“We’d love to have you!”

This was the response Dr. Sang-Eun Dyer received when she asked Cheongju National University of Education about spending her sabbatical there. The South Korean university’s enthusiastic response was partly due to the fact that Dr. Dyer completed her undergraduate work there. But South Korea was an ideal choice for Dr. Dyer for personal reasons as well: she has family in the area, and she and Dr. Jim Dyer adopted both their children (Iris and Isaac) from South Korea. The opportunity to reconnect with family while growing professionally was one the Dyers couldn’t pass up.

How did it come about that the Dyers were able to take their sabbatical together?

The Dyers had inquired about taking their sabbatical together a couple of times in the past, but last year the stars aligned and the numbers added up for both faculty members to take a year-long sabbatical together. Thus, not only Sang-Eun and Jim, but also their two children, spent the year in Korea. While their parents were contributing to their fields at the college level, Iris and Issac had the opportunity to spend a year in the South Korean elementary school system.

Dr. Sang-Eun Dyer spent the year teaching courses in Multicultural Education and Classroom English, as well as conducting education seminars and workshops. In addition to teaching abroad, one of her goals was to continue cultivating the relationship between Cheongju National University and Corban’s education department. Already, the two schools have “exchanged” students, as several Corban students have traveled to South Korea to teach English, and several Cheongju students have visited Corban. Dr. Dyer’s hope is to continue strengthening that relationship.

What are some of the biggest differences between American and South Korean higher education?

“I was the only one who left the door open,” Dr. Sang-Eun Dyer says, referring to the closed-door culture among faculty in South Korea. Perhaps we take it for granted that professors in the States leave their doors open, allowing students and fellow faculty to stroll in and start up a conversation. Not so in Korea. A sign might indicate that the professor is available, but it’s on the student to knock if they want to chat.

On the other hand, teaching is viewed as a much more prestigious career in South Korea than in the States. Becoming a teacher—even an elementary school teacher—requires top performance in high school, acceptance to a top university, and excellent performance on exit exams. Back in 1999 when Sang-Eun was leaving a teaching career in South Korea to move to America, her family and friends were shocked: “Why are you quitting?!” her principal asked her. “This is such a good job!” But while teaching in the States may not come with as much prestige, Dr. Dyer was glad to come home to Corban. “We are doing a great job here,” she says, referring to the practical experience education students gain before graduating.

This points to perhaps the biggest difference between Korean and American education: content versus practice. While American education—specifically teacher education—focuses heavily on practical application (e.g. hours and hours spent student-teaching), Korean teacher education focuses more on content. Both approaches have their advantages. But often the content isn’t the problem. It’s easy for a teacher to know that 2 + 3 = 5, Dr. Dyer explains, but how do you deliver that to a student who doesn’t understand basic math? Her experience at Cheongju University confirmed the need for balance between content and application, theory and practice.

Meanwhile, what was Dr. Jim Dyer up to?

While Dr. Sang-Eun Dyer was teaching at Cheongju University, Dr. Jim Dyer was hosted by Chungbuk National University, where he spent his sabbatical developing curriculum for his Organic Chemistry classes. His main objective was to complete an initiative he’d begun the previous year toward “flipped learning.”

Flipped learning is an approach toward teaching that “flips” what occurs inside the classroom and what occurs outside of class. If traditional teaching utilizes class time for lecture and content and devotes time outside of class to application and homework, “flipped learning” does the opposite: students are responsible for reading up on content on their own so that class time can be devoted to discussion, hands-on activities, problem-solving, and application of ideas. To this end, Dr. Dyer spent much of his sabbatical developing a series of organic chemistry lecture videos. These would allow students to obtain content ahead of time, so that class time could be reserved for discussion and application.

When he wasn’t creating lecture videos, Jim was investigating another pedagogical trend called “gamification”—an approach that focuses on increasing student engagement and motivation by structuring the learning environment like a game. One of the biggest challenges in colleges and universities “is motivation,” Dr. Dyer explains. “Are students engaged? How can we engage them better?” Leaders in gamification note that people are extremely motivated when playing games: staying up late, memorizing seemingly minute details, devoting hours “studying” the information they need to succeed—and yet they struggle to memorize the periodic table for school. How can educators harness the motivation students bring to gaming in order to engage them better in the classroom? Dr. Dyer hopes to delve more into these and other questions to better engage his students.

What’s the best thing about being home again?

Dr. Jim Dyer notes that the thing he missed the most while in Korea was . . . you guessed it, his students! Be sure to ask the Dyers more about their adventures abroad. Rumor has it their doors are open.