makes it look more like a fantasy world. There in the Crooked Street I felt that people here have some unique ideas. One cannot believe how a city is built on hills with such steep roads. And then designing one of these streets in such a fabulous way that it attracts all the tourists around. 

On the second day we had a walkabout, at the San Jose State University with our coordinator Mark Adams. He became a friend in no time. We visited a place called “Tech-shop” that made me realize what we need at our engineering universities in Pakistan to ensure that our extremely talented youth may be able to utilize their potentials. It is a place where the tech people studying or working anywhere can get enrolled themselves and try out their ideas by using the most expensive equipment that they cannot afford themselves. Thus it provides them a lab where they can run experiments and develop prototype. What an amazing facility for fresh graduates and students. I have had the experience of learning online as well as travelling to UK and US for my higher studies. I have been teaching in Pakistan for many years and always wanted my students to have some kind of exposure with the teaching and learning communities around the world. The Collaborative Online Intercultural Learning is one of the best elements of PDEEP which makes my dream come true. This will be a wonderful experience  for the students sitting in Pakistan to collaborate and interact with the faculty and students at SJSU. Instead of going on into the details of each workshop I would like to describe the take-aways for me. First and foremost was the discussion with professor Debbie Faires about the quality indicators of online courses and managing online classrooms. It was a detailed discussion that demystified many of the blur perceptions I had and removed my fears as well. In the discussions with Prof. Rick Kepple I enjoyed the way he involved all of us and made us re-think our own practices with the lens of “innovation” and “entrepreneurship”. We keep doing experimentation within our own classrooms but never think of many of the impossibilities to turn into possibilities as we move on. We sometimes end up in such working environment that we tend to stop experimenting and feel ok with all that is going on. In such circumstances a dialogue with our self is necessary to recollect the energy and deconstruct our own practices and perspectives.  Prof. Rick helped us do it very nicely. Professor Bettina’s workshop on Social Inclusion for the persons with disabilities was another thought provoking conversation. She had designed such activities that we could closely look at our own education system in connection with the societal attitudes and behaviors towards people with disabilities. We were able to think further and chart down some strategies for including special children in mainstream schools instead of separate special schools. Accessibility center at San Jose is undoubtedly a state of the art provision for all students with special  needs. A  detailed demo and conversation helped us understand the philosophy of inclusion and accessibility more explicitly. Professor Saleem is a Pakistani faculty member who remained a big support n help since we landed until we departed. We could see his teaching in his classroom. Two more faculty members also provided this chance. It was interesting to learn about various pedagogical modes of classrooms. Prof Saleem also shared his work for online student support.
Expandibility and CommUniverCity, are two amazing examples of university and community linkage. The visit and meetings at both places helped us learn more innovative ways to engage students in more and more community services as well as paving their way towards a successful professional life ahead. Visits and tours to Polycom, Google, and San Francisco State University, enabled us to identify more and more resources of how to utilize the latest available technological support to help our distant learners.  The founder of Policom sits in a small cabin among hundreds of other employees. Having all the facilities available within the building, the employees do not need to worry about the outer world once they are in here. The best innovation they recently did in conference phones is acoustic fence. The phone recognizes the voices of people around the table and then creates an acoustic fence out of which no noise will be captured by the phone. Last but not the least we visited Google headquarters.Google has a whole campus where the employees, called “googlers”, it is a campus life in its own way, they have a wholesome life at their workplace. They eat for free all day and have all facilities including even gym and showers available to spend 24 hours on campus. They have their own time schedules and they work to perform. The campus has google bikes which are free to ride. Anyone can take one bike and rides from one building to another. The four color bikes add more to the color of the campus.  
Now I know why this region is so proudly named as “silicon valley”; it is actually an amazing place which nourishes intellect and innovation. People here keep talking about novel ideas and they know they have the right place to coin the ideas. The classrooms and labs are called incubators where they provide the most suitable environment to let the pre-mature ideas grow into an innovation/invention. Here every university introduces itself by the eminent faculty and alumni. Especially Stanford and Berkeley campuses have the faculty members who have given this world remarkable discoveries. Only Berkley and Stanford alone have around fifty Nobel laureates. These people are the pride of these universities. They are the VIPs. They only take pride in their achievements. San Jose is known for the tech industry. The tech museum exhibits all the marvels done by the people of silicon valley such as Google earth to eyesight glasses filled with water. When you go around the streets and roads of san Jose u cannot miss the huge buildings of all the famous IT companies including Intel, Dell, Adobe Motorola Yahoo and Google. I must say these people exactly know and believe in facilitating individuals to the limit where they only need to worry about work and nothing else, hence they also take pride in their achievements only .
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