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DANISH INTERVIEW REPORT

Danish Interview Report


Brittany Slusarczyk Spatz
Professor Tamara Blesh
UMUC

DANISH INTERVIEW REPORT

Introduction
In order to improve education, critics have begun looking globally
for solutions and suggestions. In recent years, nations such as Sweden,
Denmark and Finland have been highlighted as educational success
stories. However, in the case of Denmark, these reports have
presented a basic and incomplete depiction. In order to truly learn from
the Danish system, a comprehensive investigation, based on a
combination of research and interviews, is needed to reveal details and
nuances, as it is only by looking at the Danish system through this
close lens that the American system can truly learn from it.
To gain this insight, several key steps were taken. This paper will
detail the specific interview questions used and explain their selection,
establish the protocol used to schedule and conduct interviews,
introduce the candidates selected for participation, synthesize results,
and suggest future steps for inquiry.
Our synthesis will first examine how in the Danish system,
educational ideals are not sustained throughout the educational
experience. Two stark examples of this are the abrupt shift from
individualization to standardization, and the emphasis on testing which
undermines life-long learning. Next, it will detail issues with
professional development which reveal that the technology integration
while both encouraged and presenthas been slow, despite the
available infrastructure, due to cultural norms that reward homogeny

DANISH INTERVIEW REPORT

at the expense of encouraging leadership. Finally, it will commend the


Danish educational system for its emphasis on social citizenship. These
topics will inform lessons that the American schools can learn from
their Danish counterparts.
Interview Questions
The initial interview questions were based upon research that
was conducted regarding the Danish education system. These
questions, listed below, used an academic approach, as researchers
and academics can often highlight trends that teachers working in
individual classrooms may not see. Therefore, each question series
begins with a direct quote from a piece of research. It is then followed
by one or more relevant questions.

In his article, Mortimore (2009) explained that student


achievement data, with the exception of national figures, are
kept confidential and there is no right of public access to the
information (p. 53).

Is this still the policy?


Are these figures kept digitally by the government?
Furthermore, how do schools use this data to help students

achieve?
Rationale: One driving force advocating for the
integration of technology in American schools is the testing
industry. Technology has been used to track student data

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and achievement. Furthermore, many states use this data


to make decisions regarding teacher retention. Therefore,
these questions were included to provide a comparison of
the way in which technology is being used to test and track
students.
Knud Holch Andersen stated, Denmark invests massively in
education and we pride ourselves on having a worldclass IT
infrastructure. But at the same time our educational system and
the libraries fail to examine the connection between information
supply, learning and the new digital reality (2013, p. 1).
Would you agree with this assessment?
If not, what moves has the Danish government taken to

help weave the IT and educational sectors?


Question Rationale: This line of questioning was included
to examine the relationship between private use of
technology and its integration into schools. This was
especially important because of Denmarks strong IT
infrastructure.

The Danish system, according to Mortimores 2009 article,


includes interdisciplinary.

Is this still a customary practice?


Have you striven to include technology as an element in
this interdisciplinary study?

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Question Rationale: These questions were included


because they highlight an educational approach that is
both different from the American system and seems to
easily lend itself to encourage the incorporation of
technology into other areas of the curriculum.

According to my personal friends, the Danish system prides itself


on the use of deep, challenging examinations to determine
mastery of a subject.

Is there a technological component to any of these


examinations--both in the fields of technology and in

traditional subjects?
If not, do you anticipate technology ever being

incorporated into these examinations?


Question Rationale: This line of questioning highlights a
concept that seems innately antithetical in comparison to
other aspects of the Danish system. These examinations
seem to leave little room for expressing understanding
using multiple intelligences or modalities. This seems
inherently contradictory to the individualized approach to
education that is often highlighted when learning about
Denmark.

Biographical Questions:

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What grade(s) do you teach?


What subject?
Do you use technology in your classroom?
Question Rationale: These questions were used to gain
more insight into the background of each candidate and
understand how technology is used in his or her classroom.

