All good things must come to an end…

And then I found myself back at work, except not back at work… My Fulbright scholarship officially ended last week and I should have been on the Queen Mary II in the Atlantic, sailing back from New York to Southampton. However, Covid-19 certainly changed things. I can look back and be grateful for an amazing time at Elon University. I still feel as if I am processing all the things I learned, the amazing opportunities I had, and I’m so grateful for all the new friends and colleagues I met.

One thing I’ve been reflecting on is that at this time of the horrendous police brutality that led to the murder of Floyd George in Minneapolis, how grateful I am to have had the opportunity not only to get to know, and to learn from, colleagues and students of colour in the USA, but also to have been exposed to high quality events about racism on campus and to have read more about civil rights and racism in articles and books than I have before. It makes for difficult reading and it leaves me with a sense of shame that by being white I am part of the problem of institutionalised racism, but I plan to keep reading. Most recently (and incredibly relevant to the current context of the protests against police brutality) I am reading Jennifer Eberhardt’s ‘Biased’. It is the common reading for Elon University for 2020-21, and what a timely choice. I think it has the potential to be very powerful if even half of all faculty, staff and students read this book and discuss it at some point next academic year.

After having such a positive time on my Fulbright, it can feel like coming down to earth with a bump when returning the ‘normal job’ – but I have an advantage, because I love my work at the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) and I have incredible colleagues. Many of them have been working very hard doing my work while I’ve been away and I’m very grateful.

It’s hard not to be able to go into the office and greet people again in the corridor, or go for a coffee and catch up in the way we would normally do after being away for a while. However, catching up via our new favourite tools – MS Teams, Zoom, Skype, WebEx, WhatsApp etc – is still good and I’m gradually catching up with folk and letting people know it’s good to be back. It’s going to be a tough time for universities over the coming months and years, but IAD are doing a great job and I’ll be proud to be contributing to our attempts to ensure students at the University of Edinburgh have the best possible experience in very difficult circumstances.

The final few weeks have been spent analysing my research data from Elon University, (and I’ll still be doing this for a while), and supervising PhD students, doing some writing and clearing through the hundreds of backlogged emails (the downside of having multiple email accounts). I also welcomed a new book into the world during lockdown Co-creating learning and teaching: towards relational pedagogy in higher education‘, now available from all good booksellers (online). It’s a bit harder to do book launches online but not impossible, and I’ll be involved in a journal club for the UK RAISE student engagement organisation in July, as they have chosen to focus on a chapter of my book. I’m also booked to do a keynote presentation at the University of Liverpool in a few weeks (online of course), which will be based on ideas from the book.

I needed to use up some leave before returning to IAD, so I’ve enjoyed lots of time in the garden (I’m not going to run out of work to do in the front and back gardens!) and have been continuing with early morning walks.  I’ve also continued with Covid-19 Craft Hour on a Saturday morning with my nieces where we do crafting and baking (see the creative projects page for updates). I’m also trying to use lockdown to revise some of my very rusty Spanish when I find time!

And of course I’ve been reading lots (see the reading pile page for updates) – I know I didn’t always stick to the brief of reading American books this year but it doesn’t stop me continuing to read US books alongside others in future of course. My time off also coincided with Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement to ease lockdown very slightly, and we were excited by the prospect last week that we could drive up to 5 miles to do exercise. We ended up one glorious evening doing a walk near Lennoxtown opposite the Campsie Fells. It was breathtakingly beautiful as you can see in the pictures.

I continue to keep in touch with students from the classes I taught at Elon, with staff and faculty colleagues at Elon, and also with my US book group. I have now gracefully bowed out of my US book group as I was finding it difficult to keep up with reading their book, with the reading for my UK book group as well as work reading and books I want to read for myself. I’ll certainly be keeping in touch as my US book group friends have been wonderful. I’ll try to drop in on them now and again online and you never know…I might do a drop in, in person some time. I say that, because I’ve been invited to join an Elon University Center for Engaged Learning Research Seminar from June 2021. This is a research collaboration involving individuals from institutions all over the world focusing on a particular area of research for three years. So I will be keeping my connections with Elon by visiting for a week every June/July from 2021-2023! So this blog might be coming to an end, but my connections will continue. I will also be looking to connect with a Fulbright Chapter in Glasgow and/or Edinburgh, to support the University of Edinburgh to enhance information about Fulbright awards for staff and students, and to be a welcoming presence to other Fulbrighters who come from the USA to do their Fulbright fellowships at the University of Edinburgh.

