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david porcaro, oman, 2009-2010

Fulbright Year: 2009-2010
Country: Oman
Proposal Type: Research
Field of Study: Education
Proposal Title: Linking Omani Higher Education with Workforce Skills through Collaborative E-Learning
UGA Graduate Department: Instructional Technology
Degree: PhD in Instructional Technology
Hometown: Orem, UT

One of the primary challenges David Porcaro faced during his Fulbright year in Oman was introducing the computer as a learning tool to students who weren’t terribly familiar with technology.

“I worked with local educators at Sultan Qaboos University to design a course for pre-service English teachers that incorporated computer-supported collaborative learning,” he says. “In places like Oman, learning is often lecture, memorization and testing. We introduced a course built on collaborative problem-solving using online tools.

“Most of the students in the class had not used a computer extensively before entering the university a few years previously. So after designing the course, I taught it over two semesters and collected data on student and faculty reactions from surveys, interviews, focus groups, and student data. I then used the data to refine the course and make it more locally sustainable.”

A Ph.D. student who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Near Eastern Studies from Brigham Young and a Master’s Degree in Oriental Studies from Cambridge University in England, David was able to take his family to Oman during his Fulbright year, which he says was a personal highlight.

“My wife and two children and I took every opportunity to explore the beautiful country of Oman, and experience life with the Omanis,” he says. “We traveled around the country often and visited people in their homes. Having my family was one of the best parts of my Fulbright experience, since they got to explore life in an entirely new surrounding.

“I have lived abroad with my wife before, even in the Middle East. However, it was fun to discover the differences that exist between cultures, terrain, language, and religion across the Arab world. Most importantly, watching my children learn to navigate life in a place where people speak, act, dress, and eat in an entirely different way was amazing. They have developed a global understanding few their age have.”

David recalls that his encounters with the local citizenry were almost always positive.

“The one memory that best sums up my experience there occurred when we went hiking and swimming up a beautiful wadi (canyon), called Wadi Shab, that flowed to the ocean,” he says. “On the way, we met a 16-year old named Sami. He was extremely polite and friendly, and walked with us the whole way, often playing with my 3-year old son. He showed us all the hidden caves and places to explore. When we got back to the mouth of the canyon, he invited us to his small home which overlooked the ocean, where we had a light lunch with him and his family.

“I kept expecting for him to ask for a tip, but it never happened. He simply wanted to share his day with our family. We have stayed in touch, emailing and texting often. When we drove past his house again on another trip, we stopped by and visited with his family. This kind of interaction with Omanis was extremely typical of every trip we made in Oman. During every outing, we met many people who lived humbly and happily in the most breathtaking of locations, and who were only to happy to share what they had with others.”

Exploring student reactions to innovative teaching techniques was at the heart of David’s doctoral research, and he says putting his premises to the test “on the ground” proved to be most enlightening.

“Many of the theories I had explored in the first few years of the Ph.D. program still did not have a real-world grounding,” he says. “Working on the ground long-term to apply these theories was fundamental in helping me to understand, describe, and reshape those theories.

“Undertaking a Fulbright also helped me to solidify my career plans, as it not only opened up the world of international education development to me, (but) I also got the chance to work alongside some researchers who are now my current employers… And on a personal level, after driving in Oman, I will never complain about Atlanta drivers again.”

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