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Interview with Janice Friesen from Missouri, USA
by Carmen Holotescu

Our eLearning Community is honored to have Mrs. Janice Friesen from United States of America as special guest. 

Janice  completed her Master in Educational Technology  at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and she works in Missouri as an Instructional Specialist. The surprise is that during 1980-83, Janice had studied Romanian Language and Literature at University of Bucharest. 

The online courses  she has facilitated,  her conference  presentations , the important projects she  has been involved in, and the articles and studies written in last ten years, recommend Janice as a worth expert. 

Janice's Home Page presents her work and projects, resources, so warmly her happy family, but also you can read an essay on Education -  Reflections

I met online Janice at the beginning of this year, when I read about her last project eMINTS, and contacted her trying to learn more. 

Kind and open as always, Janice accepts to share now with us her valuable experience:

Dear Janice, thank you so much for your kindness to answer a few questions for our community. For the beginning, can you please tell us a little about your experience in traditional teaching and which was the moment you started to involve in technology projects?

I started teaching second grade ( 7 and 8 years old ) in 1977. The school I taught at was very traditional. Our daily activities were based on doing worksheets and I was in front of the class all day. The model that I thought was correct at that time was that I had the knowledge and I needed to present it to the children who were empty of knowledge.
I started to use technology in teaching in 1990. I was hired as a computer teacher. I worked in a lab in an elementary school and classes came to the lab. Teachers were supposed to learn with the students with the thought that in a year or two they would take over and do it on their own. 
In 1995 I decided that I really liked working with students and teachers with technology and it was worth going back to college to get a Masters Degree. My first class introduced me to constructivist teaching and learning.  It was great. For the first time I was not just memorizing facts for tests and reading and writing something that a teacher wanted me to write. I was designing my own learning. I enjoyed starting with my own questions and doing research and reflection to find the answers. This has totally changed how I think about teaching and learning. I now realize that technology makes this kind of teaching and learning possible in any classroom.

How can you characterized the interest in Computer and Internet based Learning of American students and teachers? Do you have some prognosis?

I am in touch with elementary schools, so I am not as knowledgeable about high school and Universities. There is pressure for  teachers to use technology in their classrooms, but in most schools across the country there is still not enough training and support for most teachers to feel successful at it. There are some exciting stories and pockets of schools that are making great strides, but in many schools problems like old equipment, slow bandwidth and no training are the norm. There is some hope that this will change with time.

Reading your Reflections, I understood that about ten years ago, it was a little difficult to adapt technology to education. Do you appreciate as being realized important steps since then? 

The Internet has brought such rich resources and connections with the world to the classroom. This is a huge step. I remember being told that someday we would not need software because the World Wide Web would have so many free applications online. I could not imagine it.  Now it is true.  I have also become convinced that a teacher can be very successful using mainly productivity software like Microsoft Office. The programs are simple enough to use with children and can be used for all sorts of things. 

Which do you consider to be the principal gain in using new concepts of teaching and learning? 

The really important thing about constructivist learning is that it engages the student. It does not assume that a student comes in with an empty brain that the teacher fills. It recognizes that every child comes into the classroom with some preconceptions. If we don't recognize them and assist the child in adjusting their presumptions they will be able to memorize for a test, but they will return to their previous understanding after the test.

A terrific example is a class of 4th graders that were studying heat and cold. Instead of the normal process of having the kids read a chapter about heat and cold and taking a test the teacher asked them what creates heat. Some of the things that they came up with were hats and coats and gloves. Instead of explaining that they were wrong and giving them the right answer the teacher said "Let's do some experiments". The class divided into groups and wrapped a thermometer in a coat and left it for 15 minutes. When nothing changed the kids said that it must not have been enough time, so they decided they needed to leave it over night. This didn't make any difference. Through this process and discussion the children really came to understand that it was their bodies that created the heat and that the coat and hat kept it in. 

Are there many specialists with your role? Can you speak about a large program of teachers training?

