Tuesday, March 12, 2013

På gang

A number of students have been asking me what I'm up to this semester since they didn't see my name listed teaching classes this semester.

I am happy to report (albeit it old news that I'm just now having time to blog about) that I have received the St. Olaf College Faculty Time Release Grant for the 2012-2013 academic year.  Each year at St. Olaf, one faculty member is awarded a semester to work on a research project that they propose.  This year it is me!  So I taught full time this fall and during interim and then have the spring to work on my project.  It isn't a full-on sabbatical; I'm still attending many meetings a week for various committees, attending dept. and faculty meetings, advising students, advising students for study abroad, etc.  So, it is not a semester devoted entirely to this project, but it is still a much needed break from my regular schedule.  I'd never finish this project without the significant chunks of time to concentrate that I was awarded.

Here is some information on my project, taken mostly from the proposal I wrote.

My project is called På gang, An Online Intermediate Norwegian Language Curriculum.  It furthers the novice level curriculum that I have co-authored with Nancy Aarsvold, Sett i gang.  I believe that there is an immediate, nationwide need to develop new intermediate Norwegian language curriculum that draws on the research of language acquisition to better meet the needs of our North American learners. This need has been identified and discussed at length at the departmental and national level. 

Our project is actually not new- the beginnings of this project actually began over 8 years ago together with Nancy; however, completion of the project has not been possible because of the time investment necessary.  Drawing on the research findings from my dissertation on student use of MOODLE and Nancy's new role as Assistant Director of Instructional Technology at St. Olaf, På gang is entirely online.  By developing a curriculum that is entirely digital, it will give students a multiscensory experience through videos, visuals, authentic and constructed texts and tasks. Through the texts and tasks students develop intercultural competence by reflecting on their own culture in conjunction with Norwegian society.  This also gives learners more opportunities to explore beyond the classroom walls.

One of the main tenets of På gang is that it uses a theme-based model of Content Based Instruction (CBI).

CBI is a model for curriculum writing used in many foreign language intermediate level courses where the target language is “the vehicle through which subject matter content is learned rather than as the immediate object of study" (Brinton et al., 1989, p. 5).  CBI emphasizes the negotiation of meaning (Lightbown & Spada, 1993) and incorporates a variety of thinking skills and learning strategies that lead to rich language development. (Curtain, 1995; Met, 1991).  Additionally, CBI offers the flexibility many faculty desire at the intermediate levels as there are more opportunities to adjust to the needs and interests of students.

Stoller (2002), a frequently cited expert in CBI, explains that the success of CBI “depends on the details of its implementation” (np.) and argues for a “dual commitment to our students’ language and content learning needs” (np.).  In order to achieve this, Stoller believes that a successful CBI framework considers these four points, which will guide the development of På gang: (1) sound teaching practices that lend themselves to natural integration of language and content, (2) methods of promoting the acquisition of content, (3) the techniques for incorporating levels of complexity into instruction and (4) the approaches for building curricular coherence.

På gang has three main components: a novel, themes chosen from the novels, and a grammar guide.  I'll write more about each of these and how these work together in my next post. 

The St. Olaf Norwegian Department has a long history of curriculum development, most notably in language instruction. Additionally, the department places high value on the development of pedagogical materials as evidence of significant professional activity. Receiving the Released-Time Grant while I am in the fifth year of my tenure track couldn't be better timing!  Having a semester to focus on this project allows me the time necessary to meet the expectations for professional activity before my dossier is submitted this fall.  In addition, there is great benefit of this project to the Norwegian department at St. Olaf College as well-developed pedagogical materials will greatly impact student learning, motivation and satisfaction.

The curriculum is currently in its first year of being piloted.  It will be revised and expanded before it is piloted once more during the 2013-2014 academic year.  Then, in 2014, it will be disseminatedThis is an important year as it also the bicentennial anniversary of Norway’s independence.  There will be large celebrations in Norway and in the Norwegian-Americans communities across the US.  Completion of this project in time for the celebratory events will be a part of how St. Olaf celebrates this important historical event and reaffirms its ties, strengthening the bonds with the past to keep our college’s cultural heritage vibrant.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Retreating Forward

It is a beautiful Friday afternoon in June.  What have I been up to?  Most people (many of whom don't work at a university) assume that I have the summer off.  Nope, that is the time when other pieces essential to my job get done.