Follow-Up Questions
During the Skype interview, several additional questions were
added to the interview to follow up on salient points and ensure the
flow of the conversation. These questions were based on the following
examples; however, they were modified to best fit into the interview
conversation.

You mentioned that you have several experiences uses


technology in your classroom.

Have you found that there is a strong amount of support


from the administration or IT departments to sustain your

efforts?
Are there any struggles that you have encountered while

integrating technology?
Question Rationale: These questions were used to clarify
if technology integration is mandatory and to ascertain if it
is supported both technically and professionally.

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In our school, an on-going issue preventing true technology


integration is the lack of professional development. Our teachers
are often given technology without any training. This causes
problems and animosity.

Have you experienced this in your school?


If not, how does your school train teachers regarding new

technology?
Question Rationale: This set helps gain more insight into
professional development in Danish schools.

Mortimore (2009) cited an report by the Organisation for


Economic Co-operation and Development that claiming that
Danish teachers have traditionally taken an ambivalent attitude
towards leadership (OECD, 2004).

Do you agree with this statement?


In Denmark, is there a more communal and less

competitive mindset?
If so, do you think this has affected leadership?
Question Rationale: These questions aim to examine the
cultural norms in Denmark and how they could potentially
affect the integration of technology in schools.

In America, new teachers are often the ones who feel most
comfortable with technology usage.

Is that the same in your schools?

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Do all Danish adults gain computer skills?


Question Rationale: These questions were included to
determine if the lack of technology integration is driven by
a lack of understanding of technology by Danish teachers.
Furthermore, it looks to highlight the general level of
technology literacy by Danish adults.

Based on previous research, differentiation and individualization


seem to be essential components of the Danish education
system.

Is technology being used to differentiate instruction


(differentiation means creating different levels of

work/assessments for students based on their needs)?


Would you agree that creating different types of
educational experiences are important in your school?

Does technology help make that happen?


Question Rationale: This line of questioning was included
to help rectify the conflicting ideas exhibited by previous
research: the Danish system is highly individualized yet
testing is standardized.

In Danish education, citizenship is important.

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Now that our world has shifted towards a global


community, is global citizenship important in Danish

schools?
Question Rationale: The concept of embedding
citizenship in the responsibilities of schools is different.
Therefore, this question was used to see if this was a
national or international trend.

In a previous interview and in the findings of Danish Youth


Education en route to Digital Literacy (Andersen, 2013), libraries
seem to be places where technology and education can easily be
melded together.

Are libraries the epicenters of ICT integration? If so, why?


Question Rationale: This question was included after
speaking with Nielsen. His responses made it seem that
libraries have an easier time incorporating technology into
their work.

Interview Volunteers
The Interview Synthesis is based on information from the
following three educators who represent a wide range of experiences in
the Danish Educational System.
Bodil Kristensen (Facebook Interview, Personal Introduction via
Facebook)

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Throughout the course of her career, Kristensen has taught math


in grades 5 and 7. She has also taught music in grades 2, 3 and
4. Finally, she has taught history for a number of years. This
interdisciplinary experience allows her to speak holistically and
knowledgably about instructional trends in schools, as
distinguished from subject-based trends. While language issues
prevented a more extensive conversation, Kristensen offered
insight into the use of technology in her classes both for her
teaching and for student learning.

Stefan Nielsen (Email Interview, Twitter Introduction)


Nielsen is a fourth grade library teacher who has made a web
presence by blogging and using social media. Accounts of a
wide-range of classroom experiences are detailed on his blog
(vonsildskole11.blogspot.com/). While written in Danish, these
posts contain numerous pictures of both learning environments
and student work.
Nielsens incorporation of technology both in his classroom and
in his professional learning network made him an ideal candidate
for our interviews. Nielsens use of blogging, participation as a
Lead Teacher in The Global Classrooms Project and his
understanding of pedagogy informed his perspective and ability
to contribute to our research.

