Dr. Michael LaSala, associate professor, makes the Rutgers mission, “Jersey Roots, Global Reach”, a reality when teaching a special, interactive class to American and Estonian students. His students see firsthand how many cultures co-exist in New Jersey and how important it is to reach out to the world to develop relationships.
LaSala, along with Karmen Toros, of Tallinn University in Estonia, combined forces to create a course about family therapy focusing on social changes and challenges faced by families. The course was taught through a video-conference setting. Students in both countries attended the course in real time, allowing the students and professors to interact with one another.
Toros says, “The joint courses let Estonian students learn about themes they learn about in Estonia. We do not have clinical social work here. Therefore, a class about family therapy is an important addition for my students.”
This course offered a unique experience to both the American and Estonia students. They were not just learning about the topic at hand, but were also immersed in a cultural experience. The American students taking this class created relationships with students from a country that they had no knowledge about prior to this course. The students were able to see the different countries’ social problem and cultural differences.
A cultural difference that LaSala saw was how Estonia students responded to his courses as compared to their American counterparts. They found his teaching style unusually dynamic and emotional compared to their typical lecture (or “reader” translated to Estonian). LaSala also found it interesting how Estonia students do not speak during class unless they have something meaningful to say. Whereas in the American culture, students are encouraged to participate in class.
Creating this course presented a technological challenge. While technology is viewed as very advanced at Rutgers, the technology in Estonia was not compatible. This unexpected cultural difference became an opportunity to learn as LaSala turned to Tom Regan, SSW Director of IT, for assistance. Regan diligently worked with the IT directors of Tallinn University to help make this course a success.