This year I joined five of my tenure-track colleagues and a writing scholar/ mentor for a faculty writing retreat.  It was a week of discussing the scholarship of writing, getting to know colleagues from other departments, but most importantly writing!  It was purposely planned at the beginning of June to jump start our summer scholarly writing projects. 

I have always been what Paul Silvia, in his book How to Write A Lot, refers to as a "binge" writer.  I find that my schedule affords so little time during the school year to anything other than teaching, service and administrative duties, that I write a lot for a few weeks and then nothing at all for months.

I didn't know exactly what I would get out of the writing retreat, but I had heard from veterans that they very much enjoyed it.  And, when lunch is included for something I'm already required to do, why not sign up?

I've realized that I am glad I put down my dissertation and didn't work on re-writing a piece of my data into an article right away.  The topic consumed my life for some time and I needed to work on other projects so that I could be excited about it again.  Being able to put all other work aside for an entire week-- not answering emails or dealing with other administrative tasks, not doing anything helpful at home either, helps me focus.  This focus nurtures my ability to analyze at my data with a critical eye.

My goal for the week was to get a good start on an article entitled "Virtual Collaboration" and to finish two short translations.  And I'm shocked to report that I have finished the article, put the final touches the blog post about the royal visit, am almost done with this post, made significant progress on the translations and I have an hour left of the retreat to now think critically about my specific goals for the rest of the summer and next spring when I have a semester completely devoted to my research.

So, what do I take away from this experience?  Sometimes you need to retreat to move forward.

Royal Reflections

Looking back to my early years, some of the most vivid memories I have are the ones when I was doing something with my Norwegian roots.  I remember learning how to move my mouth in weird ways in Mindekirken's busserull choir, I remember being on stage with Lillebjørn Nilsen and Steinar Oftsdal and swaying back and forth to the beat, I remember enjoying every moment  at Skogfjorden, Norwegian Camp.  One of the highlights of my involvement in the Norwegian community was when our choir sang for then Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja of Norway. 
A picture from after the concert, I'm the one in front of Sonja
Eventually this involvement in the Norwegian-American community became my vocation as a Norwegian professor at St. Olaf College.  As a professor of a heritage language, many assume that I acquired Norwegian at home as a native language.  Nope.  My parents are second generation English-only speakers, but both have always been very interested in their heritage, encouraging us to be involved in heritage communities and organizations.  So, I twirled around in a Danish dance group, attempted Deutsch in college, attended Slovak camp and dinners for many years.

Anyway, after many years I became a professor of Norwegian at St. Olaf College, a college that prides itself on being founded by Norwegian immigrants.  And sometime in late spring 2011, I was told that I would not only be meeting the King and Queen for the second time, they would be visiting my Norwegian class.  I immediately called my mom with tears of joy and excitement.  And then the planning began...

As the event neared, I received more updates and worked on my lesson plan some more.  I couldn't quite decide how my students were feeling until the first visit with a very large camera in class about a week before the event.  My poor students were freaking out nervous.  My nervousness only intensified every time someone asked how nervous we were and if I had everything planned.  I knew that there would be lots of media at the event itself, but I totally underestimated how much pre-event interest and coverage there would be.  Totally overwhelming but enjoyable in way, too.  Here are articles from the Star Tribune, The New York Times, and a video clip from KSTP news.

And then after much anticipation, Friday, October 14, 2012 finally arrived.  And I thought the pre-event coverage was overwhelming... from the moment the royal couple set foot on campus they were greeted with huge Norwegian-American smiles and sweaters. Hundreds of Norwegian flags waved in excitement.

On the way to my classroom, c Stephanie Fay
I asked my students to arrive very early that day and shortly after we got the room in order, a few more press people arrived to film our preparations.  There were a few last minute changes to the room and protocol from the palace was reviewed and our plans were changed.  About 5 minutes before the royal couple arrived, I walked outside my classroom to see hundreds of people gathered from every floor of Tomson Hall; I was overwhelmed by the number of colleagues and students who had come catch a glimpse of the King and Queen.  They were calling my name waving their flags to wish me and my students well.  This is a moment i will never forget, I felt so honored to represent St. Olaf and Norwegian-America.  And it was also this moment I realized a bubble bath and a drink would be needed later that evening.

I had a minute to catch my breath before the press literally stormed in the room. The only sound I remember from the first two minutes of the visit was the click of the camera button, of which there were hundreds.  There were more press than students, also in attendance was Ambassador Strommen (Norwegian Ambassador to the US), St. Olaf's President Anderson, secret service and a few other assistants.

