Distance education takes on new meaning in a nation of islands

andy lambertMarch 6, 2014


Dr. Jeni McRay’s career at Fort Hays State University started in China, took a detour to Indonesia for another university as part of a U.S. Justice Department project, then returned to the United States, to Wichita.


Where, in fact, she lives, but still teaches in China for FHSU. She is an assistant professor of leadership studies, teaching five sections of undergraduate leadership studies courses for two of FHSU’s Chinese partner institutions, Shenyang Normal University, Shenyang (pronounced shinYAHNG), and Sias International University, Xinzheng (pronounced shinJUNG). She also teaches a virtual graduate course for FHSU’s Department of Leadership Studies.

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 1.24.13 PM

Dr. Jeni McRay, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies (Photo courtesy: https://www.fhsu.edu/leadership/faculty/jeni-mcray/)


The time in Indonesia, she said, was “amazing.”


“It was the single greatest professional experience of my life, because, as a teacher, you always want people to be really engaged in what it is that you’re doing, and you really want to feel like you have some impact and you want to feel like they are really learning from you,” she said.


And the people in Jakarta, she said, “really learned, and they wanted to learn, and they wanted more.”


“They would have come back for another week or two. They were just fantastically, genuinely engaged and interested in everything we had to say.”


What she was teaching in Indonesia’s capital, at the academy of the Indonesian National Police, was how to teach at a distance. She was teaching teachers, many of whom already had Ph.D.s, people who occupied high levels of a very hierarchical world.


The job was a consulting contract with Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. That university was, and is, working with the U.S. Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigation Training Assistance Program (ICITAP, called “issytap”). The particular project on which McRay worked is one component of an initiative to complete the conversion of the Indonesian National Police from a military to a civilian model.


The instructional challenge in that is the nature of Indonesian geography: a country of more than 17,000 islands, more than 900 of which are permanently inhabited by 234 million people. It is, said McRay, one of the largest democracies in the world. Much education is necessarily at a distance.


“What we’re doing,” she said, “is teaching the faculty at what we would call the national police academy how to move their content from a face-to-face format to distance technology, so they can reach out to the people in some of the outlying locations and islands.”


The directors of ICITAP Indonesia had a connection with Northern Arizona, where a former colleague of McRay’s contacted her, whose background is not in police work but in education.


“My expertise has been in online course development, faculty development, program development — training faculty, working with faculty.”


It was this expertise that brought her to the attention of Dr. Jill Arensdorf, chair of the Department of Leadership Studies at FHSU.


“Her primary teaching responsibility is in our international program,” said Arensdorf. “However, we are going to start having her teach some domestic virtual courses as well as graduate courses.”


Arensdorf and McRay think there is a potential for partnerships in Indonesia.


McRay, who traveled to both Indonesia and China last year, sees possibilities. She was supposed to go to Indonesia first, having been hired to a consulting contract with Northern Arizona’s ICITAP project before being hired at Fort Hays State. However, a delay in their security clearances put off that trip until October, so, in the meantime, she went to China to become familiar with the workings of FHSU’s international program.


Then, reflecting on the educational possibilities in that island nation, she said, “I was thinking that we could do something very similar to what we do in the Chinese cross-border program with FHSU, which could be directly teaching students at universities, either doing the cross-border program that’s similar to what Fort Hays State already has, where we bring some Indonesian students here, or doing it the same way we do it in the international program – a cooperating teacher in the physical classroom over there and the instructor of record here.”


She also said that Indonesia has a need for leadership studies education in particular, as well as higher education in general. She illustrated that point with the idea of the individual as a leader as part of a larger process.


“I think they are ready for, actually hungry for, the idea that individual people can have an impact in a variety of different organizations and not necessarily be in explicit leadership positions,” she said, “and the idea that they can be accepting of a diverse set of perspectives and how to effect change within individual organizations using a collaborative partnership style. That’s a set of theories that I think they are ready for.”


The challenges are many. The Indonesian educational structure is in the beginning stages of developing distance education programs. They are trying to do in a few years– make the leap from the traditional face-to-face classroom model of education to online course delivery — what was in the United States a decades-long transition from classroom to correspondence to video tapes to interactive TV to course management software.


Part of ICITAP, she said, is providing help building out the infrastructure needed for the police academy to deliver its programs to students in the outlying islands. That infrastructure, however, is dedicated to the police training program, sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department, owned by the Indonesian police and run by a contract with Northern Arizona University. That would not be available for other partnerships.


But, she said, trying to create partnerships with existing higher education institutions in Indonesia could provide additional opportunities for FHSU.


“I have no idea what their capabilities are at a university level,” she said. “But I do know there is a consortium of colleges right now that have partnerships with Indonesian universities, and that is something we can explore.”


Speaking of the programs available in China and elsewhere, she said, “We already have the structure and the expertise at Fort Hays State to be able to move the same kinds of programs we have in China to other areas, and because of the need in Indonesia and because of the thirst in Indonesia, and because of the attitude that I experienced when I was there, I just felt that it was ripe with possibilities.”


What most impressed her, though, were the people she met in the classroom in Jakarta.


“I have been doing a lot of different types of education for over 20 years, and I have never had a more engaged group of learners,” she said. “Ever.”


Press release via FHSU communications




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