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Refelections on the European Summer School

June 7th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am back from the European Summer School on Technology Enhanced Learning. The summer school, which is targeted at PhD students and is co-organised by a number of European research projects and networks. was held near Terchova in the Slovakian mountains. It is a very beautiful area. Unfortunately it was wet and cold for the whole week. Worse the network connection was insufficient for 90 people and only skype worked with any degree of reliability.

Ok, these problems happen. But what of the summer school itself? Here are comments from students at the summer school:

“I didn’t want to bonded with lecturers …I would prefer to meet ‘relevant’ people, to have discussions, to know at least what today’s lecture is about.  Interesting things are mostly between lectures”.

“Bar Camp Format”
“Work during workshops, not just listen activities”
“ Get Summer School participants (after the selection period) involved in the organisation of the Summer School programme”
“ Not too much aggressive advertisement & self-appraisal of projects”
“why so much focus on projects rather than areas of research?”
“Presenters should have better presentation skills”
“more practical sessions”
“Lecturers & students F2F and get advice on PhD topic”
“Take account of cultures – religions & dietary requirements: why ask if there are dietary requirements and fail to offer choice or take account of the responses to the questions asked”
“Use less traditional approach.  Instead of a 50 min lecture & a 10 min discussion: the lecture does a 10min and the remainder discussions.  Maybe having 2/3 lectures and then splitting into groups to discuss specific issues”
“More online activities leading to the summer school week”
“Internet connection is a must”
“The organisers should know the topic of all PhDs. The could form groups of interest with a competent advisor so that they can discuss & work on the topics”
“Voice for the novice researchers”
“More from an educational background”
“It seems that we are mostly IT and some of us are education oriented, but we have an agenda for ‘computer science for educators’ or ‘education for IT people’ – that is confusing!’
“Round table discussions. E.g. meet with 6 people for 15 mins & then switch & mix-up again”
“Equality between lecturers & students.  Instead of ‘traditional’ lecture styles, the sessions could be improved by actually using TEL”
“A session with PhD students only – like the one we had on the first day”
“More ‘democratic’ choice of topics for the lectures/workshops”
“A presentation should be 10 slides, 20 mins, 30 as a min font size”
“Workshop on how to create posters”
“There should be a meeting to get to know each other at the beginning &  topic outlines from students”
“Can we control/select the topics of classes?”
“It would be interesting to have game-based learning sessions”
“Lectures & projects in short form”

Overall, students were critical of the summer school. Whilst talking about the uses of technology and new forms of pedagogy, the summer school was organised in a somewhat old fashioned didactic format. There was a sharp distinction between lectures and students (the lecturers even were allocated better bedrooms in the hotel!) and each morning was given over to a series of one hour lectures. Many of the afternoon workshops tended to be lecture like in format with limited interactivity and limited opportunities for discussion between participants. And whilst there were a number of interesting presentations, as the feedback suggests, it seemed that the agenda or programme for the summer school had been determined by offering slots of the sponsoring projects, rather than being based around the needs of the participants. The general philosophy appeared to be one of knowledge transmission, with PhD students supposed to learn through listening to the views of experts (this was sometimes a little surreal as we talked of moves from an expert model to crowd sourcing and knowledge exchange through Web 2.0).

Nevertheless, a free pool table, the great Slovakian beer and so many talented people guaranteed many fascinating conversations. A big hullo to Maria, Mike, Ashley, Chris, John, Ricardo, Eva, Carl, Zina and everyone else. Any time you fancy a game of pool, juts give me a shout.

24 Responses to “Refelections on the European Summer School”

  1. Alev Elci says:

    Dear Cris , during the first day Skypes some telss09 participants were mentioning that it is TEL without “T”, but from your blog I understand that “L” was also not sufficient.

    This is not a critique, but since I am working on my PhD surveys “Faculty beliefs in professional development in T/L using ICT” I am having similar conflicts. I am talking about TEL but when it comes to preparing a faculty development programs, I am thinking what to lecture 😉 It will take time but we have to change, and do what we are thinking and aiming.

    Still I am sure it was an excellent opportunity for PhD students, and like me they have learned a lot (in traditional way) and I am really sorry I have missed it. There was a great effort in organizing that and meeting with peopl from different countries. Thanks to all…

  2. Ricardo Torres says:

    I do agree with Graham on most of this; yes, there were things that can be improved in the next edition of the Summer School, and that’s what we tried to address through our self-organised cluster meetings. We got together, saw potential for improvement and decided that giving some feedback was more productive than moaning and whining. We realised that most of this would not be fixed during the week, but we were thinking mostly about the upcoming Summer Schools.

