Lisa Clark Diller (Professor of Early Modern History at Southern Adventist University) and Daniel Reynaud (Assistant Dean of Learning and Teaching at Avondale College of Higher Education) are currently enrolled in a year-long faculty exchange program. They recently interviewed each other for Spectrum about the exchange, differences between Avondale and Southern, and between Australia and Tennessee (USA). In this second part of a two-part series, Lisa interviews Daniel about his experience.
Lisa: What made this an interesting or appealing undertaking? Why did you want to do this exchange?
Daniel: I like the idea of a challenge, the chance to try something new. Having only taught at Avondale I felt I had lots to learn from teaching elsewhere. And I have not seen the US. For both my wife and I, it was a chance to do something different, and take a break from the intensity of our Australian routines.
What have you noticed about the Southern region of the US that might make it stand out a bit from any other areas of the US you’ve traveled to or visited?
I have seen very little of the US to date, but things that have struck me in contrast to Australia include: churches every few hundred metres, or so it seems! A plethora of religious references on shop walls, trucks, billboards etc., just to remind me that I am in the Bible Belt.
Everyone is very polite, on the road and in shops. I am addressed as “Sir,” or on campus as “Professor” – quite different from the informal “Daniel” used even by my Australian students. It feels so formal to my Aussie ears that I have to remind myself that they are doing it in all seriousness and not as a form of mockery.
Every now and then I hit an accent in a shop that needs another take to understand. I’ve also noticed a lot more money invested in things like shops and homes around here: many are quite extravagant by Australian standards. And everything is designed around driving, not walking. Even shops in shopping centres can be separated from each other by vast car parks, requiring a car to go from one shop to the next.
How easy is it for you to meet other students or faculty/staff on campus that aren’t in your department (History/Political Studies)?
I have to make a bit of an effort to meet people outside of History/English/Business, which are the departments on my floor of Brock Hall. So far I’ve met professors from Theology, Science, and Communications at various staff meetings and professional development sessions. I’ve also engaged with administrators, the distance education unit and the professional development unit.
We have had nothing but positive experiences in our interactions; people have been genuinely kind and eager to help us integrate. We’ve felt thoroughly spoilt, especially as some of my colleagues here at Southern are having to do extra to compensate for the absence of your energy and experience.
What new pedagogical techniques are you trying out or resurrecting? Is there anything about the academic structures at Southern that require you to do something new in your teaching?
On the whole, the administrative procedures at Southern are a breeze compared to the heavy burden of compliance required in the Australian tertiary system, so it’s a relief not to have to deal with so much administrivia. It means I can focus on mastering new content and engaging with the students in class.
The common practice here of having a quiz on set readings each lecture is new to me. I have kept it for one class, but for the upper division classes, after discussion with the students, I have chosen to introduce them to Australian forms of assessment, which they seem to be happy with.
What are some surprising things about the students or culture or your time in the US that you weren’t expecting? Conversely, what are some elements/expectations or stereotypes that were confirmed in your mind?
I have found that the best American students are more deeply concerned about their GPAs than Australian students, as the GPA will determine their options for future study – Australian students don’t have that same stress. American students also seem to be far more professionally and politically ambitious than most Aussie ones, who tend to be a little more relaxed about their aims in life.
On the other hand, I had been primed by a number of people to expect big differences in the academic culture, but I have found that these have not been realized. My American students are very much like my Aussie students in ability, general knowledge and engagement.
Southern has a much stronger emphasis on a research culture among its students than Avondale does; conversely Avondale has a much stronger research culture among its staff. I think each could learn from the other.
What, if any, are the differences in Adventist culture or the church in your experience so far?
We haven’t attended a great variety of American churches yet. That’s because my wife and I value connecting in a spiritual environment rather than church hopping. From what I can see, there are the usual varieties of Adventist churches, some with traditional liturgies and others with more adventurous ones, especially those targeting a mission focus on unchurched. Perhaps the conservative churches around here are a little more conservative than in Australia, but overall, there are more similarities than differences.
What are some experiences, events, developments, or accomplishments that you’re still looking forward to over this year?
I am looking forward to more of the same in terms of teaching – I am thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere, the collegiality and the interaction with the students. During the summer break, we hope to travel a bit to see more of this huge and beautiful country.
How are your skills and contributions encouraging Southern students or the campus to try new things or ideas?
I guess I am definitely bringing an Australian perspective to the history I teach – that of a minor country compared to that of a big and influential one. In my Australian History class, I had my wife talk about Australian food, and then the class sampled some Vegemite, scones, Anzac biscuits, Tim Tams, etc. Most of them even claimed to enjoy the Vegemite!
I am also encouraging assessments that measure students’ thinking rather than just their memory – for me, education isn’t what you know but how you think.
What do you see as the value of this experience and why would you encourage or hope others would do the exchange as well?
It is an absolutely invaluable experience. It has got me out of the familiar routines, challenged me to recontextualise what I teach, and exposed me to new content, methods and academic culture. I have found my time-to-date most refreshing, re-energising, and also a pure delight.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7958