Doing a Fulbright Scholarship from home

It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged. It’s interesting that I’ve still found it hard to keep up with blogging even though I’m in UK lock-down (i.e. I’ve still got masses of other things to do!). I’ve adjusted well to being back in the UK, although I think the amazing weather we’ve had over the last three weeks has been a big factor in this, because it meant I’ve not missed the North Carolina weather as much, and I’ve been able to maximise time in our garden. Allan and I were saying that we don’t think we’ve spent as much time in the garden ever. We spend most of the weekends out there, and we’ve been having lunch breaks and early evening time in the garden most days too. For readers from the US, you have to realise these longer stretches of good weather, (and of course long stretches of time where I’m not commuting) are not something we’re used to in Scotland!

After a few weeks of being very tired from the move back to the UK and adjusting my mindset to the disappointment of realising the US part of my Fulbright is over, actually, I’ve settled back pretty well. Some of this is because in a normal working week at the University of Edinburgh, I usually work from home one day a week. This means I have a dedicated space to work and so while working at home all the time is not what I’m used to, I have at least found ways of working at home that are effective and productive in the past. Now I share the challenge with many folks of staying motivated, ensuring I stay well mentally and physically, and adjusting to what this might mean for my future work.

I’m doing some of my usual work for the Institute for Academic Development (PhD supervision for 3 students, responding to queries about some core work, and attending a few strategic meetings), but mostly I am still on my Fulbright. I said in an earlier blog, I was fortunate I’d finished my teaching and also gathering my research data. I spent some time over the last few weeks doing grading for Elon University students, and now I’m focusing more on my data analysis for my research. It’s been good to have some zoom catch up meetings with the wonderful Masters in Higher Education students and faculty – that’s helped with the adjustment to being home, but still being in touch.

My Fulbright research has looked at student and faculty perspectives on what faculty do to build relationships with students in the early days of meeting students in a class, and also what faculty do to help students build relationships with other students. The faculty respondents have also been asked some questions about their relationships with other faculty. I was hoping for responses from 100 students and from 10 faculty for this phase of the research, but in fact I received 156 student responses and 19 faculty responses to the survey, which is great. I plan to try to match those numbers when I seek responses from students and faculty at the University of Edinburgh in the autumn. One of the questions asked students to think of a professor with whom they have built a good relationship and it asked them to use three words to describe their professor. Typical responses might say ‘caring, intellectual, mentor’, or ‘enthusiastic, challenging, friendly’. However, my favourite response so far was ‘junior Jedi warrior’! One person when asked their nationality responded ‘Embarrassed American’. I just love these creative and funny responses, which always make doing data analysis much more fun. In the spirit of co-creation a couple of students from my class on co-creation and partnerships are going to join Peter Felten and I to analyse the data and perhaps co-write some presentations/publications.

In a bid to stay mentally and physically healthy, I’ve been trying to make the most of my exercise hour during lock-down by going around our local nature reserve, Lenzie Moss. It’s basically an old peat bog surrounded by some nice birch and deciduous woodland and there’s some duck-boarding at one point. I’ve taken to getting up at the normal time for work if I were going to the office in Edinburgh (6am) and instead of showering, breakfasting and heading for the Edinburgh train, I get up, walk around the Moss (50 minutes), come back, shower, breakfast and I’m at my desk before 8am. I’ve always been a lark, being more productive in the morning,

but I also recently read the book by Allan Jenkins (Observer Food Monthly Editor) called ‘Morning, how to make time’ and he makes even more arguments for getting up early. The Moss at 6am has the advantage of virtually no other people and chances to see deer, buzzards, bull finches, thrushes, blackbirds and masses of other bird life, as well as the dawn light on the Campsie Fells.

