Learning Without Walls
A GSU faculty father gives his children the gift of limitless learning while researching online education
For Carlos Ferran, associate professor of Accounting and Management Information Systems (MIS) in the College of Business at Governors State University, education means more than sitting in a classroom. Education is a worldly endeavor, uncontained by walls and unlimited in scope. In this spirit, he used his recent sabbatical in Barcelona to examine the European model of online learning while creating an opportunity for his four children—Jesus, Mercedes, Victoria, and Carlos—to have a broad educational experience. Ferran's wife, Victoria H. Heredia, accompanied them as well.
"I invested six years of savings in funding this stay in Europe," he said. "It was not cheap."
To hear him talk, though, you know it was worth it. The lessons imparted are invaluable.
"My children traveled with me and with their mother, but they also traveled by themselves. They learned to travel on their own and come back, that there is no need to get away—one can leave and come back home," he said. "They learned, too, how others saw Americans. They defended their country and learned to be proud ambassadors."
Ferran's younger son, Jesus, attended a semi-public school where classes were taught in English, Spanish, and Catalan—the language of Catalonia, a province in northeastern Spain that is vying for independence. His older three, 18-year-old triplets, audited courses at La Salle University, Ferran's host university. In August, Victoria and Mercedes leave for their first year at University of Illinois, and Carlos will depart for University of Michigan.
"Before coming to Spain, my triplets asked me how one can live without a car. We live in Mokena (in the U.S.), and the closest store is a mile and a half way. Here, we live downtown in Barcelona. No car needed," Ferran said. "One daughter told me (before the year abroad) that all cities are about the same, that once you have seen a couple, you have seen them all. This is the same daughter who is very sad to leave, since her newly made list of cities she wants to visit is not finished. We've traveled through Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Malta, Greece, Noway, Sweden, and Russia."
It hasn't been all adventures, though. In fact, it's been mostly work for Ferran. His first semester abroad was spent on research, and he taught during the second.
"I have interviewed faculty for my e-learning research from Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and France. I am working with the top business school in Europe—IE and IESE. Both of these schools have the triple crown of accreditation," Ferran said. "Teaching online is very different from teaching face-to-face. A good online course requires, at a minimum, the concerted work of an insructional designer and a professor, and it would gain from the support of an IT expert. Online courses do not require the building space, but they do require bandwidth, powerful servers, and a great deal of preparation.Students expect quick responses, 24/7. They will not wait until next Wednesday at 7 p.m. for feedback."
When comparing the two models--the American and European approaches to online learning—Ferran praised GSU for taking a measure that most U.S. universities don't.
"At Governors State University, the College of Business requires that any faculty wanting to teach online first take a full semester course on how to teach online. That's less than what they do (in Europe), but it's something."
Ferran and his family will return to the U.S. in July.
GSU wishes Carlos Ferran and all of the fathers in our community a happy Father's Day.