The King and Queen each greeted me, took their seats and the visit began.

Me greeting the King with the Secret Service behind us.  
c Flight Creative Media.

Me greeting the Queen.  
c Flight Creative Media.

The press was only allowed to be in the room for a few minutes of the visit.  Can I tell you how much more enjoyable it is to hang out with their majesties without the press?  It was just so overwhelming to have so many bodies in the classroom and so many flashes in your face.  Here is an example of what I mean.

The press.  
c Flight Creative Media.

While the press was there, there was a few key pictures taken, this one being my favorite.  What a great photo which truly captures the fun we had.
C St. Olaf College

When the press left, I gave an introduction to Norwegian at St. Olaf, telling their majesties a bit about the St. Olaf Norwegian Studies program and the number of students in each level, etc.  Then, each of the students went around and introduced themselves på norsk.  Here I should interject that each of these students are beginners and they had only had 14 hours (total) of instruction.  And they rocked!  At that point, we just finished learning the key phrases for why they are studying Norwegian, so the timing of the royal visit couldn't have been better.  After that, we talked in English for awhile about the introductions.  They seemed so genuinely interested in the students and so thankful for their interest in Norway.  It was very touching.  And talking about touching, quite possibly my favorite moment in the class was when the student sitting next to the queen said he was a wrestler, she felt his arm and gave him an approving grin after feeling his muscles.  Too funny!  Things like this made the class realize that their majesties are real people, with a good sense of humor and genuine smiles.

After their visit to my classroom, I rushed off for a reception with about 40 others.  Here again I got to talk with the King and Queen. And yet again everyone was full of smiles, happy to a part of this event.  Later that day there was a short service in the chapel called a sammenkomst. It was a hot ticket item and I was thankfully able to get a ticket with my mom so she could be a part of the big day as she fostered much of my involvement in my heritage.  Here the choir and band performed, the King and two students spoke about the ties between St. Olaf College and Norway.  It was a very memorable event!

The King's Speech, c Flight Creative Media
Written documentation of the event includes stories from the Post-Bulletin, Patch, and the Northfield News.  Video news stories included NBC affiliate KARE 11, ABC affiliate KSTP 5, and FOX 9.  We were also featured in Norwegian press: NRK (my personal favorite because they show Sett i gang, the text I co-authored), TV2 (here the royal couple is asked how they liked the classroom visit and the queen responds that she would have liked to stay longer!), ABC Nyheter (including this classroom visit video), Klikk, and VG Nett

And if you thought the excitement was over after all this, you thought wrong.  Just as I finished up the events at St. Olaf, I rushed up to the Minneapolis to attend Norway Seminar.  This is a seminar is where everyone who teaches Norwegian at the University level gathers to further our knowledge of Norwegian and Norway.  And it is where I would be greeted by many familiar faces who could truly appreciate today's events.  Although it was lovely to be surrounded by and catch up with everyone, I was too exhausted to concentrate and fully enjoy it.  I skipped one of the receptions so I could instead have some downtime with my Ben, a beer and a bubble bath.

Eventually Sunday evening rolled around and the last of the royal events was to dine with their majesties at the Hilton downtown... and 1,063 of their other bffs were there too.  The King gave a good speech reflecting on his time in the Midwest and the ties between Norway and Norwegian-America, we ate an excellent dinner, and we conversed about the one thing that bound our table together- our Norwegian heritage.  

One of the many tables. 
c Nancy Aarsvold
Yes, it's pretty cool when you get all dolled up to have dinner with the King and Queen of Norway.  Being able to enjoy it with your favorite person is just icing on the kransekake. 

Me and Ben.
It was a week to remember. 

Og snipp, snapp, snute, her er eventyret ute! 
[Snip, snap, snout, this tale's told out!]

Monday, August 29, 2011


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Friday, July 29, 2011

Looking Into The Eyes of The New Norway

As a professor of Norwegian language and culture, I am often asked about my experiences in Norway.  Many of the experiences I have had in Norway in and Norwegian-America have shaped my life in meaningful ways, which is part of the reason why I love what I do for a living.  I’ve lived in Norway for approximately four years; it’s my second home.  I feel connected especially to Oslo, which is where I’ve spent a majority of my time in Norway.  The main reason I feel at home here is that I am fortunate to have many loved ones in Oslo, both friends and family and friends whose families have become my Norwegian family.  The events that have happened over the last few days are no exception to how Norway and weegies (what I lovingly call Norwegians) have deeply impacted my life or why I feel at home.