    Was this one perfect? Far from it, but then again, it didn’t have to be. The comments that are referenced in this post come straight from our brainstorming session, and they show our “raw” feelings about the organisational aspects, the lack of Internet connection, etc. Maybe it’s our fault, but the positive aspects were not reflected on this list, and there are many of those. We couldn’t network using the web? we found creative ways of doing this using Skype and, of course, the old face-to-face approach. The weather was not great? we didn’t really care, we had a great time during the social events anyway, and when we were “trapped” in the hotel, we still had a lot of options to entertain ourselves. We talked, shared experiences, thought about collaborations and projects, and made friends. Lots of them.

    I am not sure I will be attending the next Summer School, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hope to finish my Ph D way before next summer. Nevertheless, I hope some of the things we pointed out will be taken into account and will help make it better. That was our intention when we started this “conspiracy” ( as someone called it). It was never our intention to be negative or just criticise for the sake of it. We were just trying to help. I am grateful for this opportunity and want to thank everyone that made this such a great experience, with its ups and downs, and gave me the chance to participate in it.

    I think that the main problem, and this was also mentioned in one of the lectures, is that the users were not active part of the planning. We can call it “the Web 2.0 approach”, a Living Lab, innovation, whatever. This should not be only an event FOR us, but also BY us. 🙂

  3. I can only second Ricardo’s words.
    It is always easier to focus on the negative side than on the positive, and like we were discussing in our skype channel, it is way easier to criticise (start complaining the old fashion way) than actually do something as to stop the ongoing ranting (despite the fact that this should be the new way of addressing the issues we are all advocating! Isn’t it the ‘do it yourself Era?’) If we preach change, we also need to drive it. Actively. Guiding by example. And again it reminds me of my ‘old days in the Navy’, where my leadership mentor often said: leading is not preaching idealistic views. It’s about inspiring by (co-)doing [mitmachen]. The inspiration comes from deeds, not merely from words or commands. Do not expect others to do what you yourself have no intention of doing. BUT be ready to do what you expect your team to do and they will not only follow you, but also exceed your expectations… passionately. Above all, it is leading by example. Providing sources of inspiration and reflection. Encouraging people to make that difference. Giving them the space to do so.
    So by following the motto of the Summer School: ‘the emancipated Learner’, we did try to engage with our beliefs. While the speech went on in the front of the room, a parallel conversation with our visions about the topics we had been asked to listen to…and, of course, also our opinionated vision about how we could ’emancipate ourselves’ was running on skype 🙂 . And in the process of reflecting about ‘the news ways’ we were creating new forms.
    We achieved conversation levels among peers probably not imagined for that context. We agreed as often as we disagreed … we were forming ideas…we were thinking with each other. For me particularly, that was one of the highlight of the entire summer school. As S. said : Meeting each other was the best thing – and yes I can only agree with that: because the value of such initiatives relies on the learning relationships people are able to establish while there and the stories they bring home to tell…as well as the narratives they have yet to write as they continue their learning journeys beyond this experience. Traveling in good company is always so much more fun and meaningful. And I can say that once again the Summer School has helped me find great new traveling mates, who will hopefully help me find my way…

    As it was also mentioned in the several conversations we had throughout the week – the best way of accommodating most people’s expectations, or at least give participants a chance to try out what they perceive to be be useful for them as part of this activity and to get them involved in the organization of it. It will give everyone a sense of how hard it is to organise something. It will also give them shared-power to drive change. Above all, it will give participants responsibility, experience and one more thing to reflect about.