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Marie Sandvad (Skype Interview, Global Education Conference


Introduction)
After working in Kenya with groups of Danish students who
wanted to volunteer, Sandvad began working for Globale
Gymnasier or Global High School. The Global High School is a
network of 14 public high schools, connected by the theme of
global learning. There, Sandvad serves as the project manager
for professional training, coordinates student involvement
activities (which provide advanced opportunities for students
interested in making a global impact), and supports global
teaching and learning (Sandvad, personal communication, July
21, 2015).

Sandvads experiences working with teachers and classrooms


across a wide-range of schools has allowed her to gain a
comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the Danish
education system. It has also allowed her to see the application
of technology and pedagogical approaches that are not yet
mainstream throughout Denmark. Due to these factors, Sandvad
was able to provide the most complete and detailed interview.

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Interview Protocol:
The interview process began first by researching the Danish
system. This review of academic material formed the foundation to the
cover letter that was drafted (attached in Appendix A). In order to
connect with educators in Denmark, several modes of digital
communication were used. First, emails were sent to a wide-range of
educators and researchers at the university level; emails were also
sent to the Ministry of Education (attached in Appendix B). These
leaders were contacted in hopes of attaining more insight into the
country-wide trends of education and technology integration.
Since many educators are currently on vacation, social media
was the next form of communication used to help access volunteers for
the interview process. The cover letter was posted on to the discussion
board of the Global Education Conference. Following its publishing, the
discussion was tweeted with the hashtag, #GlobalEd.

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As seen above, this tweet was retweeted by the Global Education


Conference (@GlobalEdCon) and Lucy Gray (@elemenous), a
technology leader and co-founder of the Global Education Conference.
Finally, it was included in The #GlobalEd Daily, a web-based text
highlighting articles and daily updates regarding global education.

In addition to posting the information and tweeting about it,


Twitter was used to help search for and contact teachers in Denmark
who were interested in technology. Stefan Neilsen (@SNskole) was
contacted via this method.
Several personal, global contacts were also used to connect with
additional Danish educators. These contacts ranged from colleagues to
personal friends. Through this, three educators were contacted via
Facebook (attached in Appendix C).
Finally, Skype was used to conduct a face-to-face virtual
interview. To ensure that the interview was accurately quoted, this

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interview was also recorded. A copy of that recording is attached in


Assignment Folder in LEO due to size.

Interview Synthesis
One theme that emerged over the course of the interviews was
that educational ideals are not sustained throughout the educational
experience. This is first seen through an examination of the drastic
change in academic expectations from the primary to secondary levels.
While at the lower levels teachers are expected to use results of
evaluations to prepare annual written student plans for all students at
all levels (Mortimore, 2009, p, 54), these individualized plans are
customary for the primary schools only (Sandvad, personal
communication, July 21, 2015). As students get older, it becomes
more academic (Sandvad, personal communication, July 21, 2015)
and the expectations become more rigid.
This shift from a highly individualized educational experience to a
standardized classroom where learning is demonstrated according to
rigid, non-differentiated, examinations highlights the first inconsistent
application of an instructional philosophy throughout the educational
system.
This change is echoed in the way students respond to learning.
As they enter the secondary level, Exams are a big dealthe students
are very concerned about that. When the teacher introduces them to

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something new, they will ask, How can we use this for the exam?
(Sandvad, personal communication, July 21, 2015). This shift towards
learning to pass a test not only encourages low levels of learning, but
also encourages students to learn how to go to school instead of
learning something they could use in real life (Sandvad, personal
communication, July 21, 2015). It is also clear that students shape their
learning strategies based upon these exams, prioritizing information
based on its level of use during the tests (Sandvad, personal
communication, July 21, 2015).
In addition to squelching the quest for learning, the shift away
from the principle of individualization toward standardization is also
detrimental to the learning of students with special needs or with
differing abilities. The majority of testing is comprised of two parts, a
written and an oral exam (Sandvad, personal communication, July 21,
2015). To complete the exams, students may use laptops that have
been blocked from the internet (Sandvad, personal communication,
July 21, 2015). Unfortunately, students with disabilities face great
difficulties displaying their understanding on these types of tests
(Nielsen, personal communication, July 12, 2015). And, while there is a
small opening for alternative exam types (Sandvad, personal
communication, July 21, 2015), the lack of individualization at the
secondary level has caused it to be unlikely that technology will be