So many of you have asked how I am, how (and if) I am dealing, how those around me are, if my loved ones have lost their loved ones, what the mood in Norway and in Oslo is like, etc. For some of you, I am your sole connection to contemporary Norway, and you look to me for your 411.  Others of you are just as connected to this little country as I am and are trying to understand what is going on here from afar.  It’s been difficult to find words to describe what has happened to me and also to the weegies I’m surrounded by.  This is partially because for the last week I haven’t been capable of doing much more than just making it through the day; each day has been filled with uncertainty, confusion, and tears.  I stood a mere block away from the bombing 30 minutes before it happened, which still seems a little too close for comfort.  It has also been difficult to find words because communication has, for the most part, been via short, superficial emails and Facebook updates, where it is difficult to reflect in a meaningful way.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, has said that there was a Norway before July 22nd and that there will be a new Norway after July 22nd. The uncertainty of how this will play out has been frightening for some, including me.  Over the past few days I have seen glimpses of what I think is at the core of the new Norway. I’ve also talked with a number of loved ones here in Oslo and know that my experiences, including the one written below, are similar to theirs.  It’s uncertain yet if the what we've experienced just happened as the aftermath of tragedy and will slowly return back to what once was, or if these changes are the new normal.

Sunday, July 24th 2011: I got up, watched the morning news, the beginning of a moving church service on TV and then met a friend for coffee in Grunnerløkka.  We enjoyed a long chat over coffee, which included how we were feeling about the past few days.  It felt good to talk with yet another friend over coffee.  Like you do in Norway.  

To get back to my apartment, I took a streetcar, which took a route through downtown and then through Frogner, one of the richest areas of Oslo.  When we were downtown, a drug addict couple came and sat across the aisle, facing me.  The woman was pretty obnoxious.  She was trying to write a text message, saying each letter out loud before pushing the corresponding button.  As she slowly pushed each button her cell beeped loudly.  As a side-note for those not familiar with Norwegian culture, drug addicts are commonly seen but, like everyone else, are almost always ignored; loud beeping cell phones are a major no-no.

The streetcar then took a sharp swing and although she was sitting, she lost her balance and her head would have hit the metal part of the seat across the aisle had a woman sitting across and behind her not been paying close attention.  That woman put her hand out on the metal part of the seat so the addict wouldn’t hurt herself. The woman, directly across from her and in front of me caught her.  The woman, the one across from me, is what is called a frognerfrue: a well-to-do woman from the Frogner area. I could just tell by the clothes she was wearing, how tan she was and the way her hair was cut.  Normally a frognerfrue would likely say something like “jøjemeg,” which is like saying, “oh goodness gracious,” and be grossed out that an addict was touching her.  At least that is the stereotype many have of a frognerfrue.  But this woman wasn’t living up to the stereotype.  She dawned a loving smile, and asked the woman if she was OK. Then there were nice exchanges between all three of them. They were talking. To each other.  On a streetcar.  In Norway.  And no booze was involved.

For someone who hasn’t lived or visited Norway, this may sound totally absurd, but you just don’t do something as crazy as talk to people you don’t know, at least not in public and especially not on public transportation. Weegies talk openly with their loved ones, but many feel that sincerity is lost in conversations with strangers.  Well, a guy did talk to me the other day on the bus. He was asked me to not write him off as a lover just because he was sneezing; he wasn’t really sick, he’d be just as good of a lover with allergies, he explained.  I think you get the picture.

Anyway, back to the culture shock. The streetcar drove on, the woman fell over yet another time, had another conversation with the frognerfrue and continued to beep her cell phone loudly and annoyingly. Once outside, the addict couple suddenly worried that they might have forgotten something on their seat.  So, they cupped their hands together against the window and looked in before it drove off.  And I smiled because it was one part funny, one part touching.  We drove on and the woman across from me saw my smile and smiled back.  Yes, she smiled.  She showed me her teeth.  I not only made eye contact with a stranger, but I also smiled back.  I had just crossed a Norwegian line I was taught never to cross.  Then I figured, what the helvete, I crossed the line already, I might as well continue.  So I looked at her and said that I thought it must be difficult to live such a life.  She nodded and said thoughtfully said that she couldn’t even imagine.  Well of course, you can’t, you live in sheltered little Frogner, I thought to myself skeptically, thinking of all of the frognerfrue stereotypes. 

