Thursday, February 09, 2006

Midyear Fulbright Presentations

Since I didn’t take my camera to the Brno folk ball and haven’t yet gotten copies of everyone else’s photos, an account of our adventures there will have to wait. Instead, I’ll be non-chronological and go on to the Fulbright conference, which was jointly hosted by the Czech and Slovak commissions and was in Velké Bilovice this year.
The midyear conference has two major components: presentations by each grantee, and social time for grantees to get acquainted or renew acquaintance. As some grantees do come just for the spring semester (taking the place of those who were only here in the fall), they also had an orientation.
There are essentially three categories of grantee: the Scholars, who are professors or other similarly august characters; the Students, who have finished college and proposed some form of research or study; and the Teachers, who exchange places with Czech colleagues. Now, in actuality matters are more complex than this because Megan is in a special new subcategory of Student (new to the Czech Republic, that is) and both teaches and researches; and some of the Scholars teach while some just do research; and our group of Students consists largely of PhD candidates. And, furthermore, my grant is Fulbright-Hays rather than Fulbright, so my participation was optional. But overall there were three categories of presentation. So… Monday’s presentations were by continuing grantees who primarily teach (Scholars, Teachers, and Megan), Tuesday’s were by Students doing research, and Wednesday’s were pretty much anyone new, plus Hubert.
Overall, I thought the presentations were interesting and well done. In fact, I enjoyed presentations on topics that sounded as if they would be utterly incomprehensible to me, which is a tribute to the presenters’ lecture skills. The free-form discussion of second-language acquisition pedagogy that followed Monday’s presentations did get a little too long for me after awhile, but I was glad that the teachers had a chance to talk about the issues they encounter in either teaching the English language or in teaching students whose command of English is not sufficient for university courses taught in that language. (I think anyone who takes difficult courses in a foreign language is brave, but of course people do it all the time.)
The fact that so many people were able to discuss their projects extemporaneously, albeit often with the help of some transparencies or Powerpoint slides, was genuinely impressive. It is true that all but one or two of the grantees are accustomed to teaching, which I’m sure for most of us includes a good deal of lecturing, but I’m not accustomed to seeing so many people who talk so glibly in front of an audience. I’ve had a lot of excellent teachers over the years, but I would say that few of them have developed this degree of public speaking skill. Some of them read the same lectures year after year (yes, we always hear that this is bad, but it isn’t always if the lectures are well crafted); some of them speak too softly or too quickly; some of them are easily distracted by student sneezes and dropped pencils; and most of them never get through the entire syllabus.
Since we were told to regard this as a conference with papers rather than an exact repeat of December’s talk-for-ten-minutes-about-your-experience, Dawn and I agreed that well-scripted papers with suitable visuals were the way to go. Unfortunately, Dawn’s dead computer took her visuals with it, but as her topic was literary, this was less of a disaster than it would have been for me. She did end up having to translate some big chunks of German at the last minute, also not something I would care to have to do. Other than that, the student presentations went pretty well except for some oddities of timing. I am not sure what happened, as in general they seemed about the right length, but for some reason the presenters in our group kept being told their time was up or about to be up. I can only conclude that there was some error in the calculations regarding how many 15-minute presentations would fit in a given amount of time. This occurred at another conference I attended, where through administrative error my panel was allotted considerably less time than any other and although no one went overtime, there was no time for questions, while other panels featured speakers who rambled on for three times as long and had endless Q&A sessions afterwards.
The main thing, however, is that things generally went well.
I append some photos of the presentations, all taken (I believe) by Andrea of the Fulbright office. There are more to be seen at the Fulbright website.














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Blogger P'tit-Loup said...

Sounds like the presentation were wonderful. I do so love the academic world. I just always love to learn and get a lot out of symposium where different folks show what they have learned, and the research they are conducting. Sounds like a lot of fun to me.

February 10, 2006 7:36 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Yes, it isn't often that one gets a truly interdisciplinary conference. The closest I've gotten before is Slavic conferences, which can include literature, linguistics, history, politics, economics, art history, musicology, anthropology, and who knows what else. But you still don't get things like geology, medicine, or environmental science.

February 10, 2006 10:13 AM  

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