Thursday, October 29, 2009

International perspectives

October 30th
It has been a fascinating mind-extension to be in a comparative conference discussing various educational issues. In many ways, the world has gotten more similar – yet there are so many different understandings and configurations of education. Thursday was focused on broader issues of academic competence , while Friday will be more focused upon the topic area of lifelong learning. The ICER – International Conference on Educational Research – has brought together about 20 international scholars, as well as a healthy attendance from the graduate students and faculty at Seoul National University. The focus of the morning was on current understandings of large-scale school student assessment – possibilities and issues. Whether USA, Korea, Japan or Belgium (which doesn’t have nation-wide school assessment), similar thinking and concerns were raised. In my session, the afternoon was focused on academic competence and higher education. Specifically, four individuals discussed aspects of current issues and understandings of rankings of higher education institutions whether through teaching, research, other varied criteria, or some efforts at organizational effectiveness. I welcome the international collegial discussions - very rich and intriguing. I am particularly fascinating with Latvia and Lithuania and their understandings of academic life and education issues..

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Celebrations of weddings and graduate adult education courses

October 26-28th
It has been a amazing several days of sightseeing, learning cultural worlds of Korea and also interacting with graduate (and undergraduate) adult education students. Sunday morning I was introduced to a wedding party – women in traditional and colorful Korean gowns and a limousine decked out with roses in the shape of a heart on the hood. In Korea, most weddings happen on Sunday and happen in “wedding chapels”. In the discussion of marriage and family, most Koreans value children and the family is committed to making the most advantaged environment for the child. What is shocking to me is that advancing the child usually means that the child from a very early age in involved in private schools after attending regular K-12 schooling. For some Koreans, they view this commitment as a fear of parents that the children won’t be competitive for college. And here in Korea, college admissions is highly competitive and select, with a strong belief that college establishing your future status in society.
Monday I gave course presentations with a combined graduate and undergraduate class in adult education/lifelong learning at Seoul National University, and on Tuesday night at Soongsil University. The students were different between the two institutions. At Seoul National, they were younger, full-time students with a few Chinese students and all appeared to have excellent English skills. At Soongsil, the students were a mix of ages and many were day-time professionals, with a number of Taiwanese and Chinese students. There was also more variability in their understanding of English. Both had strong interest in discussions of adult higher education in the US and both expressed similar concerns in the Korean setting. In discussions, Seoul National University has a significant focus on lifelong learning efforts for government policy focus on lifelong learning centers (based in either universities or municipalities – including citizenship education, arts & culture education, and adult access to higher education), at Soongsil, students were more varied in professional interests – but a number of them were focused on gerontology and such institutions as University for the Third Age. These students asked a number of interesting and provocative questions regarding my research on adult students who saw themselves more so as students, than as lifelong learners within their commitment to higher education. Some interesting ideas to ponder!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Food, Soongsil University and Comfort Women’s Station

