Elich Monroe, Heyne broaden perspective at workshops in Finland

When Ithaca College professor Janice Elich Monroe presents at the American Therapeutic Recreation Association conference later this year, she’ll have the International Summer School program at HAMK University of Applied Sciences in Finland to thank, in part, for inspiration.

Two summers ago Elich Monroe attended a seminar at HAMK focusing on sociocultural sensory integration. The seminar, taught by world-renowned expert and HAMK professor Marja Sirkkola, wasn’t Elich Monroe’s first exposure to the topic but the depth of the workshop sparked her to research it further with several Ithaca College students.

Elich Monroe presented her findings at the New York State Therapeutic Recreation Association conference in 2012. Now, she’s preparing to present at the ATRA conference in September.

This type of inspiration isn’t uncommon for the HAMK summer program. Elich Monroe attended her seventh workshop in June -- titled Wellbeing International Week -- and says exploring topics with international colleagues and teaching students from different cultures leaves her bursting with new ideas each year.

“For me it’s just an incredible opportunity to broaden my awareness of the world,” Elich Monroe said. “I probably learn at least as much if not more than I teach when I’m out there because I’m learning all about cultural aspects of the countries that I’m dealing with.”

The program usually lasts between one and two weeks and is part of a faculty-student exchange between the Ithaca College Recreation and Leisure Studies Department and HAMK University. This year, Elich Monroe and Linda Heyne were the two representatives from IC.

In addition to IC professors traveling to Finland, instructors from HAMK come to Ithaca each year to teach weekend seminars. IC has a similar relationship with JAMK University in Finland, which Elich Monroe also visited this summer.

Elich Monroe says the partnership allows professors and students to discuss familiar ideas with new audiences. This year, she taught seminars on two of her research interests: contemplative education and finding meaning in teaching. By teaching students with different perspectives, Elich Monroe said she gained a fuller understanding of the material she taught and methods she used.

Even the design and layout of classrooms in Finland – which are different than in the U.S. – gave Elich Monroe ideas for new approaches. Rather than sitting in desks with notebooks, students at JAMK work from couches and write reflections on iPads during the lecture. These reflections are then used to instantly create word clouds that are projected on a large screen in the classroom.

These reflections are powerful tools for contemplative learning -- which focuses on being mindful and listening actively -- and speak to IC 20/20’s initiatives concerning integrated learning. Elich Monroe said she plans to incorporate a similar approach in her teaching at IC and will look for more opportunities for students to reflect and process material during class.

“It teaches students to think proactively,” Elich Monroe said. “Instead of waiting for the reflective piece two hours later, they can consider what it means to them personally and how it affects their career choices.”

Fellow IC faculty member Linda Heyne also participated in the International Summer School program at HAMK, teaching a seminar on a technique called PATH process, which helps people with disabilities plan out their future using words and images.

Using this technique, participants draw a physical map of what they want to accomplish over a period of time, how they can accomplish it, what the possible obstacles are, and who can help them realize these goals.

“This is a really positive way for people to express themselves and get their feelings out there,” Heyne said. “Pictures have a lot of power.”

Heyne taught students from Finland, Estonia, and Uganda during the trip and said the students were eager to learn.

“The students take it so seriously and they’re such a joy to work with,” Heyne said. “So it makes for a very worthwhile and very satisfying teaching experience.”

In one instance, a student from Uganda practiced the path process method to organize her own life, using it as an opportunity to re-prioritize her family over work.

“She realized she wasn’t doing anything for fun in her life,” Heyne said. “She said the first thing she was going to do when she returned home was spend a week with her children.”

During her week in Finland, Heyne also sat in on a workshop about textile therapy, which involved teaching people with psychiatric problems how to build things. The instructor who taught the workshop was trained as a psychiatric nurse and carpenter, allowing him to combine two of his interests into one powerful tool.

Heyne said this kind of creativity is typical of the program and one reason why it’s so valuable.

“Having that connection with students and faculty across cultures and learning about what they’re doing (is helpful),” Heyne said. “We’ve been able to use some of the things they’re doing in our curriculum.”

Originally published in Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies: Elich Monroe, Heyne broaden perspective at workshops in Finland.

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