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Who wants to fly with TravelinEdMan?: A dozen consecutive examples of why not…
Monday, June 20, 2011
Who wants to fly with TravelinEdMan?: A dozen consecutive examples of why not…

Note: Before I start, I should point out that this is my longest blog post ever. It is now well over 15,000 words. As such, this blog post could be divided into 13 or 14 blog postings or stories. I still might individually post each of the 12 stories listed below. Not sure. Instead of individual posts, I believe that they work best together. No one incident, other than perhaps the first and last ones, would stop me, the so-called “TravelinEdMan,” from traveling again. But, when combined, they should make you ponder the safety and convenience (or inconvenience) of air travel. Pick the story (or stories) that you want to read...or skip this post entirely and stay sane.

Introduction to the 12 Stories/Trips Taking Place during the Past Half Year:

So who wants to fly with me sometime on a trip? It often gets quite lonely. I would love to have some company. Many people tell me that I am lucky to travel to so many wondrous places. During the past 6 and one-half months, however, I have had my share of travel adventures when in route or on my way back. In the stories below, I recap a few details from the 12 trips that took place during that time or about 2 trips per month. These are professional ones and do not include a vacation in Freeport, Bahamas just before Christmas. Those seeking additional information related to the events I flew to, can find links to them in my news off my homepage. I am going to include minimal links here so as not to distract from the stories themselves.

Sometimes people ask why I turn down a chance to speak somewhere that I have not been; especially, the cool and exotic places. During the past few years, I have turned down Cairo, Moscow, Katmandu, Bali, Tripoli (yes, Libya), Tunisia, Kuwait, Qatar, KL, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Penang, São Paulo, Santiago, Mexico City, Hong Kong, Beijing, Toronto, Rio (actually, that one was delayed), Dubai, Bogata, various locations in Turkey, and dozens of other places. Many of these places I have been to before. Most I have not. When I debate over one of these invites, friends of mine will often tell me that I really need to visit them or attend a particular conference in order to meet and to catch up on life. And still others wonder why I often charge a fee for speaking given that I am typically promoting free and open education for all (i.e., "Curt, you have a book that says that the World is Open".

Well, there are many reasons for me not to travel. And they all add up. See a few of these below.

First, there is extensive prep time for my talk or multiple talks. There are usually 2 or 3 talks to prepare for each event…and every audience is special and unique (see example descriptions). When I travel overseas to places like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Australia, Finland, or Korea, I might do a dozen or more talks in a single week to various types of audiences. Many recent audiences are mainly K-12, some are military or corporate training ones, a few are composed of government officials, and the largest portion is from higher education settings. Naturally, all want specific examples and suggestions just for them. Of course, this takes time. Each talk must be loaded up on my laptop as well as the cloud (I use Mailbigfile) so I can always access it when and where needed if my laptop is stolen. I also place them on a couple of flash memory sticks. Color PDF handouts of my talk slides are typically generated and posted to the Web at archived talks as well. As a result, a one day event can actually take a day or 2 to prepare for and a day or 2 to recover from, if not more. If overseas, it can take a full week to recover. In a word, traveling can be tiring.

Second, the content I present on is constantly changing (again, it takes much time to keep it all up-to-date). Hence, much research, creative thinking, and reflection is required. And I want to be unique each time. Sometimes that creative spark is just not there. Some ideas take a year to form. Others just come to me in my head when I jog or fly.

Third, it seems everyone wants to send me paperwork with terms which must be read, negotiated and agreed to, and eventually signed (and I truly hate paperwork…left the world of accounting because of it). Unfortunately, the amount of paperwork seems to be growing at an alarming rate in recent years. Paperwork is particularly proliferating in higher education. Everything is moving to the Web to save trees. Little concern is placed for my eyes, however. Worst of all are online forms. When the forms are online, they are created by some young computer geek, often using 8 point font, and cannot be read. Migraines!

Fourth, I must do all my scheduling of the trip which includes booking flights and hotels. Try as I might to get a speaking agency or support, I have no assistant to help. And I am picky about which flight I take and the timing of it. It often takes much deliberation and schedule coordination.

Fifth, all trips require time away from home and work. I would rather be sitting on my back deck working on a book project and listening to the birds sing but my daughter is in college and my son just finished and there are bills to pay.

Sixth, there is the packing and unpacking and trying to cram as much as I can in my carryon bag. I rarely check a bag. There is no way that I will trust an airline with it if I do not have to.

Seventh, each time I fly, I must drive an hour each way to the airport. Yes, those who know me realize that I typically listen to an audiobook when in route and, therefore, always am learning something new. Nonetheless, there is commuting time and wear and tear on my car.

Eighth, Indianapolis airport personnel subject most travelers to the full body scans and checks when going through airport security (how fun…not). Just who is checking out my x-rayed images?

Ninth, once I arrive, I must check into a hotel room. And often the assigned hotel is so-so and with paper thin walls; and so when I say that “I hear things at night,” I am not fooling. On rare occasions, I will stay at a friend’s house or apartment. Not recommended.

Tenth…then there is the actual presentation or set of presentations as well as the set-up time and testing of each one. The sound system must be working. Mic, projector, and laptop computer checks. The technology can fail you in different ways, so you must have a back-up plan and a back-up plan to the back-up plan. Props must be in place. Etc. Even after one has completed the first nine steps or concerns, one must still perform. And this performance must be at a very high level. Passion, excitement, interest, humor, information, etc., are all packed in. People in the audience must be moved or pushed to think. Of course, giving the speech or talk or workshop is the temporary high in the whole process.

And Reason #11 for not traveling every time I am invited is that, when done, my travel expenses that must be summarized and submitted in the mail. This invoicing task requires sound analysis and organizational skills, an attention to detail, and the utmost patience. Not a fun task, though having a previous life as a CPA does come in handy at times. I must then get the invoice in the mail and this requires a trip to the post office.

Of course, the twelfth reason to say no is that the government takes about half of what I charge. Often it is better to just stay home. Suffice to say, given all the points above and that I speak on average over 100 times a year, it is an easy decision to say “no” to many of the requests that come in.

Let me add Reason #13 which is the actual flight. Most often, I am booked in economy. My body cannot take too much of that—knees get sore. And, as you will see in the stories below, many of these are quite scary adventures.

On top of that (Reason #14), when flying overseas you’re stuck with airplane food; which as a vegetarian, I typically refuse to eat. Domestically, you get peanuts and pretzels. Whoopee! I tend to pack an apple, an orange or two, and many dark chocolate bars. But that food runs out. And no matter where you are heading to, when you arrive at your destination, you often must eat what is brought before you or popular in that community. And yes I do experiment with many foods. However, I have many dietary restrictions.

Ok, that’s 14 reasons to say no. There are more. Many, many more. I should also admit, however, that there are numerous traveling benefits. For instance, it is often a sanity break. And I certainly have gotten to see some great places during the past six months—Oslo and Goh (Norway), Melbourne (Australia), Williamsburg (Virginia), and New Orleans. And during the past decade there have been hundreds more places. Among my favorites are Edinburgh, Montreal (in the summer), Helsinki, London, Sydney, Seoul, Vancouver, San Francisco, Dublin, anywhere in the Rocky Mountains or New Zealand, etc.).

Since March 2010, I have been purposefully visiting competing programs to my own program in Instructional Systems Technology (IST) at Indiana University (IU). I have spoken at competitor places like the University of Oklahoma, Auburn, Stanford, Florida State, Syracuse, the University of Missouri, the University of Georgia, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, and San Jose State University (which recently disbanded its educational technology program). It has been fun to meet with people from all these places and discuss their programs and research interests.

But lately, riding on a plane has been sorta a drag. I detail my last 12 consecutive examples. Note that all these flights originated from the Indianapolis International Airport, which is a fantastic airport that is less than 3 years old. The Indy airport is so convenient and easy to get around in. Small wonder it has already won many awards. Yet, still there are problems. Also note that one of these dozen trips is actually a car trip and not a flight at all. Smile.

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12 Trips, 12 Nail-biting Events:

Story/Trip #1. “Where’s the bloody Roanoke runway?” (United trip to Roanoke, VA, November 30-December 1, 201 0). My first story is of a trip to Roanoke, Virginia for an educational technology leadership conference primarily for K-12 educators and few folks from higher education. I had a short layover in Dulles airport in DC to change planes. I called my sister in Falls Church from Dulles to say hello.

Then I boarded my plane on a rainy day and we head to Roanoke, Virginia. It was raining and foggy as we approached, and, hence, extremely low visibility. We start to descend. Kept descending….and, all-of-a-sudden, the pilot pulled up abruptly. And we banked and banked and banked some more. After circling the atmosphere above for about 15 minutes, the pilot makes an announcement that he and his co-pilot knew that they were close to the runway but they just could not find it. He makes a joke that he “did not want to hit a mountain” and so he pulled up.

