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Online symposium beams collaborative research across world
Debbie Epping
Antelope Staff
Courtesy photo, International Online Research Symposium 2009
The biannual International Online Research Symposium will take place in real time in the College of Education, Room 206.

7:30 a.m.—Black Hills State University, S.D.  8:30 a.m.—UNK. 3:30 p.m.—Poland. 4:30 p.m.—Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania. 9:30 p.m.—Bangkok, Thailand.

On Tuesday, April 13 the sixth biannual International Online Research Symposium will convene in real time in the College of Education, Room 206.

The three-hour symposium gives students and faculty in the College of Education the opportunity to showcase collaborative research projects they have been working on with their international partners—Lithuania, Poland and Thailand as well as Black Hills State University in South Dakota.

This meeting is possible through the distance education room, where a big screen beams in presenters from around the world.

“I don’t pretend to understand it. It’s magic to me,” said Dr. Max McFarland, chair of the department of counseling and school psychology.

The symposium, open to all students in counseling and school psychology as well as anyone interested in gaining some global perspective through live presentations across the continents has generated enthusiasm among the students. So far, relatively few problems have been encountered as the technology staff ensure things are kept running smoothly.

“We come in at 8 that morning, and we’re ready to rock and roll,” McFarland said.

The symposium is an accomplishment of the International Collaborative Research (ICR) Initiative, begun five years ago by the school psychology graduate program and department of counseling and school psychology at UNK.

A proposal was written to fund a research graduate assistant to help coordinate the establishment of  “a new, international, collaborative research initiative, and essentially created to identify the students and faculty of UNK who were interested in doing research and linking them up with international partners,” McFarland, co-founder of the ICR, said.

Current grad assistant, Lana Renzelman, a school psychology major from Hazard who is completing her final year of coursework in the graduate program, helps coordinate the research symposium by contacting partner universities and deciding on a date that works for all, as well as making faculty and students aware of the symposium.

“It’s exciting to learn from cultures different than our own. It helps students and faculty learn what is on the minds of other professionals around the world who have the same end goal as we to—to help children succeed and promote a desire for children to know the importance of a lifetime of learning,” Renzelman said.

The ICR has grown into so much more than connecting faculty and students with international counterparts to do research.

The International Online Research Symposium happens every fall and spring.

In addition, UNK and Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania have co-created an international, professional journal—“The International Journal of Psychology,” as well as continue do faculty and student exchanges.

“We took faculty and students last year and taught two courses while we were there. We had two doctoral students come over here last fall and present their doctoral research,” McFarland said.
“It’s exciting that I will have the opportunity to travel to Lithuania to meet the Vytautas Magnus University faculty, learn about VMU’s accreditation process and experience the education system of another culture,” Renzelman said.

Due to budget restraints, it is clear this exchange is not plausible on a regular basis, so the possibilities of again using Distance Education—Web based courses, are being explored.

“Our faculty could teach one or two, and their faculty could teach one or two that our students could take. It would provide a tremendous specialization for students on both campuses,” McFarland said.

Part of the engine that drives the whole process and keeps it growing is the commitment and passion of the faculty.

Dr. Teara Archwamety, professor of educational psychology and research methodology and co-founder of the ICR, is committed to international relationships.

“He has helped us realize how critically important global perspective and awareness is in our students,” McFarland said.

Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania has master’s levels and doctoral levels in programs such as theoretical and health psychology that aren’t as developed in the United States.

“The opportunity for students to have connections and to collaborate with other researchers overseas is a great accomplishment of the ICR,” Archwamety said.

The value of this opportunity is immeasurable in terms of broadening student awareness and perspective.

“The purpose of the ICR is not to do or fund research, but to make the connection to enable students and faculty to connect and do collaborative research,” McFarland said.

Students seek funding through the research services council at UNK.

The department of counseling and school psychology at UNK is strictly graduate—graduate degrees, master’s degrees and education specialists.

Therefore, an extensive number of students and faculty partake in the research. Students have to complete and disseminate a research project in order to graduate, and the symposium is a great way to meet this requirement.

“We choose about four to six each semester to fill in the symposium. Finding a variety of people to present has not been a problem,” Archwamety said.

“The students are very motivated. It’s exciting for them to stand up and make their presentations at the symposium and be a part of their international colleagues doing that,” McFarland said.

Mastery of the English language is required in Lithuania as well as other partnering universities. Handouts of the presenting students’ PowerPoint presentations close any language gap there might be due to different dialects and accents.

“It’s just amazing. We can converse with them live time as we are looking at each other, and the students are doing the same,” McFarland said.

Archwamety and McFarland have been teaching at UNK for 33 years and 25 years, respectively.

When they began teaching, neither of them could have ever imagined such a revolutionary and innovative means of communicating with universities worldwide. However, to them, the International Online Research Symposium is simply a puzzle piece that fell into place through hard work and dedication.

“I was trying to think when we had an actual ‘aha’ moment, and I don’t remember that moment. I think it was just a natural progression,” McFarland said.

The ICR is able to sustain itself on almost no budget.

“Everybody involved has been incredible with being creative and thinking out of the box and doing some unbelievable things for very little budget,” McFarland said.

Both McFarland and Archwamety agree they would like to see more funding in the future to expand the ICR in terms of the scope and magnitude of the kind of research they do.

However, their overall goal is sustainability—not just money or funding, but also the interest, passion and commitment on the faculty part.

“I’m encouraged and excited. I think we’ll have the commitment and the people power to make this thing sustainable,” McFarland said.

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