I’ve also been reading a lot, enjoying gardening (I’ve never been more glad to have a garden and realise we are very fortunate), baking bread – note on the photo of the dough proving, the use of a Southern US tea-towel 🙂 , and doing lots of craft. Craft includes a craft hour I have with 2 of my nieces on a Saturday morning on WhatsApp video, where one of us teaches the others to make something new (we send each other a list of requirements during the week before). It’s a great way for us all to stay in touch and be creative. We’ve made upcycled notebooks, a 3d rainbow, a set of paper and card shelves, mosaic pictures and a felt bookmark. I’ve also been knitting lots, enjoying some jigsaws and keeping up with my US and UK book groups online. Books and craft photos can be found on my creative projects page.

And then the world turned upside down…

As Allan and I headed back from our road trip to Elon, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK government announced that all Brits who are not resident abroad should come home. When the FCO says you should come home it’s usually time to consider that maybe you should – they can sometimes be overly cautious, but even the Fulbright Commission who had been saying Fulbrighters from the UK based in the US could choose whether to come home or to stay, started warning that commercial flights might become more difficult to get hold of and airports might close. Initially in the early days of coronavirus I had decided I would stay to complete my Fulbright in the US, but as more and more businesses closed and universities moved to teaching online, I began to realise that the work I was doing would have to be done from home and I wouldn’t be allowed to continue exploring the USA. For my health and that of others, we were moving to a point of lock down.

We decided to try to move Allan’s flights home with KLM to an earlier date and to see if I could get a flight home on the same day. We managed after some long phone calls and some frustrating cancellations of one leg of Allan’s flights to get us both flights out on Thursday 26th March, arriving in Glasgow on Fri 27th March. Allan would go from Raleigh Durham to JFK to Schipol to Glasgow and I would go with British Airways from Raleigh Durham to JFK to London Heathrow to Glasgow. Allan would be home 2 hours before me, rather than the 2 months he was expecting to have at home before I was back! It’s worth reflecting on what that would be like to cope with your wife coming back 2 months early 🙂

So it was time for me to say some hasty goodbyes and thank yous. Not how I really would have wanted to leave, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to some people. On our journeys home we were really fortunate with all flights running on time (amazingly despite the earlier cancellations, and plenty of cancellations showing on the departure boards). There were passengers wearing biosuits (!) and others who seemed not to even realise coronovirus was happening – I saw two pilots shaking hands!! Heathrow was not a pleasant experience. It was as if they had not received the memo about social distancing with overcrowding at passport control, security and flight transfer points. There was one transit train to go to flight transfers that was as congested as a rush hour tube train – I chose to walk rather than put myself at such risk of infection.

My flight from London to Glasgow was about 3/4 full while Allan was one of 5 passengers on his KLM flight back to Glasgow. Allan kindly had a cup of tea at home, turned around, and came to collect me in the car from the airport in Glasgow. We were both home minus Allan’s hold luggage which was still at JFK. His bag arrived safely the next day and we have both so far shown no signs of illness. The irony in being told to come home by the FCO is going from relative safety of being at home in NC locked down at home with lots of groceries I’d bought, to risk flights and airports to get home to the UK and relatively empty shelves at home.

In the end, the FCO advice (which usually impacts on things like travel and medical insurance), and my underlying health condition (which was always a grey area for my medical insurance ie. if I picked up coronavirus and was ill, would they blame my pre-existing health condition and then refuse to cover me), posed the risk of me having to pay thousands and thousands of dollars in health care bills, suggesting that it was safer to come home. However, I was also weighing this against accounts of the NHS from doctors and nurses I know, which to be honest suggests that should I get ill in the UK, it might not cost me any money, but I might not get any treatment, as hospitals are already at capacity – if you get ill now, there may not be an ambulance, oxygen, a ventilator, or a health care worker to treat you.

So who knew I’d be doing a Fulbright Scholarship from home. But that’s what will be happening for the next 2 months. I’m still receiving my Scholarship from the Fulbright Commission, and I still have work to do, grading of student work, data analysis for my research, online meetings etc. and I will do these things from home in Scotland. It won’t be the same, and I wasn’t really ready to come home, but I have so much to be grateful for. I had a brilliant time in the states, and I still get to do some of the work I was enjoying, and I can still meet some of the wonderful colleagues and friends I’ve made online. Some Fulbright Scholars had not even started their Scholarships. Others have rented their houses out until the end of the summer – there are others in more difficult situations. I may be tired after the anxiety of the last 2 weeks of deciding whether to come home or not and then due to the journey itself, but we are both home safely and we are well so far. I’ll try to keep you updated on what it’s like to be a Fulbrighter working from home!