I do not think anyone sitting near me found it funny in the least. Thoughts flew through my head. Would he find the runway this time? Were other planes around us doing the same thing? About 5-10 minutes later, he tried it again and, yes, this time found the runway. Had I known that this was the first of a dozen straight trips with problems, I would have taken an early sabbatical or shaved my head and become a Buddhist monk. Scary one? Yes. Most definitely.

Roanoke Trip Pluses: As my readings of Buddhism tells me, for each negative, there is a positive. And there were many positives to this trip. For instance, I got to stay at a lovely historic hotel (i.e., the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center). More importantly, I was finally able to meet Professor John Burton from Virginia Tech University. John was the advisor of Dr. W. Michael Reed. Mike was my first mentor and colleague when I arrived at West Virginia University in August 1989 as a newly minted Ph.D. from Wisconsin Madison. Mike passed away two years ago. John and I toasted to him that night; perhaps not enough times. Mike Reed was one of the best individuals I have ever met on this planet. I blogged about Mike when he passed away. I found out after he died that we have a book together on computers and writing that I never knew about. How is that possible? Well, a special journal issue we did was turned into a book. How cool is that? I said goodbye to Roanoke, but I had difficulty saying goodbye to Mike once again.

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Story/Trip #2. “You have half of seat 14A.” (United trip to Fresno, January 17-19, 2011). I got some time off after Roanoke. My next trip was not until the middle of January. I was headed to Fresno, California to speak at Cal State Fresno University. The event was called the TWISTERS Conference (Teaching With Innovative Solutions in Technology to Engage and Reach Students). Early 6 am departure. Tired. First leg sat next to a lady holding a young child. She spots 2 open seats across the aisle and thankfully decides to move over and take them. It really does not matter, however. Her baby screams the entire way to Denver. The storms and sudden bumps do not help any. Some huge jolts coming into Denver. Happy to arrive.

I await the next plane and board it. Seat 14A is assigned. Unfortunately, a gigantic mountain man has 14B. I actually get half a seat. So I carefully situate my face on the window with my lovely, red University of Houston airplane pillow underneath and attempt to sleep. The bumps are back. And they are quite chilling on a regional plane going over the Rocky Mountains. But it is stunning when you see all the mountains snow packed down below.

A hour or two later and it gets cloudy. A white blanket it seems. I can spot the mountain peaks of Yosemite area jotting through the clouds. A few moments later, the pilot dives through the clouds for the runway. I kept thinking back to Roanoke. I sure hope he knows where he is going. Please don’t hit a mountain. Ok. Made it.

Way home, I have seat 12A. I think I got the mountain man’s wife next to me. Squished with half a seat again to Denver. I make some attempts to sleep and ignore being crushed. And then there is the final leg…of course, I am seated next to a hippie grandfather holding his young grandson on his lap. I waited for the screaming but none came. Thank goodness. But I would like to get back to having a normal seat on a plane. Is this possible? Squished, ear drums pounding, and stomach churning through the bumps is not exactly what I had in mind.

Fresno Trip Pluses: I had a lovely dinner with my former student, Dr. Bosung Kim, who now works at Cal State Fresno. The stress of the travel and severe migraines, however, caused me to get sick that evening upon my return to my hotel to prepare my talks for the following day. Gone was that fabulous dinner that I had with Bosung. My head was pounding. Time for a shower? Yes. Felt fabulous the following morning and both my talks went well or so I think (see interview in their University Journal on my shared online video talk in the morning). Met some great people at Fresno State throughout the day.

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Story/Trip #3. “Sorry, folks, we need to de-ice the jet bridge from the plane.” (Delta trip to Atlanta and Athens, GA, February 2-4, 2011). Trip to Atlanta to speak at the University of Georgia (UGA) and DeVry University. Ice storm hits the mid-section of the United States. I think it is called the Ground Hog Day Blizzard of 2011 (January 31-Febraury 2, 2011; Ground Hog Day was February 2nd). After monitoring the weather all day Monday and Tuesday, I decide not to drive in the snow and ice that has hit the Midwest. I am told that my flight to Atlanta on Wednesday February 2nd is initially cancelled and then a few hours later, it is back on; someone made a mistake.

So, I order a limo pick-up at my house and make it to the Indianapolis airport on time. But the airport is deserted. The only people I spot in the main section of the airport are a Channel 13 cameraman and floor sweeper. All the planes I see outside are being de-iced. I spot mine—it gets a full 2 hours of de-icing while parked at the gate. Two bloody hours in preparation for departure. Some storm.

Other passengers show up. And we wait. Then there is an announcement. After two hours of de-icing, we will need to wait another 45 minutes to an hour as the engines have ice in them. They need to be inspected. After that inspection, there is another 30 minute wait. I am giving constant updates to my friends at the University of Georgia where I am supposed to speak late that afternoon. Finally, we board. I will perhaps make it in time. Nope. The plane is stuck to the jet bridge and the wheels are stuck to the ground. The grounds people could not de-ice that part since the smell (and perhaps the fluid) would get into the concourse. So we wait. Finally, we are unstuck. (Has this happened before to anyone reading this post?)

Now we must head to the de-icing area for one more bit of de-icing since flakes of snow had fallen in the meantime. It is also a final precaution. Few planes fly out that day but we are among them. I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

As noted below, I got to Atlanta too late to speak at UGA but in time for a tour of campus, dinner, and a few round of drinks with a group of faculty and graduate students from educational technology and learning sciences. Fantastic people at UGA. They even rescheduled my talk for the following morning with a blue screen background and streamed it across campus. What fun!

Georgia Trip Pluses: Got to see the University of Georgia (UGA) for the first time. I had heard much about it. It is indeed very picturesque. In addition, I had a nice long chat with my former master’s student, Eun-jung Oh. Eun-jung patiently waited to pick me up at the airport. As an aside, a few weeks after this, she defended her dissertation. She is now Dr. Oh.

Equally great, I had dinner Wednesday night with Eun-jung and her husband was paid by my good friend, Professor Tom Reeves. Tom had to leave for DC just before I got there. After dinner, I had a lovely moment to toast to the engagement of long-time friend Eunbae Lee. Eunbae is the sister-in-law of my student, Yeol Huh. Her sister, Dabae Lee, is Yeol’s wife. Both are students in my program back in Bloomington. She will be getting married on Saturday July 23rd in Seoul. It is coming up!

On Thursday, I was able to visit the famous Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development. Torrance Center director, Dr. Bonnie Cramond, was available for a great chat. My master’s thesis utilized the Torrance Tests for Creative Thinking and my former advisor at UW-Madison, Dr. Gary Davis, has book called “Creativity is Forever” which I still use in my classes. Gary always talked about the Paul Torrance and what his work meant for the field. Gary’s book covers all forms of creativity assessment, by the way. Suffice to say, this was a special pilgrimage.

Next up was lunch at a popular Athens restaurant with10-12 UGA people. After lunch, Eunbee took me back to Atlanta so I could speak on Friday at a special training event for DeVry University faculty. Another former student of mine, Dr. Jung Won Hur from Auburn University, took me to dinner when in Atlanta. It is great to have so many former students taking care of me when I travel.

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Story/Trip #4. Part A. “An hour with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, weather I like it or not.” (Continental and Lufthansa trip to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 20-25, 2011). After all the positive experiences of not driving to the airport last time, I once again decide to take a limo and arrive well before my intended flight. I have more than two hours before my flight is to leave. There are problems, however. Weather and other issues have my plane (incoming from Newark) behind schedule. There is an earlier flight about to leave. Can I get on it? No. Instead, I am told that there is plenty of time padded into the schedule. So I wait and wait and wait.

I keep reminding myself that if I am too late for my flight, I would miss getting a chance to hear Sir Tim Berners-Lee speak. He is scheduled to open the conference. Sir Tim was the Day One keynote speaker. Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia/the Wikimedia Foundation was Day Two. I was scheduled to be Day Three. My plane, which, as I stated, was coming from Newark, was delayed several times due to weather in the New York area. However, just as I was glancing again at my watch, an announcement was made that it was finally departing Newark airspace.

So much of a time delay had occurred, however, that the Continental flight scheduled to fly to Newark after my flight was now set to leave earlier. I tried to get on it but was told that it was fully booked. The agent tried and tried but to no avail. She then calculated the time remaining in flight, time to unboard that plane and reboard, and then fly back to Newark. After that, she said that I should make it. Well, my flight finally arrived and I took a mad dash to the bathroom and when I returned I could not find my glasses. My plane was boarding. Final call. Where were they? I shook all my bags and no glasses. I cannot be in Saudi Arabia for the next 4-5 days without my glasses. I ran back to the bathroom, and, as I was doing so, my glasses magically dropped from my leather coat to the floor. Back to boarding.