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used to provide additional outlets for students to express their


understandings on examinations.
This same shift can be seen when analyzing how data is used. In
the early years, data is used to help inform instructional decisions and
customize learning to the unique needs of each child. However, since
school test scores are open to the public, allowing people to compare
schools, data can easily be manipulated, taking away the schools
ability to think differently about teaching and learning (Nielsen,
personal communication, July 12, 2015). Since testing only values
responses that are oral and written, they create a hierarchy of
intellectual expression to which schools are expected to conform.
Therefore, the use of data throughout the academic experience
highlights the varying application of individualization, a seemingly key
principle.
While the inconsistent approach regarding individualization is
evident based on the changing academic expectations and the use of
data as students matriculate through their education, other
inconsistencies can be seen woven throughout the whole educational
experience. For example, the emphasis on examinations and the
subsequent assignment of value on tested material undermines
another key principle of the Danish system: interdisciplinary. While
interdisciplinary courses occur throughout the educational experience
(Sandvad, personal communication, July 21, 2015), including at the

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secondary level, the shift towards standardization undervalues the


inherent holistic and connected approach to learning espoused by
interdisciplinary.
This dilemma can also be seen on a smaller scale; Danish
learning values partner work even at the university level (Sandvad,
personal communication, July 21, 2015). In many classrooms, including
as Kristensens, it is normal to see two students working together on
the same laptop (Kristensen, personal communication, July 18, 2015).
However, despite the pedagogical use of pairs to encourage learning,
examinations must be taken alone, contradicting a valued element of
Danish education (Sandvad, personal communication, July 21, 2015).
Therefore, it is clear that the use of rigid examinations comprised
of only one acceptable way to display understanding undermines key
principles of Danish education, such as individualization and crosscurricular connections. Furthermore, it is a detriment to all students,
including those with special needs. This system shapes how students
learn, encouraging them to focus on the examination itself instead of
life-long learning. Additionally, it does not allow all students to be
successful, especially students with special needs or differing abilities.
Finally, these shifts are reflected in the use of data, changing it from a
tool used to individualize instruction to a way to reinforce a
standardized approach to learning.

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The next struggle for the Danish education system is the lack of
professional leadership to support technology integration. While
technology integration is still dependent on the specific teacher, it is
the goal (Sandvad, personal communication, July 21, 2015), and it has
been at the heart of many reforms within the last few years
(Kristensen, 2015). This usage has been supported by the government,
which has provided funding for technology and infrastructure
(Kristensen, personal communication, July 18, 2015). Nielsen (personal
communication, July 12, 2015) listed computers, SMARTboards, Google
Apps for Education and blogging as examples of technology used in his
school; Kristensen (personal communication, July 18, 2015) included
personal computers, projectors, screens, internet and subject-specific
software as additional tools.
However, despite these applications, The school is actually
behind the society when it comes to technologyand there is a lot of
support for it (Sandvad, personal communication, July 21, 2015).
Nielsen echoed these sentiments stating, The greatest challenge is
probably to get teachers to think differently and integrate IT as a tool
in everyday life (personal communication, July 12, 2015). Yet, despite
Danish cultural norms that would seem to encourage sharing
information, co-constructing knowledge and professionally developing
with peers, Danish educators seem stymied by a lack of leadership.
Building off ideas proposed in an OECD Review claiming that Danish

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teachers traditionally have an ambivalent attitude towards leadership