    OK, that was my perspective. Now it’s time to get back to my PhD – to try to find my way into it… to give it meaning… above all to help me develop my research project beyond what may seem a ‘crappy idea’…
    And it might even turn out that it is! And that I am not cut out for it… And if that is the only understanding I will arrive to, then be it!! All of this is learning. I just need someone to help me reach that conclusion. That’s why I feel I need the network…to help me think…

  4. Anna says:

    Could we have demonstrated that we are “emancipated learners” without being caged into a dusty, isolated hotel in the mointains having little bandwith to escape? I am glad that I have met you and all the other lecturers and PhD-students. My first summer school was a great learning and networking experience! But the constructive critism which you cited shows that organizers and lecturers can also still learn learn a lot from learners…

  5. Anna says:

    My comment on your article was wrongly classified as spam. Best regards, Anna

  6. Sebastian K says:

    Hi!
    I also have a remark. I found the academic part of the programme very good as really all of the important people of the field were there and made very good and interesting contributions. It was then possible to “corner” them later and nail them with questions. All in all my personal favourite was Ambjörn’s late night session on concept modeling which he cunningly illustrated with lots of very provocative examples. Wonderful!

    The bad part about the summerschool was obviously the internet which had also some repercussions on the presentations. It was quite surreal to try to do hands on session with online tools when there was no “online”. There was also no internet in the rooms which made it impossible to withdraw and have some online privacy.

    Other than that I had a bad time in a room with 3 other PhD students one of which was not respecting my sleep, 3 nights in a row literally shaking me up to “have a drink together”. Next time I will insist to get a single room, and if I have to pay extra so be it.

    I also found the hotel staff to be quite rude, they were very concerned with throwing people out of places, keeping doors locked, and insisting on playing their own damn music. The best thing was when the door cards stopped working and then they told me that I used it wrong. They even came with me to the room door to check if I had used it wrong, instead of instantly solving the problem. “The client is always wrong!” or what?

    One thing I also have to criticize was something with the last evening’s dinner. How can it be that at 9 o clock, hardly after finishing the main course, everybody had to leave the nice dinner location and was rushed back to the hotel? Maybe it’s just me but I felt pushed around.

    But the food was nice, beer cheap and the people were all great! So all in all it was a very positive experience.

  7. Ashley Healy says:

    I can only support the comments made by Ricardo and Cristina. There were some moans and groans in the Skype Channel and so using our initiative, we students got together to brainstorm and discuss some of our concerns. The comments referenced above are directly quoted from the brainstorming notes on the flipchart – these are raw and highlight the emotion and passion the students felt during summer school.

    As a result of the skype channel and the student meeting we formed smaller ‘cluster’ groups where we can share, collaborate and network together, which seemed impossible at the beginning of the week.

    I do hope that we can continue our networking and collaborating and that the comments provided by the students can be taken as constructive and useful feedback to improve future summer schools for future ’emancipated learners’.

  8. Dear Summer School participants, let me ask you the question: “Will you participate in Summer School again?”, “If you had known in the past what kind of event the Summer School is would you anyway come?”

    Durung my work with students i’ve learned “sandwich” technique. It means that feedback you give should be in the following consequence: positive – negative – positive. Otherwise, you will kill the desire of the students to change their learning styles.

    Here, in the blog entry, i’ve found more critical comments as positive feedback. Those critical comments are presented so as all students were unsatisfied with the event, hovewer i definitevely know that 1: comments were written by a part of students; 2: the comments were collected for the purpose of suggestions how to change the summer school and not for the purpose of evaluation of the whole event.

    Did you try to ask students how they found the summer school in general? I’ve talk to many of them afterwards and they were happy to be at the summer school because they learned many useful things for their PhD and meet some useful peers for their researches.

    I’m totally amazed in the way how you try to change the things. I would appreciate the more productive way: talk about things you can praise and talk about things you can criticise. I personally found more things to praise at the summer school.

  9. Graham Attwell says:

    Hi – of course the comments in my original article are impressionistic and do not constitute a well balanced evaluation. But they are what people were saying and thinking at the time….my concern is that after events like the summer school – which I think is an excellent idea and important to sharing and developing knowledge in our domain – such criticism tends to be forgotten.

    I posted the article in the hope of stimulating a constructive dicussion both about how the summmer school could be improved and what we can learn from our experiences for practice in the wider community.

    My biggest concern is that our practice – as teachers and learners – has some alignment with the subject and outcomes of our research. I still feel that all too often we are saying one thing and doing another. At the moment I am in a project review but as soon as I am able, I will post some ideas about how I think we could better structure our collective learning.

  10. Eva says:

    Hi there,

    I really enjoyed the sommerschool. I met so many great people there. I had really good and useful discussion with lectures and I heard some interesting presentation, which gave me new ideas.

    And on this way again — a big thanks to all the organizers, supporters and helpers.