There are not many people who get to do what I am doing with schools and teachers in the United States. Most schools have recognized the need to have a technology coordinator who manages the hardware and the network, but only a few are beginning to realize that there needs to be someone who works with the teachers in an ongoing way to help them use technology to enhance the curriculum and change the way they are teaching. I think it will be a growing trend because so many schools have invested lots of money in equipment, but are not seeing much change in what is happening in the classrooms. 

During last years, you have worked in a lot of educational projects. Which of them do you consider to be more interesting and successful, and from which you also learn; do you prefer them to be f2f or online? 

I think that the eMINTS project is the most fascinating project that I have worked on.  I am lucky to be a part of it. It is a statewide effort to see what happens if teachers do not have the normal barriers to the use of technology in their classrooms. Teachers chosen for the program are given a teacher workstation, scanner, color printer, SMART Board, Projector, and digital camera and the students have one computer for every two students-usually about 12 computers. More importantly they work for two years with a cluster of teachers from their area and a Cluster Instructional Specialist learning how to use the technology in ways that enhance their own teaching. 

In my Master's Degree I took both Online and f2f classes. I think I preferred face to face in that situation because I really did get to know the professors and some other students. The people I met in my online courses disappeared after the class and I would not recognize them if I saw them.

However, I am enjoying taking some online classes now that are nationwide. I work with Connected University as a Guide and I think it is exciting to meet teachers from all over the USA and hear about their different experiences. I also am participating in a course run by ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education) which includes mostly people from the US, but at least one person from Germany. I think these opportunities are incredible. I learn so much more than I could from a local class. I think that online classes should not replace f2f classes, but they have a very important purpose. 

The current project eMINTS  you work now is very ambitious and innovative. Can you please present us a few details about it and also your work?

Well, I have already described it a bit above. eMINTS works with 3rd and 4th grade teachers because this is the grade level that the students are tested, so we have test data to evaluate. We are observing teachers changing their practices in good ways and students becoming more engaged in learning. It especially seems to help those at the lower levels that are lost in a regular class. For some of them it gives them the first time they have been good at something. It has been a surprise for me to see that the project has also helped improve student test scores. Right now I only have evidence that I have heard from many different teachers in the project, but there is an evaluation component of the project and the results will be posted on our website if you are interested htp://emints.more.net.

How do you remember your studies in Bucharest? Who is your preferred Romanian writer? During years, did you have contacts with your colleagues and teachers?

Scriu acum in limba romana. Ma scuz pentru greseli. Pot sa citesc destul de bine, si inteleg mult, dar e mai greu scrisul. De aceea n-am incercat sa scriu toate raspusurile.  Ar fi cerut prea mult timp.

Amintirile mele despre Bucuresti sint foarte bune.  Am trait acolo intre anii 1980-1983.  Am fost studenta la Limba si Literatura Romana. Am citit din Creanga, Golescu, Eminescu, si multi altii. Cred ca imi place Eminescu cel mai mult. Imi aduc aminte de introducerea la primul curs de limba romana. Am avut de memorat ceva din Eminescu. Am ascultat un cintec si cuvintele "vinturile, valurile" mai sint in constiinta mea. Limba romana este foarte frumoasa si mult mai buna pentru poezie decit engleza.

Mai tin legatura cu citiva colegi, dar mult timp a trecut si am pierdut legatura cu cei mai multi. La serviciul meu am intilnit un
roman care studiaza aici pentru doctorat. Vorbesc din cind in cind cu el in limba romana si ma bucur ca imi mai amintesc ceva.

Amintirile tale despre Romania si modul in care intelegi si scrii romaneste sunt emotionante si impresionante, Janice. 

You visited our community virtual space. What do you consider to be the key for a successful community and also if you have a message for our members.

I think in an online community it is important to be active even if it means just writing a short message. Because there is no f2f meeting it is easy to feel along even though there may be many people participating in reading and thinking about the course. A course is only valuable because of the people involved in it. 

Dear Janice, thank you very much for all you shared with us. I hope sometime in future, you'll come to visit the places of your  student years and to meet you :-) Multumesc foarte mult!

Cu Placere!  Si sper sa ma reintorc in Romania cindva!

Te asteptam, Janice!

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