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Northern exposure

(May 18, 2000, Gazette)

(Right) Phillip Joseph, Dominica, and Elizabeth Maddox enjoy a slice of cake at a welcoming reception.
(Below) George Bristol of St. Vincent and Doreen Whalen, associate executive director School of Continuing Education, attend an orientation meeting.

By Patrick Tyler
Special to the Gazette

Memorial’s Discovery Book states: “They (visiting academics) find Newfoundland’s distinct environment provides a unique opportunity to study a variety of subjects and conditions rarely found anywhere else.”

For 23 West Indies students here to study during the spring semester, the focus would be on the “conditions rarely found anywhere else” part of that statement, at least in terms of the temperature difference between here and Dominica and St. Vincent.

During the first week since the students’ arrival on May 7, the temperature struggled to climb above the five degrees celsius mark. For the visiting students, that’s meant a hurried acquisition of heavy jackets, mitts and toques, and extra blankets on the bed at night. The tunnel system here at Memorial has never found a more ardent group of supporters. Ironically, one of the things the students have asked for most since their arrival is an opportunity to see an iceberg.

The students are the principals of a distance education pilot project involving the Commonwealth of Learning, University of the West Indies, and Memorial’s Faculty of Education, with support from the School of Continuing Education. The program is intended to enhance collaborative efforts in promoting learning at a distance and providing undergraduate degree scholarships to Commonwealth Caribbean countries.

The students began working in January, 1999, towards Memorial’s bachelor of education (intermediate/secondary). Studying part-time on course work delivered at a distance by Memorial, the students are now fulfilling the residential studies component of their program. This will be followed by a fall teaching internship in their home schools.

Assessment of the program – by administrators and students alike – has been very positive.

“Students and faculty have expressed great satisfaction with the sharing of ideas between two different cultures, and look forward to an exciting semester here at Memorial University,” said Dr. Dennis Treslan, associate dean of the Faculty of Education and the senior project coordinator.

Judith Mellor, Education’s coordinator of undergraduate programs and a key player in the project, couldn’t agree more.

“We’re very pleased with the way the program is going,” she said. “It’s a wonderful learning experience for everyone concerned. We’d welcome the opportunity to do it again ... to build on this project’s success.”

One less visible – though perhaps no less interesting – aspect of the project, is the employment and business development opportunities it has brought with it. The program has meant the development by IDON EAST, a local multimedia firm, of the eight Web-based courses required for the completion of the B.Ed. This public/private sector partnering bodes well for establishing Memorial as a global provider of distance education products and services. Development of the courses was supported through funding by the Canada/Newfoundland Agreement on Economic Renewal.

In his welcoming letter to the Caribbean students, President Dr. Axel Meisen gave recognition to the importance to Memorial of the development of global academic relationships.

“This unique approach to learning is a clear way to demonstrate our commitment to international partnerships and collaboration,” he wrote. “What better way to acknowledge the new reality of life in the global village than for us to join in a vigorous exchange of educational and cultural experiences.”

In closing he invited the students to “enjoy, learn and experience all that Newfoundland and Labrador has to offer.” The students may be forgiven if they opt to forego all that Newfoundland has to offer, especially if “all” includes more near-freezing temperatures.

“Truth is,” said Keith Glasgow, one of the students, “in spite of the cold weather and the icebergs, we have found the hospitality at Memorial to be exactly the opposite: we have been shown a volcano of hospitality.

“It’s cold outside in Newfoundland, but the people inside are very warm.”