Our pilot flew in record time to Newark. It went extremely fast. Unfortunately, the ground crew for Continental who had to retrieve all the gate checked bags were not so swift. They took their time. And still more time. A full 15 minutes went by. Got my bags and ran with someone else also heading for an international flight. I had a first class ticket costing mucho dinero ($$$$) and was told that the plane would wait for me. I thought we still had over 30 minutes so I stopped for a bottle of water. All-of-a-sudden, I hear last call for my flight. So I ran to the gate.

The gate agent for Lufthansa needed my Visa information for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (or KSA as they call it). She had trouble finding the right page since it was my fifth such trip there in a little over 4 years. Many one-time visit Visas to Saudi Arabia in there. Frantic calls were made back and forth between her and flight attendants on board who told her that they were going to close the doors and not let me on if she could not find my Visa number and enter it into their system. Finally, she and I found it and I was the last one to board. Whew!

Saudi Trip Pluses: Of course, listening to Sir Tim Berners Lee speak at the conference was the highlight of the week for me and most likely for the year or even this decade. I took copious notes and have been meaning to blog on it. Better still, was getting to meet him personally and sit next to him on the bus for a full hour on the way to dinner for an authentic Saudi Arabian meal. It was marvelous. We chatted about the Web, our jogging routines, Saudi Arabia, academia, and other interests and hobbies. Well, it definitely was a delight. After getting off the bus, I got a couple of pictures with him.

The following day, I got to meet Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia/the Wikimedia Foundation during lunch. I feel most fortunate that I got a few pictures with him as well. During our brief chat, I shared information about my research on wikis and wikibooks (some of which the Wikimedia Foundation had sponsored). His talk that morning was fabulous just like Sir Tim’s the day before. I need to blog on it someday as well. I am slow. Jimmy had jumped in a plane to attend the conference a few hours after his wife gave birth to their new baby daughter. I am quite certain that he was quite tired but he did not show it when he presented nor when conversing with countless people after his talk and at lunch. I, for one, found him highly engaging and embedded with an optimistic spirit.

When in Riyadh, I also saw my old friends Daniel Tan from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, Ron Oliver from Edith Cowan University in Perth (Australia), Mauri Collins (now working in Saudi), and John Hedberg from Macquarie University in Sydney. And I finally met Mohamed Ally from Athabasca University in Canada, among others. Mohamed is known for his work on mobile learning. On the last day of the conference, John Hedberg and I were taken out for an original Saudi lunch meal. Exquisite…!

Additional Saudi Conference Pluses: This conference was the 2nd International Conference of e-Learning and Distance Learning (eLi 2011) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As is the custom, females are in a separate room from the males. They had someone using sign language for the hundreds of hearing impaired or deaf women in the other room. In addition, graphic facilitators from Image Think were brought in to sketch out the keynote and invited talks. Andrew Federman was on the men’s side and Nora Herting on the women’s side. They were awesome. Three huge screens filled the men’s side so at times a person drawing your talk was shown above your head as you spoke while a signer was in another window and perhaps sections of the audience or yourself was shown in the third window. (You can see some of their drawings from the conference, in fact, including those they created from the talks of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Jimmy Wales, Ron Oliver, John Hedberg, mine, etc..)

I was informed that there were over 2,700 people for Day One of the conference when Sir Tim spoke. Keep in mind that the conference planners had expected less than half of that (perhaps 1,000-1,200). While 400-500 chairs were available in the women’s room, there were actually twice that many females who showed up and many of them had to stand or sit on the floor that day. In addition, thousands more signed up to watch the live stream of the event on their computers or other mobile devices (perhaps some 10,000). In addition, countless others were tuning in throughout the Middle East to an educational TV station that was being piloted during the conference. During the conference, all of us speakers were interviewed for that TV station. Needless to say, it was great exposure for anyone presenting at the eLi conference.

While I could not see the women, I had them jumping during my talk (I had the men jumping too). It is part of one of my talks—I get people to jump. Though not typical, I did actually get 15-20 minutes to meet and chat with a few of the ladies in the exhibit hall, though most were veiled. Sorry I cannot share any photos here. Many pictures were also taken with the men on my side after my talk and throughout the conference. There were also a couple of newspaper interviews (see article in "the Saudi"). It was quite a spectacular experience. Until my return home. Read on…

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Story/Trip #4. Part B. “Am I being kidnapped, extorted money, or what? Time to crawl out the taxi window.” All great conferences come to an end and so did this one. After meeting with the father of one of my Saudi students, I packed and then went downstairs for a quick work out. Upon returning, I had a Skype discussion with a colleague back in the USA. And then I took off for a lovely dinner in one of the hotel restaurants. At that point, the excitement of the evening began to happen. At dinner, I was approached by a tall, strange looking, Saudi young man who asked if I needed a ride to the airport. He asked me this in sketchy English and wanted to charge me a fee. I said I did not need one since I was to be picked up. The waiter said he was a crazy man and showed him the door.

After waiting for more than an hour for my prearranged conference shuttle, I called the conference host and chatted with her. She said to wait patiently and so I did. I called her again 20 or 30 minutes later and she indicated that a ride was nearly there. And sure enough, there it was…actually 2 taxis, both bearing the conference initials so I felt ok about that. I was told to get into the 2nd taxi by the first driver. However, it was obvious that the 2nd driver could not speak English. The first one could. It later occurred to me, that is was the same deranged young man who approached me at the restaurant. Unfortunately, the guy who spoke English quickly drove off.

And so we are off. My driver calls someone on the phone and starts to yell. I tell him to take me to the airport and he replies “no English.” I have to flap my arms to indicate a bird flying for him to understand. Keep in mind, when I was picked up from the airport 4 days earlier, I had an English speaking escort. And that was a very calm ride to the hotel in a very comfortable black Mercedes.

In contrast, this car was so-so and the driver was in need of a psychological exam. He was on the phone constantly when driving. He drove with one hand (finger actually) barely touching the wheel. He glanced quickly (if that) when changing lanes. I am surprised he is alive. And then he started yelling on his phone again. This was all in the first few minutes. And in extremely heavy traffic. It was crazy. Making it worse, King Abdullah had just returned from an operation in the USA, so it was like a 4th of July celebration in the streets of Riyadh.

My crazed taxi driver eventually pulled off to the side on a busy Riyadh street and waved some keys at me and got out of the car and locked me inside, all while continuing to talk on his phone. I had no idea what was happening. Was I being kidnapped? I had no clue. Was he abandoning the car and leaving me on the streets of Riyadh to fend for myself? I was some 2 or 3 miles from my hotel and I knew nobody or how to get back. And again, the streets were alive with celebration. But I decided to roll down the window and crawl out. My suitcase was in the truck of the car but I had my technology in my computer bag and I was fine with just that. I was about to walk back to the hotel or go anywhere but stay in that car.

Before doing so, I was going to ask for my bag and try to get a different taxi. I wanted to be anywhere but locked in a car in a strange city with this very strange man. (As an aside, I should point out, that it was my 9th trip to the Middle East and I have had many poor drivers in the past.) At this point, the taxi driver then turned and said “sorry” (apparently he knew one usable English word).

He then got back in the taxi and motioned for me to come back in. I regrettably got back in and we drove off. His driving got increasingly worse, not better. I asked if we were going to the airport. He said he knew no English. Only Arabic. “You (know) Arabic?” he asked. So I am in a shuttle with a man who is yelling on his phone and who does not know how to communicate with his passenger and who apparently does not know where he is going. Since he knows no English, I decide to wave my arms again like a bird and he once again nodded that he understood.

Then he finds an alternative route to the expressway. Once on it, he speeds up and swerves around traffic. I say slow down and he says No English. Right on the tail of many cars and trucks and flashes his lights for them to pull over. I momentarily close my eyes. This type of driving continues. I try to close my eyes again and hope for no accident but I cannot. I must see what is going on and where we are going. I hang on, 120 kilometers per hour in heavy traffic or faster (130) (Note: I had experienced 180-190 kilometers per hour once in a taxi from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in the UAE but that was with limited traffic).

I say slow down over and over to myself. It is my mantra to calm me down. He turns on some Arabic music really loud. Then a police light and checkpoint is up ahead. “Thank goodness,” I say to myself. He finally slows down and turns off music and puts on his seat belt. Apparently, he knows the laws and that he is not abiding by them. We drive through the checkpoint with no one stopping us and he immediately takes off his seat belt and talks on phone once again. And the wild driving returns.

