Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

Two Days, three Museums, two Cathedrals and 576 Kms on the Costa Del Azaharhone

This is my first blog post from my 2 month position as a visiting professor at the open University of Catalonia (UOC). UOC is a 100% distance University (like Athabasca U.) but founded not as a correspondence university, but as an online university in 1997.  There is a large open university (UNAD) in Madrid but UOC was founded with a mission to teach in Catalonian (think Quebec) – though to reach the Latin American market they teach in Spanish and of course, some graduate programs in the lingua franca – English.

My tasks at the University are to meet with grad students about their thesis, meet with various faculty about “hot” research topics of the day -notably MOOCs and do presentations at 4 conferences.  UOC has an E-Learn Research Centre which undertakes and champions elearning research, teaches a Masters and a PhD program in E-learning and is responsible for faculty development at the University. I chair the E-learn Centre’s International Advisory Committee which meets annually (next week) to provide assessment and other collegial advice to the Centre and to the University.  The rest of the time, I chat informally with staff – who are very helpful whenever Sue and I get into problems and thanks to the Internet, keep up my duties at Athabasca – time shifted by 8 hours.

Susan has had six or so sessions by telephone with her counseling clients, but getting to SKYPE video conferencing has been a problem to date from home. Speaking of which, the University rented us a great apartment (our first experience of high rise living) on the 20th floor.  As I write I get a terrific view of the boats anchored off the Barcelona harbour, the old Gothic quarter, the mind blowing Gaudi Sagrada Familie and the Tibidabo mountain that broods over the City. Hopefully tomorrow, we get Internet at home – and I can post this blog!

The title of this blog comes from our most recent trip to Valencia. We have twice rented cars and driven first North – Costa Blanca and last weekend south to Valencia. We began last weekend’s adventure, by me forgetting we had the car for Friday evening and arriving on Saturday morning  to pick up the car, but they were all out of GPS systems. But we had the faithful Iphone (more later) so we ventured forth with and the car rental map and my faithful navigator Sue (when she remembers to put on her reading glasses on) guiding the adventure.

We first drove north and UP to the Monastery of Montserrat. This Monastery high on a sawtooth topped mountain, has long been a pilgrim’s retreat since it was founded in 1025 AD.  It still hosts a pilgrim’s hostel, monks and choir boys. The highlight for the faithful is the “Black Madonna” a meter high statue of Mary holding a globe and the babe, likely from the 12th Century. Mary’s face and hands are very dark, whether as a racial statement by the carver or the effects of age, I wasn’t sure. In any case she has become the favourite religious icon of Catalonia. The cult of Mary complete with non-biblical stories of  her death and ascension to heaven where she was crowned Queen of Heaven by God and Jesus, is alive and well here in Spain.  A highlight of the monastery visit was time in the museum, that unlike most Church museums is not full of Icons and paintings of the crucifixion and martyrs, but rather has some very enchanting paintings of Spanish realist, impressionist and even a surrealist Dali for good measure.  However we didn’t linger as I had read the parking lot sign to read 5.5 Euros per half hour. No Anderson can be comfortable looking at paintings when the meter is ticking at that rate. So we rushed out to discover at the exit that, the rate was 30 minutes free, after that 5.50 Euros total for as long as you stayed!

From Monserrat we headed back to the coast to Taragona the capital of the Roman province since 235 BC. The City has a wealth of Roman history including an amphitheatre, an arched aqueduct, most of a city wall and city hosted St Paul on his grand missionary tour.  It is interesting to see the huge stones used by the Romans and the repairs and extensions done in medieval times, using much smaller stones – perhaps the Romans had stronger slaves.

From Taragona we headed inland again in search of our hotel, booked online at a “mansion” – the Casa Ceremines in the very small town of Xerta on the Ebra river.  We managed to find the town, but no sign of a “mansion” much less a hotel. However  the town had only 5 streets so we randomly drove around, on one-way streets so narrow that I thought it would not be able to make the corner- even though we were driving a small Citroen. The wall bore evidence of the scrapes of larger cars. Finally we decided this random driving was crazy and we would ask for help, even with our non-existent Catalan. Much to our surprise the man on the street pointed and there it was 50 yards away. The hotel was indeed a 3 story mansion built in the 1700’s . It had 14 foot ceilings, stone arches, fresco’s in the drawing and dining rooms, a beautiful garden at the back, complete with a chirping aviary and a very kind hostess. I think there was only one other couple as guests but we had a wonderful meal and felt very noble indeed.

The next morning we headed down the coast through hundreds of fields of oranges and olives and the occasional vineyard.  The Spanish motor ways are great –easily doing 120KM/Hr, but the 10-20 Euro tolls when you exit take their toll on the wallet. Valencia is Spain’s third largest City- large enough for us to get lost trying to find the historic centre. But the iphone saved the day and we soon managed to find a parking spot and the medieval town centre. Outside the Cathedral we found a vibrant pottery market and saw a march in the street by civil servants and health workers protesting government cuts associated with the floundering Spanish economy and neo-liberal ideology. The Cathedral was, as always, huge and inspiring. They had a special celebration with pictures some of the local martyrs from Saint Vincent killed by the Romans in 328 and whose ‘incorruptable” left arm (complete with evidence of the torture), is at the front of the nave. The most recent martyr was a church deacon, executed by the Anarchists during the civil war in 1937. Catalonia is proud of their brave, but eventually futile resistance to Franco’s fascist forces, but this execution by the ‘good guys” reminds me that war has room for little virtue among any of its players.

By then it was time to head home, partially on the side roads to get a better glimpse of the many tourist developments sprouting on the Mediterranean coast.  We successfully found the car rental back in Barcelona but in the confusion of packing the car, checking in and heading for the subway home, I misplaced my trusty IP. A day later I’m still awaiting a call from someone who has found it, but losing hope-  so the pictures from this adventure will have to be mental!

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