A road trip in a time of COVID-19

My husband Allan arrived for a holiday in North Carolina, the Monday before President Trump announced a ban on UK nationals coming to the USA. By then we had already hired a car, booked lots of hotels and had a holiday planned. It was the early days of coronavirus, so the guidance was mixed – should we stay or should we go? In the end we chose to go – we decided that travelling by car was less risky than any form of public transport; we decided that we would keep our distance from people as much as possible, we would take hand sanitiser with us and wash our hands as frequently as we could.

We began by heading towards the Appalachians, driving some of the famous and very beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway near Boone and visiting Blowing Rock. I’ve included our itinerary below of the places we visited. We had to be flexible with hotels closing on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and in Charlottesville, Virginia, but we had an amazing time, even though many museums, galleries, shops and restaurants were closed. It was fantastic to see the landscape of 11 states and to drive the Parkways, and in most places everywhere was deserted, making it easier for us to social distance from others – we’re already plotting a return road trip when things are back to some sort of normality, we hope, in the future. I’ve included some pictures below with labels at the bottom of the page.

Day 1  Elon, North Carolina to Asheville, North Carolina (Blue Ridge Parkway; Blowing Rock)

Day 2 Asheville North Carolina to Nashville, Tennessee (Smithville; Watertown)

Day 3 Nashville, Tennessee (Ernest Tubb record shop; explored downtown)

Day 4 Nashville Tennessee to Oxford Mississippi (Tennessee River; Muscle Shoals Alabama – Fame Studios; Natchez Trace Parkway; Tupelo – Elvis’s birthplace)

Day 5 Oxford Mississippi to Memphis Tennessee (Clarksdale – crossroads; explored the Mississippi delta ‘shining like a national guitar‘ Paul Simon; Gates of Graceland)

Day 6 Memphis (Lorraine Motel – site where Martin Luther King Jr was shot; Sun studios; Stax Museum of American Soul Music; Walk by the Mississippi; Memphis National Cemetery)

Day 7 Memphis, Tennessee to Paducah, Kentucky (Dyess Arkansas – Johnny Cash’s birthplace; New Madrid, Missouri; Cairo, Illinois – visited by Charles Dickens; Ohio River)

Day 8 Paducah, Kentucky to Versailles, West Virginia (Land between the Lakes; Jefferson Davis, Confederate President memorial)

Day 9 Versailles, West Virginia to Lewisburg, Virginia (Glasgow West Virginia; Kanawha River; Confederate Cemetery, Lewisburg)

Day 10 Lewisburg Virginia to Elon North Carolina (Blue Ridge Parkway; National D-Day Memorial Bedford Virginia)




































Pictures (from the top of the page)

Blue ridge parkway, North Carolina; Blue ridge parkway, North Carolina; Rural Tennessee; straight roads of Rural Tennessee; Cathy & Dolly Tennessee; Allan at Ernest Tubb record shop Nashville, Tennessee; Elvis Presley’s birthplace, Tupelo Mississippi; Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee; Graceland Memphis, Tennessee; Mississippi state line arriving from Alabama; Natchez Trace Parkway, Alabama; Mississippi delta, Mississippi; Johnny Cash’s birthplace, Dyess Arkansas; Kanawha River, West Virginia; Kanawha River, West Virginia; Glasgow, West Virginia; A lonesome pine in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Events before lockdown

It’s been a while since I posted to my blog – apologies but life seemed to get busy and then complicated. I’ll try to send a few blogs over the next few days to catch up on everything that’s been going on. There have been lots of great events I was able to attend at Elon since January, and they seem even more amazing now we’ve reached a stage where we’re guided by US and UK governments not to have mass gatherings. So it is perhaps even more timely to appreciate the lovely things I was able to go to. Sorry I only have a few pictures of the events, so it’s just an excuse to post some additional ‘springtime in NC’ pictures!

Since I arrived at Elon I’ve been going to a book group involving a lovely group of women who live in and around Elon, some of whom work at the University, but many who work elsewhere. Each month a member of the group takes responsibility for choosing a theme, and then bringing 3-4 books on that theme for the group to choose as a book to read for the next meeting.