Can things get worse? Yes they can! He then asks me for money. “Money. Money. Money.” I say the name of the person bringing me to the conference and that it is paid for and he apparently does not understand (or pretends not to). He again asks for money. I feel he is going to drop me in the middle of this highway here in Riyadh. So I decide to pull out the email with the phone number of the conference coordinator. He looks at it and types something into his phone (as he drives at some frenetic speed, of course) and I think he will call her. But he does not.

During all this, an indicator light comes on that he is running out of gas. Oh great, I say to myself; instead of him sticking me on the highway, we are going to be trapped together. Scary to say the least! Fortunately, the airport is finally within reach. A sign indicates that a private airport to the right. He starts to go there but I catch him doing this and I point to the sign that says domestic and international flights to the left. He goes left at the last second. Whew. We get to the domestic sign and he pulls over. He must be glad to get rid of me. It is perhaps a third or half mile to the international terminal but I do not care. I will run and then walk and then run again and be rid of him as well.

As per usual, some of the lines at the international terminal are quite long with hundreds of workers from the Philippines and other places heading home. Fortunately, those are not my flights. Some parts of the Riyadh entry terminal remind me of cattle herding. I finally find Lufthansa and one of the conference escorts named “Ryan” luckily finds me (shaking). He asks me what’s wrong and I tell him the cliff notes summary of what just happened. He apologizes and takes me over to the special customs clearance for VIPs and we sail right through. First, however, we sip some dark and quite potent Saudi Arabian tea/coffee. It feels great to finally relax.

Side note: I do not think I was being kidnapped, but I definitely believe that this guy and the other taxi guy who showed up with him were jointly conspiring to scare me into giving them money. He was likely the same guy who approached me at dinner and asked me if I needed a ride (in broken English). Later, I think that the two of them sat across from me in the hotel lobby as I waited patiently for my taxi. They were sitting right there watching me get nervous and look at my watch as I waited for my ride (and they were my drivers playing games with me). I think for a long time they were watching me at the hotel and then they left and then he came back.

I do not know for sure. But, it was just so bizarre. If I am correct, they were trying to extort money from me. Moral: Be careful getting into a taxi in a strange city even if it seems they are paid and approved by the conference people bringing you there. Do not get into a taxi without a 2nd person sitting next to you who knows English AND Arabic.

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Story/Trip #5. “There’s a whole lot of shaking going on.” (Personal Car (2001 Nissan Pathfinder), Columbia, Missouri, March 6-9, 2011). Tired of flying, I decided to drive the 6-7 or so hours needed to get to the University of Missouri back in early March. Four other consultants and I were brought in by the MU College of Education Dean, Daniel Clay. We were there to review their areas of strengths and point to areas to build upon. Many meetings. All went well for those two days; after which I gave a keynote talk at their annual TeAchnology conference.

The following day, I had a final breakfast with some of the people I know there at MU. After that, a couple of them gave me a tour of some of the MU campus; including a brief look at some of their learning technology projects. Then my old friend Ta Boonseng dropped me off at my car, a 2001 Nissan Pathfinder, and I headed to the highway I-70 for the 6-7 hour journey home. Sidenote: As a graduate student, Ta had helped run a conference back in December 2006. I was one of the keynote speakers he brought in for it. Ta is now working on his dissertation.

At this point, my car stated knocking and shaking. The engine was misfiring. I had several engine coil problems in the past but this seemed more serious. The entire car was shaking worse than ever before. I slowed down and finally had to pull off the highway just east of Columbia. Needless to say, I knew no one (though Columbia was not far away). I let the car rest while getting gas. Got back in…same problem. Went inside the gas stop convenience store and let it rest a few minutes more. At this point, I was worried that I would be spending another day or two in Missouri and I had already been there 3 nights. After asking where the local auto repair shop was, I got back in the car and started it back up and to my surprise there were no problems. So I immediately headed home a happy, though cautious, man.

University of Missouri Trip Pluses : When at MU, I was able to learn about a graduate program in information science and learning technologies which was similar to the one I am in at Indiana University. I also had the good fortune to meet with several current and former doctoral students that I had been mentoring (Ta Boonseng (as was mentioned) as well as Vera Chen and Hui-Hsien Tsai (now Dr. Tsai). Vera came to a talk I gave at Beijing Normal University back in October 2004. However, she had to leave before I finished as she had a class, so we never met. Since then, we have published a paper on blogging on China. But this was the first time we met. It is always interesting collaboratively writing with someone you have never physically met. Also, at my talk was my former master's student, Pil-Won On is now working there in engineering education. It was great to see Pil-Won and everyone there doing so well.

With all the graduate students I help out with at different places, there are times I feel more like a faculty member at places like Missouri, Wisconsin, or Georgia than IU. But such is the way of the open educational world. We no longer are restricted to teaching and mentoring those within a few miles of your campus, school, or training department. Today, you can help anyone at any time and they, in turn, can help you. I met some really top notch graduate students when traveling during the past year when visiting MU, UGA, FSU, etc. For this I am thankful.

During my three days at MU, I also got to hang with faculty member friends like David Jonassen, Gail Fitzgerald, John Wedman, Joi Moore, Rose Marra, and others. They have assembled one of the top departments in the field of learning technologies in the country and the world. I think it was back in 1987 or 1988 back in grad school at Wisconsin when I first wrote to David about one of his papers in Educational Technology Magazine. I was extremely excited when I got a handwritten reply (few of us used email then; it was around that time when I started to, however). David was at the University of Colorado at Denver back then. I met Gail a year or 2 later when I was a new faculty member at West Virginia University (WVU). Gail and I (and Mike Reed--see Story #1) were assigned to every committee involving technology...and there were many. In addition to knowing David and Gail for some time now, I met Joi at the e-learning conference in Thailand, mentioned above, back in December 2006. And Rose, I got to know through the tenure review process. John Wedman is the department chair (I think of 2 departments now as he became interim head for the educational psychology people in addition to learning technologies and info sciences). He has done a marvelous job as chair. Will he soon become chair of 3 or 4 departments? I doubt he (or anyone) would welcome that.

The reception after my talk and then dinner were both fabulous. Many pictures taken. As with UGA the month before, these are really great people. From my involvement in the consulting project with the dean's office, I also learned a ton about how a college or school of education is run from. I am pretty sure that our final report was well received. still, I do not want to do many such things.

Final I will be sure to get a different car soon so I can visit them again and not have to worry about it breaking down. It is really not that far away.

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Story/Trip #6. “Perfect timing no more.” (United, Melbourne, Australia, March 25-April 2, 2011). I had planned my trip to the Global Learn conference fairly well. Before I left, I was able to watch Butler University (where my daughter Nicki goes to school) beat my alma mater (Wisconsin) in the Sweet 16. The following day I would board a plane for the Global Learn conference in Melbourne. There were stops in Denver, LAX, and Sydney. Food at LAX was awful as was the airplane food. As a seafood vegetarian, I did not eat any of it. I thought that perhaps after I landed in Sydney to change planes, I could catch the score of Butler’s next game against Florida. I actually got rolling text of the game in the Sydney airport and saw that Butler was keeping it close. Halftime. Time to reboard.

When I arrived in Melbourne, my good buddy, Clint Smith, accessed the Web with his phone and told me that Butler had indeed won in overtime and were, once again, in the Final Four. Way to go Butler Bulldogs. I could not believe it. On my way home, I planned to watch their Final Four game in the Denver airport between flights. However, when I arrived back at LAX on my way home, my flight to Denver was delayed by 3-4 hours. Bugger. I went to the United help desk for premier customers and asked to be rerouted through Chicago or Houston. If I could be rebooked, I could watch the entire game at home perhaps or in Indy with my daughter.

Unfortunately, I was told that all flights were full. Every plane was crammed to the max that day. So I sat and sat in my least favorite airport—LAX. My flight was delayed so much that I got to see the half-time show of the Butler game in Denver and that was it. Fortunately, my son (Alex) and daughter (Nicki) texted me the scores as they happened while I was on the plane getting ready to depart for Indianapolis. And, just before landing, the pilot told us the final result--Butler beat VCU 70-62 and was in the NCAA finals for the second straight year. Amazing! I would have loved to see some of that game. Thanks United. Not!

Global Learn/Melbourne Trip Pluses: There are too many positive and fun events that week in Melbourne to list here in detail. I did get to see my first Formula One/Grand Prix race a few hours after arriving in Melbourne. I viewed parts of it from the rooftop of an apartment complex. Clint Smith took me to that party. The penthouse apartment of his friends had views of the racetrack, downtown Melbourne, the sun setting over the bay, and Pamela Anderson down below (a tiled mural of her on one of the homes below). What fun! Much wine and food as well.