(OECD, 2004), further investigation was conducted into Danish social
norms that may contribute to this.
A synthesis of Danish culture revealed that the lack of leadership
might be caused or highly affected by a Danish cultural norm that
encourages homogeneity. Sandvad explained, There is actually a
thing in Danish culture that you dont want to show off. You dont want
to seem like you are better than everyone else. We actually kind of try
to hide it. It is actually something that we have to try to work on. But it
is also something that does make us feel united (personal
communication, July 21, 2015). While it there is no conclusive evidence
linking the two, it seems highly likely that this norm has lead to a
smaller selection of technology integration leaders. Therefore, while
this non-competitive attitude could lead towards more collaboration,
there is also a distinct possibility that it is a leading factor in the lack of
development in this area.
However, despite these challenges, the Danish education system
does have one key principle that it has dedicated much of its
educational approach to. While there is no direct English translation for
the idea, the closest word is formation (Sandvad, personal
communication, July 21, 2015). The idea refers to social citizenship and
uses the word formation because [Danish teachers] also form the
students into citizens at school, instilling in them democratic values. To

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be formed is part of education (Sandvad, personal communication,


July 21, 2015). When asked to expound on this idea, Sandvad
explained at as educators they are responsible for the whole child, not
just his or her academic success (Sandvad, personal communication,
July 21, 2015). This molding of citizens not only influences the
approach towards teaching, holistically educating a child, but also
helps ensure that students develop into informed, empowered and
responsible citizens. This practice is critical, and should be highly
valued, especially as our world globalizes.

Further Investigations
This sampling of Danish educators provides a window into the
educational system in Denmark; however, further investigations are
necessary to provide a more nuanced understanding. First, it is
necessary to continue to track Danish reforms, as their system seems
very transient. With a new government recently elected, it is likely that
the educational system will see more changes that could easily alter
the results of this interview. Additionally, more thorough research
regarding the social norms and their effects on leadership is required
to determine if that is a valid factor in the slow integration of
technology. Finally, as technology does begin to be more integrated
into the Danish educational system, it will be interesting to see if social
citizenship becomes less national and more global.

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Conclusion
This analysis of the Danish education system and the integration
of technology reveals several factors that can be used to better the
American school system. First, Danish schools highlight the need for
consistency in differentiation and individualization throughout a
students educational experience. As the American system deals with
its own questions regarding standardization and state-wide testing, it is
important to consider the impact that examinations have had on
students in Denmark. Americans should be wary of testing culture, as it
not only stifles learning but also taints the learning strategies used by
students, encouraging learning to pass examinations opposed to
lifelong-learning.
While the competitive nature of American school systems
contains other issues, it should be noted that leadership may be reliant
upon a certain degree of individualization. Therefore, while American
schools seek to encourage community and equity among their
teachers, they should also highlight the unique strengths of individuals
in order to foster an environment of progress.
Finally, the American system should adopt a social citizenship
program that aligns more closely with the Danish program. Since all
American students are required to attend school, our systems should
foster the formation not only of citizens but also of responsible,
engaged humans. The concept of formation, while applied informally in

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many schools, is not a mainstreamed idea. However, as schools


become more responsible for the development of American children, it
would behoove schools to begin developing and fostering these types
of programs.
Overall, this examination of Danish educational practices has
been surprising. While the system is often portrayed as a panacea for
American issues, it seems that this is not truly the case. The Danish
system has its own struggles regarding sustaining instructional
philosophies and ensuring that all students receive the best education
possible. Furthermore, it is disappointing that themes such as the
forced compliance into a standardized approach to learning based
upon testing are not just American issues but are now becoming global
trends. However, it is only through investigations such as this one that
these trends can be seen and hopefully be changed.

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References
Andersen, K. (2013). Danish youth education en route to digital literacy. Scandinavian
Library Quarterly. 46(1). Retrieved from http://slq.nu/?article=volume-46-no-12013-12
Mortimore, P. (2009). Danish and English education systems: what lessons can we
learn. Education Review. 21(2).47-59.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2004).