    For next year (hopefully with me) it would be nice if there would be some timeslot at the afternoon to cluster. Also it would be great if two lecture session at the same time taking place– to split the groups. I think with smaller groups (not 60 PhD-stundent) an interactive teaching/learning is realistic.

    All in all — it was amazing 😉 And I really hope to see you again.

  11. Evgeny says:

    Hi folks!
    Nevertheless all this (aforementioned) is a healthy criticism, that’s yet another positive thing.
    I would like to add just a few things: of course the experience is very individual, some participants have been to the previous summer schools and have something to compare, for others that was a unique experience. Moreover for most of the PhD students, summer school is the place where we take information we need, make connections and collaborate in a way we consider the most appropriate and useful for us (that’s is where we have a ‘democratic’ approach and the great variety of choices, let’s take advantage of that, learn from each other and collaborate). So let’s not compare the experience according to some sort of a scale and of course not compare experience with the environment and circumstances we had there (like not having internet is worse than being in Tatra mountains and enjoying the beautiful landscapes every day). And I can hardly believe that the lack of internet is something that could have stopped us from doing that. Did we need it listening to most of the lectures? Did we need it while clustering? Did we need it having B2B sessions or discussing new ideas while playing pool? In fact we will all miss that amazing time last week we spend together.

  12. Erik Duval says:

    This sustained level of conversation and discussion is certainly quite encouraging!

    I have posted some of my own comments about the Summer School at http://erikduval.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/summer-school-fun/.

    Maybe we can start a thread on what we liked most about our experience, to balance the (often quite justified!) critique?

  13. Traian Rebedea says:

    I always appreciate criticism for my actions as it helps me enhance my work and become better in all my activities. Nevertheless, criticism is an easy task when no alternatives are offered. When one gathers 40 people and asks them for critics regarding any subject, it is pretty sure that one shall receive a lot of feedback. On the other hand, nobody offered alternatives and neither did they write about the good things form the Summer School.

    As a student, I have seen both the good and bad things that blended together into a summer school that, in the end, was useful and relaxing. The good things relate to the high diversity of the presentations that were simple to understand in order to have a better view on the multiple aspects of TEL, but this has also been a problem as none of the presentations offered us deep insight. Other positive aspects were that the students were interested in a large number of topics and aspects and we manage to connect and to discuss our interests on our own and also involve the lectures that were interested in our research domain. Last but not least, this summer school was for most of us a great networking opportunity, better than a conference or workshop.

    On the whole, I have really enjoyed TELSS 2009, I have met a lot of wonderful colleagues and hope that shall see most of you again at the next summer school or at other events. As an improvement, I suggest the organizers to let us see the interests of the other students and lecturers before the summer school in order to make the clusters online before our arrival (this isn’t very difficult as we already have to fill the registration form).

  14. Milos says:

    It’s really great that the summer school activities haven’t stopped together with its official end. The echo is pretty strong and hopefully persists for some time. Despite some misunderstandings, it’s a very valuable feedback for the organizers of similar events. As one of them I’d like to share with you my views.

    First of all some basic facts. This summer school was organized and supported by several EC projects in the field of TEL. Their proposals passed a very strict selection process and are regularly reviewed to guarantee a high quality of their outcomes. Therefore it is not possible to separate them from the TEL research and they are part of the state-of-the-art in this field. Of course, they also (usually) want to disseminate their results and therefore it’s no wonder that they do it also at the summer school. This should not be a problem.

    It seems the main issue is the form, which is for some students too traditional, with a lack of interaction and an active involvement of participants. Sure, it is easier to talk about it than really do it in practice and lecturers also need some time to learn new approaches. Nevertheless, I don’t think it is reasonable to reject any form of teaching without considering the learning objectives, the target learners, and the context. It looks like many people tend to move from one extreme no another when a wave comes. But one size doesn’t fit all and there is no universal solution in education.

    An emancipated learner is self-responsible for his or her learning, has a control over it and decides when to delegate it and to whom. The summer school organizers try to offer a rich program to participants, but each learner has to adjust it according to his or her needs, interests, and abilities. I think this is something what has to be emphasized before the event starts, together with an opportunity to organize an optional session whenever a group of people feels a need to do it. This should help eveybody to benefit as much as possible from this unique, stimulating, and exciting learning environment.

    To summarize, all of us – organizers, lecturers, students – are learning how to optimize effectivity and efficiency of learning. This kind of open and frank communication can help us to do it better next time. Thanks for your feedback and let’s keep in touch!