The next evening, Clint and I joined 20 or so others and enjoyed a limo ride around Melbourne. It was a stretch Hummer filled with champagne. In fact, every night in Melbourne was grand. The conference went well too. Many old and new friends were met. Then it was on to the Global Learn conference where I would do an afternoon workshop the following afternoon. Before that, I would have breakfast with my friend Elaine Khoo from the University of Waikato in New Zealand. At breakfast, we would map out a book project which I am about to start writing once this blog post is done. The book will be about motivation and retention online based on my TEC-VARIETY model (i.e., Tone, Encouragement, Curiosity, Variety, Autonomy, Interactivity, Engagement, Tension, and Yielding Products). We will map out 10 activities for each of these 10 motivational principles. We will end up with another 100+ activities book just like my Empowering Online Learning (R2D2--Read, Reflect, Display, and Do) book with Dr. Ke Zhang. I will focus on the activities (practice) and she will focus on the theory side. Elaine's husband was also helpful at breakfast as we formed ideas. Elaine has time now since she recently finished her dissertation (a 550 or so page tome) and became Dr. Khoo. We are ready to push ahead now.

After breakfast at a quaint cafe in Melbourne, we took a tram ride back to the conference. I should point out that the success of Global Learn is important to me. A couple of years ago I helped found Global Learn, including drafting the mission statement, topics, and recruiting board members. Gary Marks from the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) wanted to try some new type of event in Asia. And so we did. So at the e-Learn conference 2008 (sponsored by AACE), the co-program chairs for the conference, Mimi Lee (University of Houston), Tom Reynolds (National University), and I put together a preconference symposium on e-learning in Asia. Thanks to the hard work of my two colleagues, more than a dozen speakers came from China, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, India, Australia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Japan, etc. This evolved into a special issue of a journal and eventually a small, print-on-demand book called "A Special Passage Through Asia E-Learning." Tom, Mimi, Gary, myself, and many others worked extremely hard to see this conference come to fruition; Zoraini Wati Abas is another and she is the new board chair of the conference. Zoraini is a true leader and someone we needed badly...with her insights into how to run a conference in Asia. I am thankful to have such excellent colleagues to work with. As we worked on it over the past few years, Global Learn has evolved into an annual event in the spring (late March, April, May, or early June) in Asia or the Pacific Rim; at least for now.

For the 2011 conference that was held in Melbourne March 27 to April 1 (i.e., the 2nd Global Learn, the first one was held in Penang, Malaysia in May 2010), I helped organize a debate panel for the third day of Global Learn on our respective digital futures. The panel included all the keynote speakers and many of the invited ones as well. I once again met up with John Hedberg (from Sydney) and Daniel Tan and his assistant Shirlene Tang (from Singapore). I also got to see Grace Lin, Curtis Ho, and Betsy Fulford (all from the University of Hawaii Department of Educational Technology), Xun Ge (U of Oklahoma), Gilly Salmon (U of Southern Queensland in Brisbane, Australia—I bogged on her keynote talk), Tian Belawati (Open U of Indonesia—I also blogged on her keynote), Rick Bennett (my dear friend from the University of New South Wales in Sydney--I blogged a bit on his keynote at the end of my post on Gilly), Elaine Khoo (U of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand—Elaine and I are starting to work on a book project this summer related to motivating students online), Mark Curcher (Dubai Men’s College), Verily Tan (my new student from Singapore), Torsten Reiners (Germany…soon to be Australia), Siew-Mee and Greg Barton (Melbourne), Zoraini Wati Abas and Abtar Kaur (both from the Open U of Malaysia in KL), David Deeds (China), Christopher Devers (U of San Diego…soon to be Indiana), Ferial (Faye) Khaddage and Leanne Ngo (both from Deakin U in Melbourne and both fantastic people who will shake up the field in the near future), Josie Csete (Hong Kong Polytechnic), Carmel McNaught (the Chinese University of Hong Kong), Mona Masood (a former student of mine now in Penang, Malaysia), Mikhail Fominykh (from Russia but working in Norway on his Ph.D.), and so many others (Apologies to those that I did not list or mention). As you can see, Global Learn, as would be expected, is a very international conference.

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Story/Trip #7. “Sound the alarm.” (Continental, AERA Conference in New Orleans, April 8-12, 2011).
I tend to go to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference each year. And I did so this year as it was in New Orleans. It was my 4th or 5th AERA in that wonderful, historic city. Other than overhead luggage containers that were far too small and overstuffed as well as the tiny bathrooms and waiting area in the Houston airport on the way home, this trip was my first in months with no problems or complaints. But I had a lunch scheduled in Indianapolis after my return with my long-time friend, Jim Middleton from Arizona State University.

Jim was in town for the annual National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) conference. Actually, he was there for the preconference as well as the main conference. So I placed my parking ticket in the meter to pay for it before going to find my car. That was supposed to be easy. However, the meter did not like the shape of my ticket and spit it out. So I turned it around and placed it in again and the dang ticket got stuck. I hit a green button to get it back and the several alarms went off in the airport parking area (right next to the doors to the concourse). These alarms were screechingly loud and would not end. I called for help and was told that a supervisor would be coming. After 10 full minutes of blaring sirens and everyone looking at me like I robbed a bank, a man appeared and helped me out.

New Orleans Trip Pluses: My session at AERA in New Orleans on wikis in elementary school classrooms went very well. I am particularly pleased since my colleague on the paper initially wanted to withdraw it due to a lack of time. But an all-nighter or two took care of that. So off to the conference I went.

As with every AERA conference, I got to see dozens of old friends, colleagues, and current as well as former students. And there was a free music festival going on in New Orleans at the time (i.e., the New Orleans French Quarter Festival). Many pictures taken. Much to enjoy in addition to the conference. Though I must say that Royal Street is much more pleasant than Bourbon Street.

On my way home, I also got to attend part of the NCTM preconference in Indianapolis and see not only my good buddy Jim but also I also sat in on a presentation from my friends from the University of Houston (UH). The UH talk was highly informative, comprehensive, and exciting. Much preparation went into it to be sure. Their iSMART (Integration of Science, Math and Reflective Teaching) project is quite novel and momentous. About 25 middle school teachers in the state of Texas enroll in it each year. As part of their efforts, iSMART teachers obtain a master’s degree when they complete the 2 year program and it is all paid for by a grant. A free master’s degree from a Research #1 university? Yes! Now that is something we can all smile about. iSMART, uSMART…we all smart! Way to go UH people. Sitting in that talk was a wonderful way to end that trip and more than makes up for my embarrassment in setting off the alarm at the airport a couple of hours earlier.

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Story/Trip #8. “Let’s go back and get 3 crew members.” (Delta/Pinnacle, Destination was Dallas/Denton, April 28-30, 2011). I boarded the plane on the afternoon of April 28th with my destination being Dallas. I would speak on shared online video later that day (early evening) at the University of North Texas (UNT) to a class taught by Dr. Scott Warren. Scott is a former student of mine. The following day, I would keynote the University Forum on Teaching & Learning (UFTL) held each year at UNT with invites to those working at surrounding universities in the Dallas-Denton area.

Everything looked great. All my flights were on time. The airplane door was shut. The jet bridge was motored back. And all seemed well as we were headed to the runway in Indianapolis. And then, the pilot informed us that we would be going back for 3 crew members. Nothing else was said. We went back and waited and waited and waited for more than 30 minutes. There were no “crew members” it seemed. They were fictional. Someone made them up. Was it April Fools’ day? No, that was 4 weeks earlier.

I voiced a complaint to the young flight attendant standing nervously at the front of our regional plane and asked a question or two. He heard me but clearly he had no clue what was going on. Finally, these three mysterious people we had heard about showed up. That led to another problem. We only had 2 seats open on our plane. Someone had to be bumped off. Fortunately for Delta, a guy behind me quickly jumped at the $400 voucher they offered to take a later flight.

I had to ask myself, what was going on? These were not even people needed to fly our plane. We were basically taking 3 people from Indianapolis to Memphis who were not registered for our flight. One guy was dressed quite nicely. Was he a pilot or was he a Delta VIP? We ended up leaving about 50 minutes late because of them and that was the exact amount of time that I had to make my connection in Memphis. Others were in the same boat or worse. Delta did not care about the 70-80 or more people who had already boarded this plane with me; just their 3 valuable employees. With Delta, the customer does NOT come first. With Delta, Delta comes first.