In January I was invited to choose the theme and the books. A few people wanted me to choose Scotland as a theme, but I thought I’d increase the choice slightly, so I chose the theme of Coast, and then selected 4 possible books on that theme to read: Jonathan Raban Coasting; Michael Cunningham Lands End: A walk in Provincetown; Compton MacKenzie Whisky Galore; and Neil Gunn The Silver Darlings. The group chose to read Whisky Galore, which I’d also never read, although I’ve see the old black and white film (but not the new film starring Eddie Izzard). We had some good discussions about it and I get the feeling some members of the group would now like to visit some of the Scottish whisky distilleries as well as the Outer Hebrides.

In February, I was able to go to an event for Holocaust Rememberance Day, where a couple who both survived the holocaust in Hungary talked very movingly about their experiences. Agnes and Robert Heller both lost family members to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, and experienced traumatic events first hand, but remained incredibly resilient and positive. They both escaped to the USA and didn’t meet until a Hungarian Literary Society Dance in New York. There were over 400 people of all ages in attendance at the Elon University event, and as the years go by, it feels as if this kind of opportunity to hear real stories like this, first hand, are getting less and less.

To provide a complete contrast, I was invited to go to the Carolina Theater in Durham (about 40 mins from Elon) on the Saturday after Valentines Day, to a Storytelling event. Kristen, my house mate, her parents, a friend from Elon Janelle and her husband Cal, and another Elon colleague Danielle, who I hadn’t met until then, all gathered to go. It was the finals and award ceremony for storytellers as part of an event called The Monti. The rules of the storytelling were that the stories have to be true, and edneed to be able to be told in less than 10 minutes. On this occasion, and in keeping with being Valentine’s Day weekend, storytellers were tasked with telling stories on the subject of “—– date ever”. It was absolutely brilliant. The stories were by turns warm, endearing, embarrassing, life-changing, captivating and funny. Kristen and I talked about some of the stories for days after the event. I would never have thought about going to a story-telling event, but I would definitely look to go to something like this again.

I went to an Elon creativity event in February called ‘harnessing the maker mindset’ to think about how to integrate creativity and making within teaching. Some of the key ideas we focused on came from design thinking: 1) Revision makes it better – the importance of ensuring you plan prototypes before the real thing; 2) Embrace failure – helping students (and teachers) to see failure as a really productive part of learning; 3) Work through frustration – taking time to acknowledge and explain frustrations can lead to new ideas and skills; 4) Know when to seek help – the importance of building networks so you have a range of people with different skills to draw upon; and 5) Enjoy and appreciate the process – acknowledging that how you get to the goal can be as important as the finished product. We also tried our hand at making things – and in my case I had a go at soldering, which I haven’t done since my brother burned a hole in his bedroom rug when we were teenagers!! I was quite pleased with the little light I made.

Then a first for me, I attended the finals of the North Carolina robotics competition in Greensboro (about 30 mins from Elon). I was cheering for Timothy Felten’s team – Team Aperture, who are seen as ‘the ones to beat’ in NC robotics competitions. I learned masses about how robotics competitions work (and the complexities of how they are scored), and I was seriously impressed with the level of passion for engineering and design in the teenagers participating, the creativity in the robots created and the level of professionalism and respect the teams had for one another. Although Timothy’s team didn’t win a place in the National Championships (they were robbed in my view, due to a technical hitch in one of the final matches), it was a really fun day.

North Carolina weather

I realise it would be remiss of me to complain about the weather when my family, friends and colleagues are suffering the dark, wet, cold weather of a Scottish winter. However, what is difficult to get to grips with in North Carolina is the wild temperature swings. You really need to keep an eye on the weather forecast, so you are not surprised by an Elon University weather alert telling you to seek shelter immediately, or closing the University. The temperature swings are sometimes as much as 15-20 degrees C difference from day to day!

The promised winter snow finally arrived this week. Everyone said it was weird there had been no snow so far, and I couldn’t quite believe it was coming when the weather had seemed so nice the previous days, but then the University announced it would close on Thursday afternoon at 2pm, despite the weather being apparently benign. But they were right – we had a full on blizzard for the next 10 hours!

The following day, despite being anything between -8 degrees C to 2 degrees C, was sunny and gorgeous, so despite having a PhD thesis I needed to read, I made sure I went out for a walk in the sun and to see the beautiful snow that was left. The picture at the top shows the back of our house. The sun quickly got to work melting it all though, and most of it has now gone. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that tomorrow, we are forecast full sun and 17 degrees C!