October 24th

Food in Korea is an amazing adventure here. Today I had a “traditional Korean breakfast” of a type of “boiled” scrambled egg, a broth soup, a small bowl of rice, and four small bowls of varied tastes of onion, mushroom, kim chi (a type of pickled spicy cabbage), and a type of bean. Guiding me through this process was Kyung Hi Kim, a friend and professor at Kyungnam University. For lunch and dinner, Youngwha Kee, professor at Songsil University treated me to special eating experiences. For lunch, she identified a special restaurant with a central heated wok-type utensil with an onion soup type of broth with sliced beef, onion, and mushrooms cooking at the table. Again, this main course was complemented with six small bowls of varied side “tastes” of varied onion, shredded cabbage, kim chi, and other varied possibilities. And for dinner, I experiences a neighborhood cafĂ© offering Korean barbecue, with a central small grill about 1 ½ feet in diameter and the “grilling” over coals” of pork, mushrooms, and kim chi. As the pork is grilled, it is cut with a scissors into small bite-size pieces and eventually placed (with chop sticks)in a lettuce leaf or sesame leaf, with green onion slices, grilled slices of garlic, and a bit of chili paste. Again, there were a number of additional small condiment bowls. Part of the challenge was sitting on the floor and eating with chopped sticks. Yes, all of the meals were hearty and could have been interchanged from one meal to the next…yet Koreans are fit and slim. I suspect they eat selectively and eat mostly vegetables and small bits of meat.
This Saturday I meet with a graduate course, presenting my research on adult meaning making in the classroom. It was a fascinating experience to share my work in English and then hear translations and discussions in Korean. The student were attentive and about half of the class appears to immediately understand English. This course is part of a typical 9 semester hours taken on Saturdays by education graduate students. (Because traffic is so heavy and problematic, professionals can best get graduate coursework on Saturdays). So, these student take three courses throughout Saturday for their entire graduate program. One striking difference…The students were all dressed professionally, with men in suits and ties (a typical style for those attending graduate courses- supposedly as a sign of respect to the professors).
In the afternoon, we drove to a museum dedicated to the memory of Comfort Women, a social atrocity of the Japanese colonial rule during WWII, where between 50,000 and 200,000 women became sex slaves to Japanese soldiers and distributed throughout the pan Asian area. After the war, they were either abandoned in the current country of their settlement or killed. Many never returned to Korea, while some came back through efforts of the allied forces. The women were so ashamed and often alienated by their families, that the first women to speak out at this human injustice occurred in the 1990’s. Japan had not yet accepted their responsibility for these horrid actions. Every Wednesday a number of the original women who suffered these injustices as well as a number of women’s groups march and protest at the Japanese embassy here in Seoul. The Museum has a House of Sharing – which provides homes to about 12 of these women. It was a very moving experience.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ewaha University, KCER, and Former Prime Minister Kim

October 23rd
Friday was a day of reunions beginning with Dr. Kyung Hi Kim, Professor of Lifelong Learning at Kyungnam University in southern Korea. Kyung was the conference director for the International Conference on Lifelong Learning held in 2007 in Chongwon, with my past involvement in the international scholar’s subconference at Chongwon. We had a special lunch and then navigated by taxi across Seoul (significant traffic all the time) to the western side of the center of Seoul. She introduced me to her undergraduate university, Ewaha University – the largest women’s university in Asia with a current enrollment of 20,000. The campus is built on hills, with beautiful architecture – both Gothic and contemporary. After a tour of the campus, we visited KCER – the Korean Conference on Educational Research – somewhat similar to AERA in the United States. It was held in one of their education buildings. Their theme this year was “The Convergence of Knowledge and Methodology.” Unfortunately, the conference was totally in Korean language, so I met a number of noted education scholars – but did not take active participation in the sessions. The lack of Korean has been a serious detractor to the visit – but most everyone knows and can speak excellent English. It has been a lifesaver.
Kyung shared an afternoon tea at a traditional Korean tea house (the tea was called Sendak) and then we meet for dinner with Dr. Shinil Kim, former Prime Minister of Education. Now retired, Shinil was the leading professor in lifelong learning in Korea and was a member of Seoul National University. Shinil has been a colleague for many years-- with past meetings together in the US, Korea, and Taiwan. He was instrumental in establishing the national framework of lifelong learning and was an active supporter of Learning Cities. In fact, I was introduced to this concept of a Learning City at Chongwon – two years ago. Throughout the world, learning cities have become a social movement to support lifelong learning endeavors by communities and supported by municipalities, states/provinces, and in Korea by the national government. The government has established criteria for cities to qualify for learning city status. Upon meeting these criteria, the government provides special recognition and funding for their efforts. Each year, there is a national conference and individual subgroups – such as traditional Korean cultural arts groups, youth science programs, senior citizen clubs, professional association projects, etc, receive awards for the best project in the nation. He continues to view lifelong learning and adult education as of primary importance for the future of Korea and its citizens. Because of the highly competitive nature of Korea, there is a strong Confucian belief in creating balance – thus learning should be both instrumental and expressive. Not surprising to this understanding, we spent much of dinner discussing Confucian beliefs of learning and of life harmony. Fascinating conversation! In particular, Korean educational leaders have begun to focus many of their current lifelong learning policies on the out of schooling--the shadow curriculum of family, community, parent’s education, work efforts; and of the importance of adult learning in varied venues and forms as paramount for the future vitality of Korea.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Korean Lunch and Korean Open University

