Lecturers Profile - Czech Republic, Slovakia

 

Thomas K. Murphy, Ph.D, British and American Studies Program, Philosophical Faculty, Presov University, Presov, SLOVAKIA

My arrival in Presov, Slovakia in the fall of 1997 came shortly after Presov University had just recently undergone a name change. Formerly the Presov campus of the Kosice - based and widely respected Safarik University, newly named Presov University was now a separate campus and university. Local reaction was mixed, with feelings of pride commingled with resentment. (As a result, many students and Presov residents to this day often adhere the old university name.) The university provided me with an apartment, which I found to be quite satisfactory, with views of both the historic downtown and the scenic foothills surrounding the city. I found the town itself to be pleasant and attractive - a place that was certainly underrated by much of the regional travel and tourist literature. Presov was then and continues to be in a state of flux, with much construction and renovation underway. It is perhaps best described as a mid-sized city with a small town feel.

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Jiri Sedivy, Charles University, Faculty of Philosophy, Institute of Political Science, Czech Republic

I am honored to give this account of my nearly two-year experience as a Civic Education Project Local Faculty Fellow. I joined the program in 1997 when I was teaching International Politics at the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts at Charles UniversityAt the time, I also worked part-time for the Institute of International Relations (IIR) in Prague. I received my MA . in War Studies from King’s College, London in1994. Before that I studied Anglo-American Studies and Politology at Charles University in Prague.

Frankly speaking, when I joined CEP, my images of the program were rather nebulous. I soon discovered that CEP has many charms. The program is much more than a support group for young academics. It is a regional information network dedicated to informing young scholars and their students of various educational and support schemes and programs, as well as in extending our existing knowledge about study abroad. I am proud that three of the ten Czech/Slovak students who qualified for this year's International Students Conference in Budapest, are from my classes. Several of my students have also used CEP sources for obtaining useful information about study abroad and relevant funding. I should not forget the many books I was able to buy for our department’s library, thanks to CEP.

During the past two years, my own career has grown. In 1997 I was offered the position of Deputy Director for Studies at the IIR, and in the spring of 1998 I became the Director of this Institute. Despite the amount of work related to this job, I kept my position with the University. For me, working with students is by far the most rewarding professional activity. This wearing of two hats also enables me to involve my students in the activities of the IIR. Students are not only permitted to use our library and participate in our public events, they are encouraged to publish in the IIR’s periodicals (two excellent seminar essays and one book review written by my students were already published). Furthermore, two of my students joined our research teams as research assistants. In addition to the modest earnings, these students receive hands-on involvement in practical academic research, which can be a strong incentive for studying even harder and, hopefully, for remaining in the academic field after they finish their studies. I am sure that some of the best of them will one day join the IIR as full-timers.

Looking back over my two years with CEP, I can honestly conclude that it was a happy and successful period for me and, above all, for my students. I will miss the CEP spirit, the dedication and care of Zora Vidovencova, our country Director, as well as the CEP e-mail traffic. I am sure that as a CEP alumnus I will not lose touch with the project’s future development, in which I am prepared to offer my help and advice.

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Ivana Takacova

WHAT I GAINED DUE TO MY PARTICIPATION IN THE NOVICIUS PROGRAM

As a result of the lack of Slovak instructors prepared academically to lecture the courses within the recently introduced British and American Studies program, at Presov, the department has joined the network of other academic institutions in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In this way the department hopes to take advantage of the professional preparation of prospective full-time academics being carried out through Novicius project.

I participated in the Novicius project during the 1996-97 academic year under the leadership of Professor Arthur H. Pitz, a CEP lecturer on leave from Black Hawk College, Moline, Illinois, USA. My field of specialization was American Studies.

My cooperation with Professor Pitz has helped me considerably in preparation for my career as a university teacher. I realized the significance of this contribution especially when I assumed full responsibility for handling the courses.

Throughout the academic year, I regularly attended the classes of Professor Pitz, meeting with him prior to the session to consult on the main points and concepts of the topic to be dealt with. After the class, our discussions concentrated on the assessment and analysis of the session and the methodology used. In the course of the academic year, I was involved in many different activities, each of which gave me an opportunity to undergo a complex preparation for my future work with students.

The weekly attendance of my mentor's classes inspired me. It made me aware of how important it is for students to understand the essential concepts, forces and factors that have shaped US history, culture and character. I appreciated the emphasis Professor Pitz placed upon the interrelations between individual problems, paying attention to the causes and consequences. It has taught me how to combine the general concepts on the one hand and particularities on the other, to facilitate the students' understanding of a given theme and encourage them to look for further information on their own. I was inspired by the example of leading the students to comprehend that history is not an irrelevant past but a part of our present and future, and that it can, and should, be used and worked with actively as a material to learn from.

My cooperation with the mentor also helped me to realize the importance of how intercultural and comparative/contrastive studies assist the students in better understanding the other culture as well as their own. It also sharpened my awareness of the relevance of certain problems and issues of US society to our own country. This contributed much to the students' knowledge of themselves, thus preparing them better to become members of the world community.

The classes were especially rewarding for me as far as the methodology is concerned. This is probably one of the essential tasks the CEP lecturers try to accomplish at our universities — to assist in their revitalization after all the years when memorizing was the principal method of acquiring knowledge. My Novicius cooperation with Professor Pitz gave me a powerful stimulus to serve as a facilitator for students' development and maturing as complex personalities, providing enough space for them to develop positions and opinions on the issues being dealt with. The role-playing activities in particular offered many an opportunity for critical assessment of the problems discussed. The individual, pair, and group activities assisted the students in developing their analytical and creative-thinking skills, thus making them better prepared to implement their knowledge and abilities in practice.

Another experience I acquired working with Professor Pitz, as well as with another CEP lecturer, Professor Louis Petrich, concerns how the interdisciplinary approach makes the classes more interesting, inviting and motivating for students, enabling them to make connections and use their analytical thinking skills. It also makes the learning process more effective.

My cooperation with my CEP mentor provided me with an opportunity to participate in the International Conference on Learning Strategies in Higher Education, an annual event held in Szeged, Hungary. This introduced me to the international community of scholars, another rewarding experience for me.

In sum, my participation in the Novicius-Junior Faculty Development Project has been enormously rewarding. What I expected at the start was mainly an opportunity to learn facts in particular, the information to be shared with students later in the teaching process. However, I acquired much more than that. My Novicius training proved to be a complex and multifaceted experience, vital for my teaching since it has provided me with a multitude of invaluable suggestions. It has been a "concert" of various methodological approaches and student-centered activities serving as a fruitful inspiration for me. I am much obliged to Professor Pitz and the Civic Education Project, as well as the Jan Hus Educational Foundation. The worthwhile example, set by a CEP lecturer, of encouraging students' critical thinking, argument build-up, and analysis of the facts is being continued. The seeds Novicius sowed in Presov are beginning to sprout. I have learned not only how to satisfy students' curiosity about the field but also how to spur it.