Thanks to some of the international students at Elon University being hardy enough to come out the night after the blizzard, a group of students from South East Asia came to the house yesterday and took over our kitchen and cooked delicious Cambodian food. In exchange for use of our kitchen and living room, Kristen and I were fed royally and then treated to a board game afterwards – ‘Secret Hitler’, which I’d never played before – and which was very good.

Feeling the love…

Sorry for the gap in blogs for a few weeks, but wow it’s been busy. I’ve started teaching a new class on co-creating learning environments, and I’m loving the students’ enthusiasm and creative ideas. I’m trying to use a range of different ways in which they can co-create the course with me, and it’s been wonderful that so far, the students have been really game to try some new things with me. I asked for some feedback from the students in week 2, just to see how things were going, and one of the pieces of feedback included a statement ‘Cathy is an angel’ – which was totally unexpected and delightful! Several other students said ‘I love this class’! So I think it’s been going well. Maybe it’s because it was Valentines Day that week, they were feeling the love?! However, we have a class project and we don’t have many weeks to do it in, so it’s getting more challenging as the weeks go by – let’s hope we can all stay positive. I’m certainly really enjoying the teaching and getting to know the students better.

I’ve also been getting on with my research – which is examining how teachers and students form positive relationships in the first few classes they have together. I’m trying to get at what it is that good teachers do to form and maintain positive relationships with students, and to encourage good relationships between students. In order to get hold of students to complete the questionnaires, I’ve been visiting some classrooms at the end of classes to ask if any students are willing to complete the questionnaires. This week, that involved going to Prof Tony Crider’s Astronomy at night class, where because it was a rainy night, I was able to get the students to fill in questionnaires, and the bonus was that I was treated to 15 minutes of class learning about different kinds of telescopes.

It was Valentines Day last week, and I thought you would appreciate a picture of the subtle area of my local supermarket dedicated to all things heart shaped! Let’s just say they seem very enthusiastic about it! I did receive some lovely unexpected flowers from my housemate Kristen (see top left of this blog page) to say thanks for looking after Elsa the dog, which was unnecessary, but lovely. Meanwhile Elsa herself has a romance blossoming with next door’s chicken (see second picture in this blog)! Although to be honest, we think the chicken is keener.

Another thing I’ve been feeling the love for, is the American institution known as girl scout cookies! When I first heard of them, I presumed these were cookies baked by girl scouts – however, they are cookies baked by a biscuit manufacturer and sold by girl scouts (and their long suffering family members) in aid of girl scouts. They come in many flavours and people usually have strong views about their favourite variety of cookie. My students have been educating me about all the different flavours and I’ve bought a variety of them to ensure I keep my students fed at break times (ah, maybe that’s why they think I’m an angel – cookie bribery!). I’m feeling the pressure to buy them, because someone said to me the cookies are only available January to March every year, so those who are addicted to particular flavours have to stock up!

One more thing that made me smile a few weeks ago was the sight of this microwave in a student kitchen at Elon University. I was torn between admiration for the ingenious problem-solving of smart students, and sheer horror at the health and safety nightmare that might ensue!

Is it spring?

I realise using the word spring might be a little bold when it’s the first week of February, but there has been a distinct spring feel in the air around Elon. Temperatures have bounced up and down a lot but today was 22 degrees Celcius! Very welcome indeed to walk around without a coat, although it makes me worry that March to May might get pretty hot!  For anyone wondering, Mebane is a town near here which is larger than Elon and so my BBC weather app seems to prefer to pick up the weather there.

There are also signs of spring on campus with blossom trees out, daffodils poking up and lots of beautiful camelias blooming. At home, there is a squirrel who spends his days running up and down the tree outside my window nibbling the buds off the branches – I do worry there will be no leaves on the tree with the amount of nibble damage being done!

In between my Washington DC trip and other work related activity, I’ve been doing a lot of crafting. I was invited to learn how to do strip quilting at the weekend (the results of which can be seen on my creative projects page). What a great way to use up fabric scraps that are too small to use for other things. I also received a lovely invite on Sunday to accompany Pam (from my book group) and her mum to have lunch in Hillsborough (a town about 20 miles away) and to visit a yarn store. Needless to say, as a keen knitter, I needed no persuasion. Hillsborough is lovely and has some nice small stores and a Waitrose-style grocery. I have to confess to having accepted the offer of a loyalty card at the yarn store and I will definitely need to go back and wander round a bit more.