  15. Zuzana says:

    Dear friends,
    I am really happy for those who enjoyed the summer school. I can tell for all organizers as well as hotel staff who did their best that we tried hard to make it an enjoyable experience for all of you. Just some examples:
    When groups of people came too late on the first days of the event (the first one almost at midnight) the hotel manager herself opened the restaurant and prepared dinner for them even though it wasn’t arranged before (they were supposed to come at 8 pm).
    Similarly, on Sunday there was a group of people coming after the lunch period that was until 14.30. The chef let them in and prepared food just for them without any complain.
    The day bar upstairs (with the tap beer) was supposed to be closed at 22.00. However the bartender stayed first days until 1 or 2 o’clock am (what some people considered as pushing them away) and after our discussion he stayed there even later next days.
    If you didn’t like the music of the bar there was no problem to ask him for a change. The bartender was willing to do so and did so when somebody asked.
    The food was a buffet where you could choose from many kinds of dishes – as I believe delicious ones. I cannot quite understand how this doesn’t take into consideration various dietary conditions of people. The choice of everything seemed to me big enough for all.
    The swimming pool was open for us all days long after we asked for it, not only in the timetable hours.
    And other things that you might not see this clearly.
    You know sometimes it is necessary to see things in context – when I asked Sebastian to finish the pool game during the last dinner, it wasn’t because of I wanted to break their fun… but there were many people leaving early next morning and they needed to be back in hotel. I promised this to them and the pool game could be continued in the hotel too.
    And finally – internet. I agree completely that this was an issue. But let me explain how it was.
    The connection of the hotel has been previously tested by for example IBM conference with 50 users or other conferences without any problem. Probably they never had a group of 100 as we were and therefore they were not ready for this. When we found on Monday that it fails we called first the technician, then a colleague of mine who is currently first in Europe in Cisco networks. He was trying his best, but only suggested to change the contract with Telecom for higher speed. We even managed to do so in one day – no much difference unfortunatelly.
    However, I don’t want to offend anyone, but I saw even one of our colleagues to play graphical online games during lectures. No wonder some others couldn’t connect… We were 100 at certain moments…
    Anyway, I am sorry for inconveniences with the internet. We tried our best, still didn’t succeed completely. As far as I know, at least email and Skype were working fine and the rest during leisure time when not so many people were online. Maybe this fact brought some more real attention to the lecturers, didn’t it?
    Almost to any of your critiques I could explain – but I don’t think this has any sense. Some people love clustering – some people hate. It is hard to decide what is better. Last years people were complaining about having to cluster themselves, this year others complain about not having it. Etc. People are difficult to make happy, especially when they are almost 100.
    I still hope that you liked summer school and you will keep on liking it in the future.
    Zuzana

    The game of pool was given free for everybody – it is not usually the case, normally you have to pay for this.

  16. Zuzana says:

    Sorry for the last sentence, it was previously deleted, I have no clue why it appeared in the end. 😉 It was not my goal to underline it…

  17. Sebastian K says:

    I just had some discussion with the summerschool organizers regarding my above points of critique.
    Fact is, my experience of the summerschool was this time less great in comparison to the Summerschool 2007 and 2008 I had attended before. My agenda is to openly address that, the “unspeakable” if you want to put it that way… but we are running on public moneys and so public reflection is in order. Thanks to Graham for providing the starting point here.

    Regarding the critique: it is fair to contextualize some of it, as the hotel staff was indeed trying hard working overtime almost around the clock. Also regarding the final dinner event, there were quite some people who had to get back to the hotel at 10pm, so that was the reason to cut short the venue that was originally planned for until midnight.

    It is only fair to also mention some positive aspects, such as excellent trips to the Castle, the Aquapark and to Vratna mountain, ample footage of which to be found on flickr. Experiencing insights on the local culture and surroundings is an important part. It makes people learn something about places they otherwise hardly would ever had visited, and getting to view things from the local perspective.

    In line with my above comment I have to once more stress the fact that the academic part of the summerschool was excellent. Even when the internet failed, the workshop presenters had a plan B or improvised marvelously and got their message across.

    The fact that a mostly cold and rainy week caused the feeling of “locked in” at the hotel and hence some deal of cabin fever cannot be blamed on the organizers.

    The thing that remains are many new trustful connections and friendships, as well as a wealth of new knowledge on the state of the art of TEL.