Denmark:
lessons from PISA 2000. Paris: OECD

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Appendix A
Cover Letter

To Whom it May Concern: (each copy is addressed to the specific recipient)


Please allow me to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Brittany
Spatz, and I am currently an educator in a diverse middle school located in New Jersey,
a north eastern state in America. Over the past five years, I have taught students from
age 11 to 18 in the subjects of Literature and Technology.
Currently I am a masters degree candidate at the University of Maryland,
University College, studying Instructional Technology. As part of my program, I am
conducting research on the Danish educational system, and, more specifically, how the
country has used technology to further its educational goals. Already, I have been very
impressed with your system, which I have both read about and learned about through
close friends who live in Denmark.
I am intrigued by the holistic view of learning that is exhibited by the Danish
system. After reading more about folkeskole, I cannot believe that each teacher is
required to prepare annual written student plans for all students at all levels
(Mortimore, 2009). This highly individualized and differentiated curriculum seems to best
meet the needs of all learners. Our Danish friends had also explained that there are
different pathways that a student can take to attain the same degree, a practice foreign
to the American education system.
Similarly, while Denmark has adopted new computer-based adaptive tests you
have managed to customize them to the needs of the individual student, leading to
easier or more difficult questions being presented (Mortimore, 2009). This leads me to
believe that testing is used to facilitate individual learning, opposed to penalize schools
and teachers, as it is sometimes used in America. Finally, I was impressed to read that
the Danish system is touted for encouraging more life-long learning.

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In order to gain a more nuanced understanding of the role of technology, I am


reaching out to set up an interview with you regarding your system. The interview, which
could be conducted via email or set up using a video conference system such as Skype,
would comprise the following questions:

-In his article, Mortimore (2009) explained that student achievement data, with
the exception of national figures, are kept confidential and there is no right of
public access to the information (p. 53). Is this still the policy? Are these figures
kept digitally by the government? Furthermore, how do schools use this data to
help students achieve?

-Knud Holch Andersen stated, Denmark invests massively in education and we


pride ourselves on having a worldclass IT infrastructure. But at the same time our
educational system and the libraries fail to examine the connection between
information supply, learning and the new digital reality (2013, p. 1). Would you
agree with this assessment? If not, what moves has the Danish government
taken to help weave the IT and educational sectors?

-The Danish system, according to Mortimores 2009 article, includes


interdisciplinary. Is this still a customary practice? Have you striven to include
technology as an element in this interdisciplinary study?

-According to my personal friends, the Danish system prides itself on the use
deep, challenging examinations to determine mastery of a subject. Is there a
technological component to any of these examinations--both in the fields of

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technology and in traditional subjects? If not, do you anticipate technology ever


being incorporated into these examinations?

Thank you so much, in advance, for your time and consideration. If you are
willing to conduct an interview, please feel free to contact me using the mode that is
easiest for you. I believe that the American educational system has many lessons to
learn from Denmark. It is my hope to bring these lessons to light, as I continue on my
path to be an educational leader. I will be working on this project until July 28, 2015.
Therefore, if you are interested in working together, please let me know as soon as
possible so that we can get started.

Sincerely,

Brittany Slusarcyzk Spatz

References:
Andersen, K. (2013). Danish youth education en route to digital literacy. Scandinavian
Library Quarterly. 46(1). Retrieved from http://slq.nu/?article=volume-46-no-12013-12
Mortimore, P. (2009). Danish and English education systems: what lessons can we
learn. Education Review. 21(2).47-59.

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Appendix B
Emails
Emails exchanged to arrange Skype Interview with Marie
Sandvad.

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Email Interview Responses and Follow-Up with Stefan Nielsen

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Screenshot of my sent mail detailing 9 emails that were sent.

Sample email showing what was sent to the addresses above.

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Appendix C
Facebook

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Unsuccessful
Facebook
Attempts

Appendix D

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Global Education Conference

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