In the first press conference late Friday evening, Jens Stoltenberg’s message was clear.  Weegies need to show compassion for each other in this difficult time, understanding that everyone will cope, mourn and have different needs.  Weegies need to reach out to each other.  It is a message that has been reiterated in the media time and time again.  The experience on the streetcar illustrated to me just how Norwegians are taking his message to heart.  To someone who hasn’t lived in Norway, this example might not even seem like an example of compassion, it might seem absurd.  It might not even seem worthy of writing about.  But the Norway before 7/22 was one rooted in the idea that family and friends should be valued, loved and prioritized, but caution is shown with strangers.

We arrived in Frogner, the frognerfrue got up and said that this was her stop, ha det bra, goodbye.  And she said it with a smile.  W.H.O.A.  First let me just say that, see, I know my Norwegian stereotypes.  But, seriously, she just made a point to say goodbye to me.  A stranger.  In Norway.  I was in shock and disbelief all over again.  It is a simple act really, but it moved me.  Weegies just don’t go throwing around greetings like we do in the States. I was touched that I was significant enough to her that she wanted to note that we were parting ways.

Now, as I’m sitting here at an outdoor coffee shop writing this, I was interrupted by an older man who asked if I was Facebooking so early in the morning, before reading the news.  No, I told him, I was working.  Ahh, that’s no good, he said, one should always start the day with the news and a good cup of coffee.  I assured him that I had, it’s just that I was up so early. And then the coffee hit me.  I’m still in Norway and this nice weegie just made small talk with me.  Another example of people talking.  To each other. To strangers.

When the streetcar arrived at the next stop the other woman sitting across from me who hadn’t said a word up until now—maybe feeling a little left out by not being included as one of our new bffs—made eye contact, smiled and nodded as she got up to get off. I had to remind myself that, yes, this is Frogner.

When the streetcar came to my stop, I got off and started walking home, trying to make sense of what just happened.  But my thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a loud siren and bright flashing lights of two heavily armed military hummers, a bus of military personnel and several police cars.  I stopped walking and just looked at the scene.  This had been a common sight many times over the past few days.  For the first time, I didn’t look in disbelief, I was starting to get very used to an intense military presence.  What once seemed so safe and familiar now seems so different. Is this the new normal?

I continued my walk home, almost bumping into a man on the street.  He was working at the flower shop and was busily filling a truck with flower arrangements, undoubtedly preparing for a long day of deliveries to those in mourning.  I walk by a coffee shop where I briefly overhear two men trying to make sense of a life lost at Utøya.  A steady stream of police officers walk in for a to-go cup, needing any extra energy the caffeine can supply.  A woman walks by me talking on her cell, face covered in tears, but smiling.  Passersby make eye contact, wanting her to know that they care.  Walking into the grocery store to buy something to drink, I am greeted by a grocery cart full of grave candles.  All are constant reminders that all weegies have been forever changed.

As I continue down the street, I think about whether I’ll ever be able to return home to the Norway that once seemed familiar, the one I held close to my heart.  I hear seagulls and look up and see sunlight peaking through the clouds. The sol is making every effort to shine through the dark clouds. Ever since my arrival, weegies have been reporting that it’s been a horrible summer with brief glimpses of sunlight. During the darkest days of the summer, the darkest days since WWII, they find solace in each other.  Weegies have never taken the sol for granted, sometimes it is just valued and appreciated more than other times.  They are finding their sol, a ray of hope, in the eyes of strangers who are experiencing a tragedy, together.  I find solace in experiencing and reflecting on the transformation to the new Norway with the weegies in Oslo.  

Jens Stoltenberg was right, it is a new Norway, but maybe that isn’t all bad after all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Students Chillin'

One of my favorite traditions in teaching The Sámi: Traditions in Transition, is when we spend one day outside reading the poetry of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää. So much of what he writes about is about the harsh arctic climate.  So, why not read his poetry in the surroundings that he loved?  Below is a picture from Feb. 24.  It was -14 F with windchill.  That's -25.5 C.

Don't Give

St. Olaf College's 2011 Senior Campaign is a student-driven program that educates seniors about Partners in Annual Giving, the St. Olaf annual fund and the importance of giving back to their alma mater.  

This year the student committee decided to do something a little more creative to get seniors' attention.  They made a video, a spoof of the Don't Vote video that went viral a few years back.  And guess who made an appearance?  I'm at 0.48 and 4.41.