Press Release for Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Students Explore Europe through 'Trainsformational' Learning

Contact: Joanna Norris, Assistant Director
Department of Media Relations and Events
(904) 620-2102

It's not your average senior-level physics course. The class consists of only eight students, primarily non-science majors; the course pre-requisites are "thinking, pondering, wondering and rigorous curiosity"; and the location for the course will vary by day, beginning 4,242 miles from the University of North Florida’s campus.

The course is PHY 4930, Trainsformational Learning on the EuroRail, taught by Dr. Jace Hargis, assistant professor and director of the Office of Faculty Enhancement. Known for his innovative teaching methods, Hargis developed the course as an unconventional alternative to teaching and learning. Instead of presenting material from behind a podium and testing his students’ memorization skills, Hargis will take his students on a 12-day whirlwind train trip throughout Europe so they can apply what they learn in textbooks to the real world.

The trip begins June 5 in Jacksonville and will take the students by Chunnel and train to Paris, Zurich, Munich, Venice, Rome, Milan and Madrid. Students will have an opportunity to observe, engage in and explore the cultures of seven countries, with coursework completed en route to each destination.

“This course is a very demanding travel-abroad experience focusing on conceptual, contextual learning through the disciplines of the sciences,” said Hargis. "We will be immersing ourselves with local people and cultures, so the students will be expected to highly interact with their colleagues and native residents and to maintain a high level of scholarly activity during less-than-optimal conditions."

Hargis made sure students who applied for the course knew this was not going to be a glorified vacation. “The application process for this course was very competitive because I wanted to make sure we had a diverse group of students who displayed particular characteristics,” he said. “This is definitely a course for ‘wash and wear’ students.” In a nutshell, Hargis wanted to select students who were serious about learning, looking for adventure and eager to explore new cultures.

Although the trip is still two months away, the students have been meeting monthly since January to complete the required coursework and participate in group-planning of the trip. They must complete the required reading, which includes books on Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein, as well as a novel, “The Razor’s Edge,” by W. Somerset Maughham, and a play, “The Physicist,” by Friederich Durrenmatt. In addition, each student has been assigned a leg of the trip, tasked with researching the area, planning lessons and developing an itinerary for a 24-hour period.

Amy Wuest, a sophomore double-majoring in philosophy and English, has spent a great deal of time learning about Rome, since she’s going to be responsible for leading her classmates through the ancient city. “I’ve been looking at maps, reading about the history of Rome, and talking with people who have traveled there to find out where we should go and what we should do,” she said. “I’d like to plan a walk where we can talk about Leonardo da Vinci while retracing his footsteps and experiencing some of the things he experienced in Rome. And I think it would be great if we could check out a café where Sartre and Hemingway used to hang out.”

The students will also visit several universities throughout Europe to learn what college life is like in other countries. For example, the students plan to visit Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich to tour the campus and meet a German physicist who won a 2005 Nobel Physics Prize for his work in developing laser-based precision spectroscopy.

Hargis said among the course’s objectives is for students to “engage in active, productive discourse relating to the connection between science, literature, media and how they connect to European geography, social and economic parameters.”

Funding provided by the University reduced the cost of this trip from $2,400 to $950 per student. UNF has set aside $200,000 for courses, projects and research that require student participation in unique educational opportunities that help to broaden students’ intellectual and world views.

A total of 18 programs were funded: 10 for international programs and eight for programs within the United States. Funding for these kinds of transformational learning experiences is unique to UNF. The idea for transformational learning opportunities was initiated by UNF President John A. Delaney when he was inaugurated as the University’s fifth president in 2004.