I was invited to the Felten’s home on Sunday evening to watch the Superbowl…when in the USA… I feel I understand the basics of the game of American Football better now, but also some of the other less sports-related aspects of the Superbowl. Prior to the Superbowl starting there is the Puppybowl (see picture) where they have a set of rescue puppies, which are available for adoption, play with an American football and try to score. Meanwhile viewers can get in touch and offer to adopt the puppies! In between each section of the Superbowl game, the adverts are also ‘a thing’. Because the Superbowl final gets the largest viewing figures of anything on US TV, the advert slots are prime advertising, and so cost millions of dollars. Hence there are many slick adverts starring famous people and many viewers are watching as much for the adverts as for the game. There is also the half time entertainment, which this year involved J-Lo and Shakira – yet again, some people are watching as much for the mega-star half time entertainment as for the game. However, I was possibly most entertained by Trump’s Superbowl gaffe on Twitter when he congratulated the state of Kansas for their win (Kansas City Chiefs are from Missouri!), and had to hastily take down his Tweet. I also loved the Tweet which responded and said that Trump’s tweet was shocking – shocking that he realised Kansas was in the USA!

Washington DC

I was in Washington DC from 22nd to 27th January. I was primarily there for the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Conference at the Marriot Marquis Hotel. Having learned some top tips from others at previous conferences, instead of paying the eye-watering hotel accommodation prices for moderate rooms, I booked an Airbnb apartment in a traditional Washington house. The apartment was just 2 blocks north of the conference hotel and I had space to relax and get some peace and quiet after busy days at the conference. It was a good decision.

The conference was an excellent opportunity to hear presentations from some of the big hitters in US higher education, such as George Kuh, Jillian Kinzie, Ashley Finley, Mary Dana Hinton, Tia Brown McNair, Steve Volk, Lynn Pascarella and from other big hitters closer to Elon home…Peter Felten, Jessie Moore and Leo Lambert.

It was a wonderful conference with high quality presentations focused on High Impact Practices, student engagement, curriculum enhancement, educational development and evidence-based learning and teaching. It was also great for catching up with people and meeting new people. Following the conference, I had the rest of the weekend to explore DC. I enjoyed the Women and the Arts museum, which is one of the few museums in DC you pay to go around.

The museum has a fantastic photography section (on the left, work by South African photographer, Zuhele Muholi, and also by American photographer, Angela Strassheim respectively). It was lovely to have the time to explore the museum properly and appreciate the diverse range of artwork that the museum is home to. From the museum I then headed out to walk around and soak up some of the sights including the White House (from the back).

There were quite a few tourists and groups of school children taking photographs as well as people holding small protests against many of Trump’s policies. There were some colourful and sometimes quite rude posters and banners, my favourite of which (and more presentable than some) was the Nukes of Hazzard! I then walked to Dupont Circle where there is a wonderful bookshop, Kramerbooks, where there is also Afterwords Cafe. I have never seen a busier bookshop! Clearly it’s the place to be on Saturday afternoons!

On Sunday I walked down towards the National Mall area, where the sun decided to come out so I could see good views of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, and also the front of the White House. After walking around, I headed to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum where I had some lunch, and then an afternoon to explore diverse exhibitions including: live butterflies, herbarium specimens, giant gemstones, Egyptian mummies, coelacanths, and a topical exhibition on epidemics!

It was wonderful to be able to have time to spend time in whichever parts of the museum appealed most. It was a good taste of DC, but I really just tickled the surface as there is so much to see. I’ve saved the very tempting art galleries for when I will be back in DC in May with Allan. Then we hope to have longer to explore further.

On Monday 27th, I was invited to Georgetown University, where I met with colleagues from the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS), and also from the Red House. I gave a public lecture based on ideas contained in my new book. I also met with some students and a faculty member who have been co-designing a course. It was a wonderfully rich set of conversations and great to spend time with my friend and colleague Susannah McGowan, who I knew from when she worked at Kings College London. Georgetown University has a fascinating history.

