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More on the summer school – how could it be organised?

June 14th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

There has been a lot of discussion regarding my post on the TEL summer school held two weeks ago in Terchova in Slovakia. Many of the respondents have replied at some length. Most were at pains to stress the positive sides to the event, whilst pointing to how it could be improved in future. It was a desire to see a public debate with participants in order to think how the Summer School could be improved that motivated my initial post.

Two main themes emerge, I think, from the different comments. One is the format of the summer school, with a desire expressed to move beyond a traditional lecture style of delivery to more active means of shared participation in knowledge sharing and development. The second is to question the divide between teachers and learners.

Ambjorn Naeve concludes  his contribution to the discussion by saying “Let me end this comment with a constructive suggestion for the future. Next year, let us have the lectures recorded in advance (e.g. in Flashmeeting), and the powerpoints (or other documentation) made available to the students at least one month in advance. Let us then require of the students that they watch these presentations and come up with (and post) at least three (non-trivial) questions for each of them. And let us then devote the lecturing time together to discussing the questions that have come up?”

Here would be my contribution based on the extremely successful recent Educamp in Germany.

The summer school traditionally runs for five days, from Monday to Friday. I would run the first two days as a barcamp event. All participants, teachers and students would be free to propose workshop or lecture sessions. Thsi would allow everyone to present their ongoing projects and work.

After the first two days, a new agenda would be drawn up based on the major themes emerging from the presentations and concerns of participants. These themes would be the basis for the following two days of intensive workshop activities. The workshops would develop their own aims, with one being to practically advance knowledge and ideas around the theme they were discussing.

The final day would be devoted to an exhibition where each thematic group presented their work to others, incorporating, if they wished, multi media presentations.To add a competitive edge, there could be a (small) prize for the best exhibition.

Given that the summer school is residential, the times for workshop activities could be moved around, to allow for activities, not juts sport, but active learning activities, to take place in the day, with more workshop being scheduled for the evenings. Participants would themselves be encouraged to organise the social programme, with a premium on social and learning activities.

Of course, this raises the issue of the role of the ‘professors’ at the summer school. Instead of presenting lectures, they would have the task of guiding and mentoring the thematic groups and of supporting individual and group learning.

None of this contradicts the ideas put forward by Ambjorn. But rather than just providing lectures in advance of the school, why not stage a series of online interactive seminars in the run up to the event. And lets use a social networking platform to aggregate and discuss our work, both in advance of the summer school and throughout the event, linking up with other researchers not fortunate enough to be able to attend., Indeed, the thematic groups could draw on the wisdom of the distributed community to help in their work and discussions.

In other words, let us develop a pedagogy for the summer school which reflects our own emergent uses of TEL for teaching and learning.

I would welcome futher suggestions of rhow next years summer school might be organised. I have agreed to pass on all comments on the blog to the Stellar network who will be responsible for organising the 2010 event.

6 Responses to “More on the summer school – how could it be organised?”

  1. Alev Elci says:

    Both Ambjörn’s and yours Graham are great suggestions. I would prefer an agenda which meets our needs. What is the reason for the phd students to come to this summerschool? May be it can be a good idea to start from our needs. And theme is also there. Organizers arrange the topics to match our needs with the theme. I didn’t honestly feel any divide between professors and students (in the SS and WS that I have attended), and telling everyone how it was possible. I think the most important point is the delivery of the sessions. It should touch our needs and allow us to take part in discussions, and reflect on our works. And these flashmeetings and social networks are great for continuing our collaboration. Although some of us are still in contact via skype and twitter (not many). I remember we have discussed on this issues in Ohrid 2008 summerschool closing session. I wonder the experienced students wants a change so this is the main point for our discussions. Change is good, especially for TELers.

  2. I would suggest to adopt a bottom-up approach in the organization of the next summer school. I mean why not to try to let the PhD students organize the whole SS event. I can imagine something like this:
    – Students talk, “teachers” listen.
    – Get rid of this “send us your application, two of us will review it, and decide if you fit to the SS”. I suggest that students select lecturers, not the other way around. That is, prior to the SS, students decide whom they want to have in their SS, based on their interests.
    – During the organization phase, provide one or more social networking sites (maybe by that time Google Wave), where students get to know each other, network, share, and take decisions.
    – Topics of interest and clusters can then emerge out of this open discussion.
    – Since the number of participants is limited, students can rate each other and rate lecturers that they want to meet and work with at the SS.
    – Make the SS open to everyone. Everyone interested in the SS can participate remotely.

    The bottom line, make the event driven by emergence rather than command and control. Let not only a small group people (or ONE person) (I have more to say here but will not tell it in this context) decide about everything. Engage the students!.

  3. Indeed! I am all for Students organizing the learning activities of the summer school. As I have mentioned several times, complaining is easy, working to make a difference is the hard bit, but it is also a test – a living proof – that we mean what we preach!
    In my ‘dreams’ a summer school invites at true collaboration from the beginning… once it’s known who the students that are going to take part in the Summer School are, they should be invited to start networking, sharing ideas, getting in touch with one another as to get to know each other, and plan for their joint learning week by discussing, negotiating and taking joint decisions about the work they would have to do. Having responsibility is good. It gives us experience. It provides motivation too. And of course, the process of planning and co-organizing prepares the floor to the face to face week. People would already be more comfortable with each other. It’s a way of starting weaving some learning friendships/relationships. Trusting people takes time, acquiring a feeling of belonging to a certain group takes even longer … so the sooner we start the joint process the better [ somehow I often get the feeling that the last day(s) of such events is when true communication starts to happen, and that is exactly when we need to go separate ways again. Some keep talking, which is good, but I think we could work on that.
    I love Ambjorn’s suggestion. Indeed, I am all for doing some work / producing something before, during and after that week of interaction. It would be great that such initiatives would explicitly encourage active and effective collaboration amongst the young researchers (and experienced ones) beyond the summer school.

    I also find Mohamed’s suggestions interesting. I just don’t agree with ‘Students talk, “teachers” listen’ – it is not about reversing the practice, it’s about adjusting it to the times we live in. This is the time of true communication. Communication is a two way road.

  4. Anna says:

    I fully agree with the barcamp format. 🙂

  5. Sebastian K says:

    I dont think that students should organize the summerschool themselves. With whose money? This will result in chaos. The summerschool needs to be well organized by people with a lot of skill and experience in running such events. Otherwise the best you get will be a “summerschool on how to improve the summerschool”, where people have endless meta-discussions, devoid of any content. Does this sound familiar?

  6. Milos says:

    I believe barcamp can be for many people an interesting format and it is great that there is also this choice for those who like it. But I’ll rather talk about something I have experience with – 3 TENCompetence winter schools that we’ve organized (http://www.tencompetence.org/node/116, http://www.tencompetence.org/node/141, http://www.tencompetence.org/node/184). We always tried to encourage participants to run their own workshops and open sessions, where various people could present their work related to a specific topic. Some students used this chance and usually the outcomes were very positive. But there were not so many offers that these sessions could cover a large part of the programme. Fortunately we had also very good experts that presented not only various topics, but also different teaching approaches, considering the general demand for interactivity and collaboration. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the participants persuades me that this is a very good format for PhD students and other researchers. Hopefully it will persist!

    Regarding pre- and post-event activities, my experience is that not many people find time to participate. So there seems to be a difference between what they say and what they really do. After all, we can check it – perhaps the best place where to continue our discussions would be the LinkeIn group (http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/1985903/).

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