Fulbright Scholar Program Also Serves Learning Technologists

This blog post originally appeared in EDUCAUSE Review Online and is republished here courtesy of the author, Meg Stewart.

“The world is changing. Our disciplines are changing. Our students are changing. But is higher education keeping pace?...For education to do better we cannot just keep doing the same things.” —Diana Oblinger

Professional development within and around international educational exchanges might become essential as we increasingly export U.S. higher education expertise while importing new ideas and ways of knowing from abroad. This is where the Fulbright Scholar Program comes in: It offers professional development opportunities for learning technologists, digital librarians, technology-fluent faculty members, and administrators who have valuable and sought-after expertise to share in an international higher education context. In the interest of ending the cycle of “doing the same things” and with an awareness that geographic boundaries are not barriers to learning and knowledge-sharing, I ask you to consider applying for the Fulbright.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars or CIES, the Fulbright program has been providing international academic exchanges between the United States and other countries for more than 60 years. The program provides scholarships for individuals in all fields to undertake innovative projects, graduate-level study, teaching, and research, while also enabling participants to become cultural ambassadors. Instructional technology skills such as co-curricular course design, instruction, software demonstration expertise, digital analysis and research, coding, and programming, as well as a background in discipline-specific research, make digitally fluent higher education practitioners potential Fulbright grantees. You might be surprised, as was I, to find that your educational background and experiences qualify you to apply for a Fulbright grant. Depending on the country for which you apply, a technology professional likely possesses proficiencies that are rare to nonexistent there.

The EDUCAUSE “Top-Ten IT Issues, 2012” lists as issue number one “updating IT professionals’ skills and roles to accommodate emerging technologies and changing IT management and service delivery models.” The Fulbright grant experience affords an opportunity for updating the administrative, project management, teaching, and research skills of a technology professional as he or she gains international experience. The Fulbright grantee will gain in-depth knowledge of the host country’s higher education system and learn about new institutional frameworks for learning. Often, a returning Fulbright Scholar becomes a catalyst for initiating educational, social, and cultural exchanges between the home campus and institutions abroad. The long-term benefits to both the learning technology practitioner and his or her home institution are many.

I was a Fulbright Scholar in 2009–10 and have skills similar to many readers of EDUCAUSE Review Online. Prior to being awarded the Fulbright, I worked (since 1998) in higher education as an academic technology professional supporting faculty use of geospatial and other technologies in the learning process. I have a master’s degree in geoscience and understand how to manage research and curricular projects. Although I have several adjunct teaching experiences at a variety of higher education institutional types, I never held a full-time teaching position. I consider myself an alternative academic. I have participated in or managed assorted and interesting teaching-related technology integrations and given talks on several of those projects. A few of those implementations, I turned into journal articles. My teaching and my record of publications helped strengthen my Fulbright application.

Meg Stewart

The author showing features of Google Earth software in a GIS class at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus

I was on my Fulbright grant for 11 months to teach and do research at the University of the West Indies in Barbados and was affiliated with a graduate program in environmental resources and climate change studies. I helped teach the GIS class, gave faculty development workshops, wrote curriculum for geography lessons, and helped integrate and teach how to use different technologies in a field-based class taught in Belize. My office door was always open, and students and faculty members regularly came to seek advice and guidance on aspects of their research projects. No one  employed in the department or on the university campus knew how to use GIS or other geospatial technologies, so I frequently had visitors. As far as research goes, I worked with a PhD student who had mapped the marine environment around the islands in the Grenadines. Her many map layers were in GIS software, so I exported her GIS data set and created a Google Earth project file for easy sharing. She and I traveled to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada to talk about her project and show locals how to use the new Google Earth project file that I created. I took photographs and made a video to document that trip.

In a traditional sense, Fulbrights tend to go to those with a sabbatical leave. But not always. As a staff member at a college, I took an unpaid leave of absence to go on my placement abroad. The Fulbright grant provided a stipend that I found sufficient for living in Barbados and included an allowance for subsistence, housing, books, and travel to the host country and back home. Grants pay for up to two accompanying dependents, and I brought my family.

The Fulbright Scholar Catalog of Awards, which goes online every February 1, provides a list of Fulbright awards to be granted for the coming academic year. For instance, this past February 2013 the 562 awards listed are for placements in academic year 2014–2015. A complete Fulbright application is then due six months later, on August 1. Some of the items that might be necessary in a Fulbright application include a five-page proposal with a teaching and research statement, a five-page CV, three letters of recommendation, and, if you propose to teach, two examples of course syllabi. Sometimes a letter of invitation from the host institution is necessary. Taking a close look at the individual award description will explain in detail the items you need for your proposal.

A lot of information is available on the Fulbright Scholar Program website to help you investigate the Fulbright. I recommend spending time reviewing the site, paying particular attention to the following:

  • Types of Fulbright Scholar grants: There are several different types and lengths of grants including Administrator grants, Specialists, and Core. Lengths of Fulbright placements vary from 2 weeks to 12 months, so be mindful of the amount of time you wish to dedicate to your grant. This year there is added flexibility in the timing of grants and Fulbright scholars need not go for long periods of time.
  • Catalog of Fulbright awards: The Fulbright Core awards can be searched by global region, country, discipline, type of Fulbright grant, and keywords. In the advanced search you can narrow the results to just teaching or just research or both, and by need for a PhD or not.
  • Webinars: Online presentations given by knowledgeable CIES  staff members are given frequently and are also archived.
  • Contact Program Officers: Designated CIES staff members oversee exchanges around the world regionally, and each award lists the names of those officers. They are informed of the latest developments and are helpful in answering your region-related questions.
  • Contact former (or current) Fulbright Scholars: As you narrow your search to a particular country, it is advisable to contact former grantees who went to the country you’re looking into. Questions about daily living, taking family members, and host country institutional concerns, as well as many other questions, can often be answered by the U.S. Fulbright Scholars who recently lived and taught in that country.

Colleges encourage students to study abroad. On some U.S. campuses whole offices are dedicated to supporting sophomores interested in spending their next academic year in another country, learning in a new environment, taking classes in another language, and living with locals. We tell our students that this experience will add value to their liberal arts education and make them more well-rounded, more agile, more employable. Can we not claim those same benefits to international educational experience for ourselves? Working, researching, and teaching in another country, pushing our comfort zones, experiencing new cultures and educational environments so different from our own broaden our scope and make us more conscientious and valuable citizens, and, yes, employees.

In a world that is interdependent and technologically accelerating, a learning technology professional in higher education may find a Fulbright Scholar award a good fit for next-stage professional development. Creating cross-cultural bridges can benefit the scholar professionally, build capacity and capability at his or her home institution, and have lasting benefits to the host country in which the scholar is placed.  I encourage you to seek a Fulbright grant. If you would like to hear more about the Fulbright Scholar Program, invite me or any one of the over 20 Fulbright ambassadors to come speak at your institution.

The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program and is supported by the people of the United States and partner countries around the world. For more information, visit http://eca.state.gov/fulbright/