We were told that the gate agents in Memphis knew of our situation and would help us out. That was definitely not the case when we landed there, however. Lies! All lies! When we did arrive in the Memphis airport, many of us had to wait for our gate-checked bags to come up. As with my Newark trip the month before on Continental, the amount of time it took to retrieve those bags was much longer than expected. Making matters worse, the nearby gate agent from the concourse who peered in to see why so many of us were waiting for our bags for so long would not tell any of us if our flights were delayed. She said to “check the monitors” which we could not do until we got our bags. When she came back a second time, I asked about the gate and departure time of my plane and she said the same thing. But if I left to check the monitors, I could not come back and get my bag. Silly! Thanks again Delta. Not.

When I got finally got my “carry-on” bag, I looked at the screen and sure enough, my plane was in final boarding on the other end of the concourse; it was scheduled to depart in 5 minutes (which was 5 minutes later than the original time, thank goodness). To get to that gate, it was a 10 minute or so walk and 4-5 minute run. With some knee pain from a previous accident, I ran through the concourse at my top speed while rolling my bags behind me. As I got within shouting distance, I repeatedly yelled “One more passenger for Gate 39.” When I arrived, they were about to close the doors and had given away my seat. The gate agent issued me a new seat fortunately and asked me to quickly get on the plane. But then I had to inform her that others were coming behind me, including a family with a baby in a stroller and other children. She had no clue about our situation. As I said, Delta people lied. No one was informed of their snafu. Delta cares about their 3 passengers (i.e., “crew members”) but no one else. How sad.

So who were these 3 crew members really? I wrote to operations managers and customer support people at Delta as well as their regional Delta connection, Pinnacle, which was in charge of the fight in question. All I got was an apology from the operations manager at Pinnacle for the “rude behavior of the gate agent in Memphis” and a $100 voucher for my next Delta flight. He did not address the real complaint. They were hiding something. What might it be? Was it an infraction of prevailing laws or the rules of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration)? I think it was unlawful (or at least unethical) for Delta to take a plane back to the gate to get people (especially those who clearly did not have a ticket for this flight) once we had headed for the runway. So, in effect, Delta is using their planes at their own convenience to carry around their employees; not to help their customers. I do not know how many people missed their connecting flights that day (undoubtedly some did), but I know that many were scrambling and all of us were inconvenienced at the very least. Delta should be royally embarrassed.

Dallas/Denton Trip Pluses: On the positive side, I did get to meet Scott Warren and his wonderful students as well as other UNT faculty in the Department of Learning Technologies like Gerald Knezek and Lin Lin. Really great people at UNT and they get to work in a lovely building former occupied by Texas Instruments. Making life pleasant for me after that ridiculous Delta flight, they put me in a lovely European-inspired boutique hotel—the Wildwood Inn—it was extraordinary. Finally, my talks at the conference ended just as the City of Denton kicked off its annual Denton Arts and Jazz Festival. It was a great way to end that trip. Thanks Scott and everyone who showed me a marvelous time!

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Story/Trip #9. “Is there anyone on board who can change a tire?” (Delta, Newport News, Virginia, May 10-12, 2011). It has been 8 years since I was a research fellow with the Army Research Institute and 6 years since I had such a role with the Department of Defense. Still, I was happy to speak at an Army Learning Summit in Newport News, Virginia last month. The program for the summit was quite interesting. I gave two different talks on blended learning to two different groups as well as a keynote talk the next day (if interested, see color PDF of talk slides). This took some prepping but I learned a lot while doing so.

I was on Delta again. Would we be going back for crew members like last time? No. After boarding my connecting flight in Atlanta on my way to Newport News, however, we were delayed a tad in Atlanta. After about 10 or 15 minutes, I started to wonder why. And then I overheard the flight attendants mention that a special and quite huge dog would be traveling with us from Atlanta to Newport News. And he would be in the seat just in front of me.

The woman who needed this guide dog came on the plane crying profusely. Apparently, Delta officials at the gate did not treat her or her dog too well. Perhaps to compensate, the flight attendants inside the plane did everything they could to calm her down and attend to her needs. That dog was extremely well behaved. And yes, he was very big. Some kid of oversized hound dog; perhaps it was a mix of some kind. Not sure what it was. I felt sorry for this lady. More troubling was the fact that her husband was seated 20 rows back. In retrospect, perhaps I should I have offered him my seat. But we made it.

On the way home, I had yet another Delta incident. This time as we approached the runway, there was a sudden stop. The pilot soon came on the air and said, “you may have felt something when we backed the plane up from the gate and attempted to stop.” Then he informed us that we had a flat tire and we were heading back to the gate. I am glad he did as I think we were very close to taking off. He also noted that Delta officials had been informed of the situation and that a maintenance crew was on the way. Once back, it was quickly determined that our plane would not be back in service anytime soon. It was mass madness on the small concourse at that point. Many angry people and I could not hear much that was being said.

So, I left the concourse and headed back to National Car Rental from whom I had rented a car 2 days earlier in order to see Colonial Williamsburg. I thought I might drive to DC and see my sister and her family and then fly home from there. Just prior to do so, I decided to call Delta and see if I could get on a later flight. The answer was yes. But I would have to wait 4-5 hours for that next flight. So I waited along with a few others who came to the conference. I have flown a lot but, as with most of the stories I am telling here, it was the first time anything like that had ever happened to me.

Newport News Trip Pluses: This was one of the best trips of the year. As indicated, I got to visit Colonial Williamsburg for the first time. And when there, I had an engaging and personally enriching conversation with George Washington; or, should I say, the actor in town who portrays him, Ron Carnegie. We mainly discussed my idol, Alexander Hamilton (the conniving accountant…as I once hoped to be…smile). Having read both Hamilton’s and Washington’s biographies as well as Founding Brothers and many other Revolutionary War era books the past few years (or I should say, listened to them in my car), I really appreciated his insights. His college background was in history and acting so it was a perfect fit. Officials there gave him one year to study and learn all that he could about George Washington. It was like a personal sabbatical. And he continues his study today though he has been performing for many years now. Suffice to say, Colonial Williamsburg is a must see.

After that, I got a tour of the campus of William and Mary from my good friend, Dr. Judi Harris who has an endowed chair position there. It is the second oldest campus in the United States dating back to 1693. Only Harvard (founded in 1636) is older (and that is perhaps contestable). Anyway, I love traversing college campuses; especially historic ones like William and Mary. Totally awesome! And it was a much larger campus than I expected (5,850 undergraduate, 1,414 graduate, and 628 professional students in 2008). Yet I saw building after building after building and there was much of the campus that we did not get to due to time. I was equally surprised that it was a public institution, not private like Harvard as I had always assumed.

I have known Judi for many years so it was wonderful to catch up. She had spoken in the School of Education at Indiana University about a dozen years ago. Back then, she a professor at UT-Austin and researched the ePals program and other K-12 collaborative sites. I remember taking her to dinner. I had just completed an edited book on electronic collaboration or it was about to come out, so we had much in common. Now we were reconnecting. It happens sometimes. You do not hear from someone for years and then wham, you see him or her at several conferences or events in a row.

I felt thankful that Judi had required her class to read my “World is Open” book this past spring. She even brought me in to speak to her students using Adobe Connect Pro several months back. That Webinar was in a question and answer format, so really no pressure on me to present anything. Judi and several of her students joined me for dinner after I explored Colonial Williamsburg. We had a great conversation and delicious food. After that, Judi showed me the new building for the School of Education. Hard to leave Williamsburg but leave I must. The conference people were waiting.

To my delight, the conference hotel back in Newport News was wonderful as well. During the conference, I met several inspiring people including John Register, an army veteran and Paralympian who lost his leg during the 1990s in a freak accident while training for the 1996 Olympics. John later recovered and won a silver medal in the long jump in the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney (see bio). He is now a motivational speaker and inspiration for all wounded veterans about their lifelong possibilities. John also played a huge role in the warrior games this past May at the U.S. Olympic Facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is meeting people like John and Judi that make my trips most enjoyable, despite the plane or traveling issues along the way.

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Story/Trip #10. “Customs and chaos in sweaty Newark.” (Continental, Oslo, Norway, May 22-27, 2011). One army conference leads to another; this time it was an international event called the Norwegian Defence ADL Conference 2011 (see the program). I had not been to Norway since August 1999 so I was intensely looking forward to this particular trip a month or so ago. The flight out to Newark (yes, Newark again) was fine despite a bit of a delay…there was cushion built into my flight schedule, so no sweating it out this time. Coming back was another story. My return from Oslo started out well with 3 seats in the middle of plane to sleep on (I was the only one ont he entire plane with such good fortune). Twice, there were passengers attempting to scam one of my 3 seats (i.e., my make-shift bed for the flight home) but the flight attendants made one move back to their original seats. So I slept most of the way home, waking up only for some of the scrumptious dark chocolate bars I bought in the Oslo airport.

