Saturday, November 17, 2012

International Adventures: My first week at American University of Madaba

Written 11 November 2012

Monday morning, 15 October, my driver picked me up on the street in front of my apartment building and drove me to AUM. 72+ hours after having departed SeaTac, I was at my new workplace for the next 10 months. First things first, I had to have a place to work. My new co-boss, Basman Smeirat, the head of IT at AUM, offered me one of two possible spaces; a shared space with a conference table and one desk (already occupied), or a separate office. I took the separate office. 

The odd thing about this office is that it would probably have been the place where Basman's assistant would sit (if he had one). You have to go through my office to get to Basman's and to the other one he had offered for me to share. The gentleman in that office, Hatem, has become a good friend over the past month, but I'm glad I took the separate space as we would have been on top of one another the whole time.

Next, it was down to HR to sign a contract. Up until this time, I had only seen a generic employment contract and a provisional job description and had signed nothing. A bit hard to believe that I had journeyed 6,000 - 7,000 miles into a new country on the haziest of notions, but that is what happened. Now it was time to get down to particulars. Farah Halawi, the head of HR, showed me my official contract (much like the generic one I had seen, but with the  particulars for my job filled in). My title is now Learning Management System Specialist, reporting to the President's Assistant for Operations and Executive Affairs (President George Hazboun's fix-it man), Eng. Majdi Dayyat. 

I am currently a part of the University's staff, a member of the IT department. (Perhaps in the future, I may be teaching an English class or two and then will be a member of the faculty as well, but that is for the future, insha'allah (hopefully, but literally, "God willing".) I have 'dotted line' reporting to Eng. Basman Smeirat who I mentioned earlier. Practically, that means I do most of my reporting to Basman, as his office is right next door to mine and he walks through my office several times a day. 

Eng. Dayyat is a couple of buildings away in Science B (a tour of AUM will be available in a future post) and I see him only if I make the effort to seek him out. That's only happened twice so far; on my first day of work and last week when Basman was out all week due to the death of his mother-in-law.
So, now I have an office with a desk and chair, a contract and a reporting structure. No telephone, and for the time being, no computer. (Thank God I had the foresight to buy a new laptop ( a light, carbon-fiber framed Sony Vaio with a 13.3" screen, Intel i7 processor, 8  Gb of RAM, 640 Gb hard drive, DVD/Blu-Ray drive, wireless and Bluetooth connectivity) at Frye's before I left. With my 1Tb Passport drive, I have some serious computing power and storage at my disposal.) Now it's time to get down to work. 

As the Learning management system specialist my responsibilities include (and these are direct lifts from my job description):
·         LMS training, instruction and front-end user support for faculty, students and staff,
·         assist in the design of classes when requested,
·         build course sites, including open source alternatives,
·         apply system updates, and
·         assist in evaluating AUM’s courseware needs. 

  • ·         Assist faculty in the design, development and management of course design and technology-mediated instruction, including mobile learning and ePublishing initiatives.
  • ·         Accountable for the production, administration, and coordination of instructional tools and materials in any modality to enhance the pedagogy of any course.
  • ·         Produce and/or support production of course materials, technology and mobile learning and ePublishing deployment for on campus and blended instructional modalities.
  • ·         Develop, implement and deliver training programs designed to assist faculty in understanding pedagogical principles of technology-mediated learning.
  • ·         Host a regular user group meeting to share information, cultivate interest and provide support.
  • ·         May evaluate requests from users for hardware, software and problem-solving activities and make recommendations.
  • ·         Conduct user training and recommend development of new information systems to meet current and projected needs.
  • ·         Prepare technical reports, memoranda and operational manuals as documentation of program development.
  • ·         Identify opportunities for the application of computing and communication technologies. Provide status reports as required.

What this all boils down to is that I will be using the learning management system as my entree to helping the faculty make more regular, more deeply embedded use of technology in education. 

Over the past 3 weeks, I've come up with an operational strategy that I think will work. It's got three major components at the moment; an eLearning course that teaches the faculty how to design and develop eLearning courses, a presentation for faculty members introducing that eLearning course, and visits to classrooms so that I can witness what is actually going on in AUM's classes instead of imagining what is going on in them (I think my imaginings will probably be borne out in reality, college professors being the lecture-driven animals they are, but it's better to check it out than to imagiine). I have met a couple of faculty members. Some of them seem interested in the work I have come to do. We'll see how that pans out.

Last week as I mentioned, I went to see Eng. Dayyat to talk about classroom visits. I told him what I wanted to do and explained that, left to my own devices, I would probably wander the halls, find a faculty member going into class and ask if I could sit in the back and observe. His response was classic; "I prefer that we use the authority structure in place." 
I was afraid of that, knowing that it would mean a certain amount of delay. 

What he meant was that first he would introduce me to the President and Vice President, and then the Deans of the Faculties. The Deans of the Faculties would then give me access to their professors and their classes. That is currently a work in progress as of 10 November.

So, back to my first week at AUM; office, desk, chair, no computer, no phone. Within the first day or two (I forget now), I was given an older Toshiba laptop. Nothing fancy, but certainly workable. I also got an AUM email account;, so I now had rudimentary communications capability with the faculty and staff of AUM.

The work week at AUM is a bit odd, influenced by the Christian/Muslim culture of Jordan. I work Monday to Thursday 8:30 - 1700 (that's 5:00 p.m. for those of you in North America), Saturday from 9:00 - 1400, and have Friday and Sunday off. A bit of a monkey wrench in the works of my dreams of getting to see Diane most weekends, but we will have to adapt to what is, not dream of what we wish could be.

On Tuesday, 16 October, I waited outside my apartment door at 8:30 waiting for my driver to appear.  He didn't show up until after I emailed the university and let them know I needed a ride (which didn't happen until after I had cleared up an ugly international data roaming bill ($800+ and mounting) by purchasing an international data roaming plan that was post dated to cover that $800 in charges for much less. Should have done that before I left the U.S., but hindsight is always so much clearer. 

Anyway, he finally showed up and we made it out to AUM by 10:30 or so. I was beginning to get the sinking feeling that "use of a car" in my contract was going to mean, practically, that I had access to a driver and his car, not at all what I was looking forward to as I do like my personal mobility as most of you know. 

That was all taken care of the next day when the Director of Operations presented me the keys to my new wheels, a gray Chevrolet Aveo LS 4-door sedan with 31,500 Km on the odometer. Now I could make the trip from Madaba to AUM and back on my schedule, not someone else's. Yay! It's a bit gutless when compared to any of our U.S. 'rides', but will be perfectly serviceable for use here. It seems to get fairly good mileage considering gas (95 octane, which is figured differently than US octane ratings (I will not bore you with the details), but it's about equivalent to 89 in the US) is 1.0195 dinars/liter. Doing a rough conversion, that's a bit more than $5.00 (US) per gallon. Hooray for fuel efficient small cars. It has an AM/FM radio and a cassette tape deck, so I'm glad that I have the Monster tape adapter for my iPod. Tunes AND wheels? I'm a happy man.

This picture shows my 'new' car, my apartment building, and my landlord's house all at the same time. My new ride is at the front of that line of parked cars. The door to the building is the opening seen just over the rear of the Aveo. My landlord's house is directly behind the apartment building; the one built of yellowish stone. My bedroom window is the fourth one up on the narrow end of the building. Looking at this picture, it occurs to me that I have been counting incorrectly. I live on the 4th floor in a 5-story building.

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About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.