Georgetown itself was an historic settlement that was established 40 years before the settling of the main centre of Washington DC and the architecture is notably distinct. It was wonderful to have a glimpse of such an interesting part of DC on the Potomac River, and I might try to persuade Allan we need to take a detour to Georgetown when we’re in the city in May!

Back in the USA

Sorry for the lack of activity on the blog for the past 6 weeks. The first 3 weeks were spent back in the UK for a medley of Christmas parties, regular check-ups with the NHS (making the most of being back!), and time with family and friends. Most of the rest of the time since returning to the USA has been spent working super-hard on finishing my book manuscript and co-teaching an intensive January semester course on the Masters in Higher Education at Elon University.

I did manage to have a lovely quiet celebration of New Year with my house mate Kristen and her friend Jill, that included watching an amazing Korean movie – Parasite, which I can’t recommend highly enough, and we decided to celebrate UK New year so we didn’t have to stay up until midnight (lightweights!). I’ve enjoyed a few lunchtime walks in lovely January sunny weather (sometimes very warm and sometimes very cold!), which has kept me going during my writing.

My latest book manuscript is at the publishers – hurray! It will come back to me for proofing and with some possible final editing in about 6 weeks time, but in the meantime I can try to catch up with a lot of other things I had put on hold while I was concentrating on the book! For a sneak preview, here’s a link to the publisher’s web pages where the book is advertised.

The course I have been teaching is called High Impact Practices (HIPS) and Student Engagement, and I’ve been co-teaching with Peter Felten and another colleague Jessie Moore, both from Elon’s Center for Engaged Learning. There have been 12 students on the course, and the idea of teaching a class of 12 is pretty luxurious, the idea of there being 3 of us to teach the course is also completely luxurious. It doesn’t necessarily represent the reality of teaching in the US or the UK for most lecturers, but it was an amazing opportunity to bring three of us together who work on HIPs and student engagement to teach together. Anyone wondering what HIPs are – they are essentially key experiences that have been demonstrated through significant research to have positive impacts on students’ outcomes at university. They include for example, study abroad, undergraduate research, and service learning, but there is a list of 11 HIPs at the moment, although we have been enjoying discussing with the students possible other HIPs that might not yet have been identified but which show promise.

One great experience we have had on the course is that we all had dinner at Peter Felten’s house. I made my friend Katarina’s Swedish apple pies for desert and they went down very well! Having dinner at a faculty member’s house, whilst not listed as an official HIP in the research, is still considered to be a significant experience for many students. I find it fascinating that this is something that is much more frequently done in the USA than in the UK, and I am not entirely sure why. There are all sorts of considerations about some faculty not being in a position to invite students into their home, but also concerns about crossing professional boundaries. Yet, several of our students have said how important this experience was for them in seeing us as more human, and in therefore, relating to us in a more positive way.

I enjoyed my book group again last week meeting up to discuss a book called The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, about female spies during WW1 and WW2. Having finished the book last week, I enjoyed a wander around downtown Burlington on Saturday. I went to check out the railway station, where I’ll be picking Allan up in March when he comes to visit. It’s where I first arrived to visit Elon 10 years ago! I also had a look in the tiny old tourist office in the old station building, as well as in a nice arts and crafts shop, the local public library, a second hand book shop and coffee shop, and finally a thrift shop (charity shop to folks in the UK). I was invited for a delicious dinner last night at Pam and Liam’s house – Pam is one of the book group members and is an Attorney and Liam, her husband, is a Chemistry Professor at North Carolina State University. Peter and Sara Felten were also invited, and along with Alec, Pam and Liam’s son, we had a great evening of food, drink and good company.

Due to the fast and intensive nature of the January semester, we only have two classes left, tomorrow and the day after. Then on Wednesday afternoon, I fly to Washington DC, to go to the Association of American Universities and Colleges (AAC&U) Conference, and to give a Public Lecture at Georgetown University. I’ll only get a small amount of time for sightseeing on this trip, although I hope to be back in DC for longer in May with Allan, and with the sole purpose of being tourists. I also have the small matter of some marking to do for the HIPs and Student Engagement course while I’m in Washington this week, and I also need to do some planning for another course I’ll be teaching on my own in February ‘Co-creation of learning environments: partnership in and beyond the classroom’. So needless to say it’s as busy as ever.