Thursday, October 22 –
Cultural differences continue to be part of this engaging visit to Korea. I experienced a second traditional Korea meal today--seating on the floor and many little dishes filled with often unknown possible vegetables, fish, pork, fruit, as well as rice and noodles… all to be eaten with chopped sticks. They were polite, but laughed at my limited chop stick capabilities. The food is fascinating - but often I am unsure what it is. So, it is adventurous eating. This afternoon meal with the mid-way meeting with the researchers and key leaders at the Korean Open University.
It was a fascinating experience to visit KNOU – Korea Open University – modeled after the British Open University. Providing accessible undergraduate and graduate programs, this university uses a wide variety of media – with a predominant emphasis on distance education delivery and open access for adult learners. They currently have about 183,000 enrollments- predominantly undergraduate adult learners (a small number of graduate students – 800). It was fascinating to share USA current demographics and institutional responses and to learn of many similarities in Korea and their current work. I had the opportunity to tour their significant production facilities with 300 courses offered each semester (including over 100 new courses produced each semester). Attempting to offering learning options, they provide courses through all textbook, cable television, and internet multimedia, as well as CD’s and Video-conferencing. In addition, a portion of the courses are offered in a traditional classroom at 13 regional campus sites across Korea (for up to 8 hours within a course), as well as tutors for all students at both the 13 campuses and 35 study centers. Because most Korean universities do not provide access to adults, this institution has been the major adult higher education provider for over 40 years. Every place I have visited has discussed strategic new initiatives - based in lifelong learning and upon the changing “marketplace” of higher education in Korea, as well as the aging of the Korean society. In particular for KNOU, they are facing growing competition for cyberuniversities - as they are called. One of the concerns is the quality of assessment of student learning by these universities—with the government suggesting involvement in examining practices. So, they are starting a new strategic initiative to reposition their role and mission for the future. However, they have a clear and firm commitment to serving part-time adult learners in a variety of delivery formats and face many of the same issues as their USA counterparts in serving the special and diverse needs of this group.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Visit to Seoul National University and Institute of Lifelong Education

Tuesday/Wednesday,October 20-21st. It is a beautiful fall day in Seoul. Different language and customs are evident in subtle and striking ways. Remove your shoes at the entrance to your room. Pride in technology and the belief stated on the TV – “Korea remakes itself every six months”. Korea will be a fascinating engagement.

For two weeks, I will be exploring this context in relation to adult education, lifelong learning, and specifically the understandings of adult learners in higher education in Korea. Today, Wednesday, I experienced an overview tour of Seoul National University, built in a valley among several hills and with significant construction of new buildings. (Seoul Nat’l University is the largest university in the country and has a “global research extensive” designation). Meeting with key academic leaders in the Department of Education, Yong-Je Woo, and specifically in Lifelong Education, Soonghee Han and Dae Joong Kang, I learn of this lifelong learning orientation and their new focus on globalization. Although their courses are similar to our own, several are unique – “Educational planning for the civil society education” and “Theory of lifelong learning cities” as two prominent examples. Currently the department is working to establish linkages with key associations and research institutes in Vietnam and China, as well as the Scandavanian countries. They have great pride in their Educarional Research Institute and their publication of the Asia Pacific Education Review journal.

This evening, I had a fascinating visit with the National Institute of Lifelong Education and presented a seminar on Perspectives of Adult Undergraduates in US Higher Education. The Institute was formed in 1998 to promote a lifelong learning society for both the development of the individual and the society. Among its activities is The Center for Academic Credit Bank System for learning experiences both in formal and informal systems. They can offer a Bachelors Degree through the Ministry through this credit bank system, totally over 35,000 degree in 2008. They also provide leadership for the Center for Bachelor’s Degree Examination for Self-Education, with varied exams provided to test competence. Last year. Approximately 700 were awarded. Beyond these two major roles, they have a significant number of lifelong education projects, including support for adult literacy education and financial support for the marginalized. They also offer lifelong learning workshops to professionals and currently working on a new project targeted to adult access to higher education.

I attempted to upload two pictures (without success) to acquaint with the fall colors at a coffee bar near the Hoam Faculty Faculty (the building which provides both housing for conference and visiting faculty, as well as a conference facility. Currently, they are hosting an international aging conference. Korea is facing a significant decline in their birthrate, which is projected to impact both the significant number of their higher education institutions (they are talking about mergings among a number of institutions), and also the future quality of life of the elderly through lifelong education.