When we got into Newark, however, the customs line was enormous. And it grew and they grew and then grew some more. All that the customs people near us would say is that we should write to our congress men and women who had approved the budget cuts. Funny. Very funny. It took over an hour to get through that line and nearly another hour to get through security (see next paragraph). Combine that with people cutting me on the air train between terminals and, in effect, bumping me off, and I was not too happy.

In customs, I had additional screening since I admitted to having an apple in my bag. It was an apple from my home refrigerator that I brought with me to Norway but never ate. But, apparently, on return, it was no longer an apple I could bring into the United States despite it coming from here. After customs, it was on to security. It was extremely hot and steamy that day in Newark. I was sweating in security after the cool temps in Norway. Sure I can go in the priority line. That made things worse. Then we were moved “up” which really was not up; just a longer line that was closer to the terminal. Come on up, this one is shorter, we heard. Not! Oh this one is shorter, but it wasn’t. Ditto next one. A scam! We keep moving up to, in effect, clear space for the people behind us but the lines were no shorter. Someone should demolish much of that airport (not the whole thing, but perhaps).

On to the concourse. It was the start of Memorial Day weekend and the terminal looked like it. What a mess. People sprawled everywhere. Suffice to say, I hate the Newark airport almost as much as LAX. Fortunately, my plane was delayed and so I did not miss the flight home.

Norway News Trip Pluses: Upon arriving in Norway, I got a chance to visit the Fortress in Oslo. It was where the people from the ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning) lab worked. ADL people like Geir Isaksen had organized the conference. Geir did a fantabulous job arranging the speakers, sessions, socials, schedules, etc. During my first day, I also got to see some of the sites of Oslo with my good friend Donald Clark. Donald always has interesting insights about the present and future state of e-learning. After an hour or two strolling around Oslo, we went back to the Fortress. Then we gathered our things and headed for the train station. We would then enjoy a 3 hour journey to the north with the destination being Pers Resort in the city of Gol. Lovely. Lovely. Lovely. Many pictures taken. Suffice to say, walking and jogging in Norway was beautiful. I wished I could spend more time there.

The 3 day conference in Gol was well attended and extremely fun. Each night there we could listen to a piano player at the pub who had a superb voice. In addition, a couple of the conference participants played electric guitar with him. There was also a “Tropicana” night wherein most people wore Hawaiian shirts and shorts to dinner. Among those in attendance who I got to know that week weew: Major Tom Lyck from Sweden, Mikhail Fominykh (from Russia working in Norway--Mikhail was the only one I knew previously as he ws in Melbourne with me a month or 2 earlier), Joe Camacho (Program Director, U.S. Joint Forces Command, Joint Warfighting Center, JKDDC, JMO), Dr. Bart Kessler (Dean of Distance Learning, Maxwell Airforce Base), Biljana Presnall (Jefferson Institute in DC), Linda Tropea (NATO, Supreme Allied Command Transformation (SACT)), Ramin Dasiro (Norwegian Armed Forces, Norwegian Defense University College), Geir Isaksen (Head of R&D/XO at the Norwegian Defense Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Partnership Lab), Dr. Gokay Sursal (NATO, Section Head, Education and Training Technologies), Marianne Dohl-Marchetti (Lieutenant Colonol/Senior Staff Norway, Norwegian Armed Forces--Marianne had recently returned from duty in Afghanistan), and many others. Great people!

The conference included many sessions on military simulations and games. There was also an informative talk on the second day from a futurist (Eirik Newth) as well as an opening presentation from the Rear Admiral (Louise Dedichen, CO NoD University College). Before her talk, I got to meet with her briefly and share a copy of my book. I was happy that my talk was shortly after hers and delighted that she stayed for much of it before heading to the train station to get back to Oslo. Conference participants also came from the UK, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, the USA, Korea, and other places. We got to spend one final night in Oslo before departing. Like Williamsburg the week before, it was difficult to say goodbye to Gol and Oslo.

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Story/Trip #11. “No plane…No plane!” (United, Emporia, Kansas, May 31-June 1, 2011). I was about to travel to Kansas by flying Chicago. I should have known better than to fly through Chicago. Smile. One of my students from the learning sciences program at IU, Maria Solomou, was heading to London but had to fly through Chicago that same day. She had just completed her coursework and qualifying exams and was taking part of the summer off to relax before moving to Arizona State University with her advisor, Dr. Sasha Barab, as she dissertated. I told her I could give her a ride to the Indy airport. I was going west to Kansas, while Maria was traveling east. First, as indicated, we would both have to travel on United to Chicago. Her flight was leaving shortly after mine.

However, when we got to the Indy airport, there was flashing news on the flight screen that my plane was canceled. Apparently, a storm whipped through Chicago for a short time and messed things up. So I went up to the United Airlines reservations area and found the line for rebooking my flight. It was extremely long due to the fact that the Indy 500 race had been run 2 days earlier. Many people were now heading home as they stayed an extra day in case of race rain delays. People were flying back to all points around the world (i.e., New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Canada, etc.). Each person in front of me seemed to require 10 to 15 minutes of customer support. There was only one line for all of us. Making things worse, the information kiosks for United were down. As with my recent flights on United, Continental, and Delta, it was mass confusion once again and there were many verbally angry people. From time-to-time, United personnel made announcements that no one around me could hear.

Eventually, I got on a flight leaving 6 hours later and going through Kansas City instead of Wichita. With that schedule, I would not get to my hotel until perhaps 2 am. I tried to get on Maria’s flight by going on standby. In fact, I ended up as the next one in line to get on that flight when it was pronounced full. Despite leaving close to on time (maybe 25-30 minutes late), her flight ended up arriving extremely late. Apparently, the pilot pulled up in the nick of time to miss a plane on the runway or something and had to try to land again 20 or 30 minutes later. And so Maria missed her connecting flight to London. Poor, poor Maria.

I ended up on standby on the next flight. The United agent gave me an open seat and I boarded, but someone was sitting in that seat. I went back to tell the United agent, who ended up bumping an unhappy United flight attendant off that flight who was trying to get to Chicago (I felt sorry for her). After arriving in Chicago concourse C, I briefly saw Maria and learned that she was catching a later flight to London. I got on an earlier flight to Wichita than they had rescheduled me for and I ended up at my hotel before midnight. During the early morning hours, I prepared for my talks for the following two days (Day One: An E-Learning Institute; and Day Two: An M-Learning Institute). Getting there before midnight definitely helped. Still it was 5 hours or so later then planned. Thanks United for canceling my plane.

Emporia, Kansas Trip Pluses: The big plus here was that I finally got to Kansas. I had visited every state around it but not Kansas. I still have seven more states to go: Maine, Vermont, South Carolina, South Dakota, Mississippi, Oregon (unless you count the Portland airport), and Alaska. Who wants to come along? Who wants to invite me?

I was treated very well by everyone there—among them were Dusti Howell (a fellow UW Madison Alum) as well as Marcus Childress, Harvey Foyle, and Zeni Colorado I want that name). Zeni was out of town on personal matters, but had arranged it all. During my two day visit, Dusti and I told many Madison (and Wisconsin) stories. It was great to talk about old times in Wisconsin as he drove me from the airport and then back again (a little over about 1.5 hours each way).

As mentioned, Day One was the E-Learning Institute (see program). In attendance on Day One of my talks was the university president at Emporia State, Dr. Michael Lane. Michael and his wife came to all my talks that day. It was a five part “masterclass,” including sections on shared online video, extreme learning, motivation and retention online, addressing diverse learners, and so on. Faculty members and instructional design staff came from across the Emporia State campus.

Day Two was a special session on mobile learning for the School of Education (i.e., an M-Learning Institute; see program). An Apple rep as well as Dusti, Marc, Janet Holland, and others were co-presenters in the morning. The dean of the School of Education came to my morning session on mobile learning as well as my afternoon one on podcasts, wikis, and blogs. The mobile talk was brand new. The other, “Podcasts, Wikis, and Blogs: Online Learning is Not in Kansas Anymore” was an oldie I totally overhauled and updated for the occasion (if interested, see color PDFs of my talks at ESU). Rarely do I see a dean or university president when I travel. So it was wonderful to have such high level administrators there for each day.

Finally I should note that between sessions, I got to see the National Teachers Hall of Fame which is housed in the School of Education at ESU. Great trip, despite United canceling my initial flight.

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Story/Trip #12. “Two attempts too many…the landing that never happened.” (Delta, Birmingham, Alabama, June 14-16, 2011). What do you think happened when I put a note in my Facebook status line Wednesday night this past week that it looked like I would finally have an uneventful trip? All was going smoothly, or was it?

I was headed home from Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta and then on to Indianapolis. I had just finished speaking at the 16th annual Alabama Educational Technology Conference (AETC) in Birmingham (see AETC conference program). This would be my last flight for the next 2 months. My plane to Atlanta was boarding on time and I was happy to be in Zone 1 for boarding. “All those in Zone 1 can now board,” said the gate agent. So I collected my things and exited Facebook. Of course, less than three minutes later, Atlanta airport people grounded our plane in Birmingham due to weather problems in Atlanta. It was the first of at least two major storm cells going through Atlanta that evening and my night would be affected by both of them. So much for a smooth flight home!

Two minutes later, an announcement was made by our gate agent. He said that our pilot wanted to continue boarding our plane. And so we did. It seemed that there was a debate between our pilot and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport personnel. Perhaps he was trying to get us in the arrival queue between storm systems. Perhaps our pilot had won the debate or was bluffing that we were all on board. So everyone quickly got on board and our bags were stowed. Just then, our pilot came on the speaker system and told us we need to deplane and collect our bags as we waited out this first storm in Atlanta. Apparently, he lost the battle.

I thought to myself, well, perhaps we will get to Atlanta later tonight but, when we do, I will likely miss my connection and have to sleep at an Atlanta airport hotel that night. The Renaissance is nice and close. I could watch planes take off and land all night just in front of my hotel room window. It turns out, I was only partially correct.

So we deplaned and sat on the concourse again as Atlanta people were smart in not letting us leave sunny Birmingham for stormy Atlanta which is just a 30 minute flight away. In the meantime, I called Delta and found out that my connecting flight would also be late getting into Atlanta so I might be ok. At that point, I decided to sit in the main pub at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport and regrettably drink a couple of nonalcoholic beers while we all waited. When resting there, I promised myself that I would blog on the previous six months of flight problems. And so I am. In one humongous blog post. And to all those who read this far, please forgive me for this moment of happy fingers. Almost done. Smile.

About an hour later things got particularly interesting. We boarded. In fact, two planes were boarding for Atlanta in gates right next to each other. One was a large plane and ours was a smaller regional jet. The larger one was leaving first as everyone had boarded. I thought about getting on that one as seats were available. I went back and forth between the two grates trying to decide what to do. A final call for that flight was made twice. Then I thought I should just get on the plane I was scheduled for and so I did. In retrospect, I think that it was a mistake not to take a ride on the larger plane, given the storms anyway, though I cannot be entirely sure. Naïve perhaps, or just plain stupid, I went back to the line I belonged in and got a pleasant surprise. I was bumped up to first class as the smart people who were in first class had decided to drive to Atlanta or find some other means to get home that evening. So off we went to Atlanta. Little did we know that our delays in boarding and stowing our bags would cause us to arrive in Atlanta just as storm system #2 made its presence felt at the airport…and not in a minor way, but in a huge way!

As our plane approached Atlanta, we were whipped around, left and right, up and down. This happened repeatedly. It was not much fun. I could see the downtown lights of Atlanta in the distance and then the rows of lights leading to the airport. All of a sudden, we pulled up and the pilot averted the landing. No announcement. No news from him. We just banked and shook. Banked and shook again. It was another quite scary flying event. Our entire plane was being jostled by the wind. And after 15 or 20 minutes of this, we were back trying to land again. This time we did not get as close to landing. The winds were even worse than before. And we went up.

I have never been part of back-to-back failed landings and so I started to pray. I do not pray often, but this time I was praying that we had enough gas. I was praying that I would have my feet firmly planted on the ground again. Were we making our third attempt to land now? I was not sure. Again, no word from our Delta pilot.

After 5 or 10 minutes of being in a sorta flying state of limbo, we soared above the clouds and the nasty weather. I said to the guys next to me that we are likely going back to Birmingham. And so we were. The pilot confirmed this about 5-10 minutes later. As we headed back, the flight attendant in our first class cabin said that she never experienced such a series of events in her 5 years working for Delta. The seasoned travelers near me all said the same thing. When we landed, there were 2-3 dozen other averted flights on the runways and tarmacs of the Birmingham airport. Many of them were in need of refueling. And many were ahead of us and there were only 1 or 2 fuel trucks from what I could see. No gates available. So we waiting for over an hour as grounds people with orange cone lights ran back and forth to make sure that we did not bump into each other. It was a scene out of 911—stacks of planes all vying for space in an open airport runway like a downtown parking lot for airplanes. First one to a spot gets it. Squatter’s rights were in effect.

We were at a standstill. “Can I turn on my computer,” I asked. “No” the flight attendant very softly and kindly replied. Everyone else seemed to have an iPod, iPhone, or a Blackberry and much craved for Internet access. They also were able to get in touch with Delta people to rebook them on a flight the following day. Many of them could look up possible flights online as we waited. Not me with my dumb LG phone and laptop that could not be used. So, instead I tried to contact Delta on my mobile and get rebooked. I would be waiting for more than an hour according to the Delta answering machine. More than 75 minutes later, I was still on hold. Yikes!

What happened? Our pilot took a bathroom break and, when he got out, he told the flight attendant that we faced winds of 35 knots in Atlanta that were gusting up to 47 knots. They are not supposed to be landing (or attempting to land) in such weather (I think it must be in the low 30s). I later did a Google search on 47 knot winds and airplane landings and the results made me happy that we turned around and went back to Birmingham. But I have heard that such windy weather is affecting many flights this spring (and now summer).

After about 90 minutes of waiting at or near the runway, we got a gate, or so we thought. The pilot headed for one gate and then abruptly he spun the airplane around and headed in a different direction. Did someone grab our gate? Were squatter’s rights in play once again? Or, were we headed back to the runway to try to fly to Atlanta a second time tonight? I certainly hoped not!

But eventually we did coast into a gate. And, since I had been bumped up to first class, I was third in line inside the terminal with the gate agent who was helping us all with our reticketing. He suggested that I take a 2-3 hour bus to Atlanta that they had waiting and catch an early morning flight home to Indy but I refused. If I did that, I would be getting into Atlanta at 4 am for a 6 am flight, which meant no sleep. After a long sequence of typing keys and entering codes, he finally got me a ticket for the morning (though it really was not official until I showed up the next day). I felt bad for those at or near the end of that line. Within a few minutes, I found a taxi and I rechecked back into the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel as did most of those sitting around me on the plane. We got a picture of 5 of us in the hotel lobby to remember the night.

Birmingham Trip Pluses: I was back in Birmingham for the first time since a brief one night stay in 2002. My brother, Tom, used to live there in the 1980s and I had spent a couple of days with him back in 1983 and 1984. I remember all the beautiful brick homes back then, many of which were still there. The small mountains and hills, lush wooded areas, and charming homes makes Birmingham a popular place to live.

This particular trip started off fine. My hotel was a happening place my first night as there was a special benefit concert next door for tornado victims. I also had a great meal and discussion with Dr. Steve Terrell and his wife, Dalia. Steve is from Nova Southeastern University and has been involved in the Internet and Higher Education journal for some years now. I am a board member and reviewer for that journal. I also have a piece that just went to press in that journal on blogging in Korea with my former student, the always engaging and witty, Dr. Inae Kang from Kyung Hee University. Inae is one the most brilliant and ambitious people I have ever met. And after 17 or so years of knowing each other, we finally have a paper that is about to be published. Life is grand. So happy to be alive and enjoying it.

Steve is now working on a special issue of that journal. Perhaps Inae and I will write another piece for it. Not sure just yet.

Steve knows heaps about the field of distance learning. Like me, he was one of the first ones researching and exploring online forms of instruction. As Steve pointed out to me, Nova Southeastern was the first to put its master’s in educational technology online. It also has an online doctorate. It was fun to compare notes about the future of distance learning with people such as Steve Terrell.

The following day, I met up with my former student, Jung Won Hur, who as was alluded to earlier, is an assistant professor at Auburn University. Jung Won arrived just after my keynote and attended my two breakout talks later in the day. Between these talks, she hoped to interview people for the E2T2 (or EETT) technology integration project sponsored by the state of Alabama. She is one of the project evaluators. After her conducting a teacher interview, Jung Won joined me for lunch at the Birmingham Museum of Art which was a short walk from the Sheraton and the adjacent convention center. After my sessions ended that afternoon, we went back to explore some of the wonderful art exhibits there including those from her native land of Korea as well as many magnificent ones from other cultures such as India, China, North America, etc. Needless to say, exploring an art museum is always a wonderful way to end a trip.

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So Who is Willing to Fly with Me Now?
So that makes 12 straight trips with problems or issues of some sort. There were many nerve wracking moments. Traveling is never easy, but it need not be this difficult either. I do not want to fly again for a while and so I am not. But when I do, who wants to fly with me? Any takers? And, as pointed out, driving is not likely to be any better. So who will fly with TravelinEdMan? Or better yet, take my place...?

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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