    So, no hard feelings, just making a point of being critical on certain details that disturbed (but not destroyed) that very positive experience.

  18. Kamakshi says:

    Hi,
    In my experience, my first summer school was a great success. I met a lot of people, got a chance to make friends and colleagues, and had a lot of fun. Yes, the weather wasn’t great and the broadband let us down, but I feel we got to focus on the real stuff – getting to know each other, and each others’ work.
    And I think it’s fantastic that we organised ourselves to get the most out of the week!

  19. Anna says:

    Hi again,
    I hope my comment above is interpreted the same way as I understand Kamakshi’s comments. I will remember the summer school as a great experience and I will recommend it to other PhD students! Big thank you to all (organizers, hotel staff, lecturers and students)!

  20. Maria Mitina says:

    Hi to everybody.
    This was my first Summer School (and hopefully not the last!) and I really enjoyed it.
    Regarding the internet. This was me asking about the internet on the Pro-learn forum before the event and the answer I got then really made me calm. The real internet connection was a surprise, no doubts, as I had to send and receive e-mails every day, as many of you. But what I can say is that I had NO problems with it in the end – as it was possible (and not so hard) to find special time (and even places) when (and where) the connection was good! Thus instead of complaining I would suggest considering this as a good experience – poor connection would really organize your work, as you do necessary things first instead of wasting your time not noticing that. And secondly – we have tested the hotel ) now they know what to improve ))
    Ok, let’s go on. I really support the organizers and I am grateful to them for BLAZING reaction – during the whole SS I was feeling that I always can come to them with my problem and they will do their best.
    Regarding the learning component. Before going to the SS I was looking through the list of lectures and workshops and I knew what I was coming for. There was a list of questions in my head and I wanted to hear the answers. And I can say they were given. But even more – not focusing on my own topic – other presentations and workshops were interesting and useful. However, there was a moment when discussions turned into self-presentation and even opposition of projects. But I stress – it was a moment and not the whole story.
    Regarding socializing. I like the people I met there and happy to say – this was exactly the place where we could feel relaxed and open for contact. Thanks to all the organizers and participants!!!

  21. Hasan Tinmaz says:

    Hello to everyone,
    When I read the comments, I feel like I was not in the same summer school with some of you. In that sense, I decided to make some comments. I think i should say that there are two types of feedbacks; informative and corrective. We should distinguish them when we are making some comments.
    I disagree with the idea that academic side was excellent. Unfortunately, most of the professors forget about the LEARNING aspects. For the people from educational science areas, it was a disappointment to listen only-technology-oriented presentations. Even for some presentations, there were big contradictions in relation to learning concept. Moreover, professors commented in the sessions which are not suitable from my perspective. There were some professors sitting at front and commenting during the whole speeches. For me, this is not ethical. Moreover, me, as a phd student, tried to understand the speechs and then plus new comments from some other professors which made me confused.
    Personally, I tried to talk some professors for whole nights, I ran after them but they were busy with other professors. Then I felt like there were two groups; professors and the rest.
    Moreover, we are life-long learners – not DAY-LONG-LEARNERS. Why to arrange learning activities even after the dinner? Why not dancing activities or movie-night. Now people will tell me that why you didnt do that – because conference room 1 which has sound system was even full after the dinner.
    Please dont misunderstand my comments on professors. I only say “some professors” without generalization. Lets organize more student-oriented sessions rather than teacher-oriented sessions.
    For the Internet, I totally agree with Zuzana. I saw a lot of people playing games, youtubing and so on where the rest of the people were trying to check the emails. It is not only about Internet – but also the selfishness of our group.
    I want to thank to Zuzana for all activities for free-times; Orava Castle,dinner and so on. She really presented Slovakia to us from different perspectives.
    Dont forget the differences in personalities, we cannot satisfy all the needs among a group.

  22. Hi everyone,

    first of all, let me say how much I enjoyed the week in Terchova, meeting old friends and making new ones. Having been part of all the five summer schools on TEL that have been organized so far, I can say that they have all centered around networking with each one adding a touch of their own special flavor, and Terchova was no exception. For example, the integration (closeness) of the informal and the formal meeting spaces – as well as the groupings of the furniture downstairs – was a great feature in Terchova, which stimulated spontaneous and opportunistic clustering during the day, as well as beer-to-beer sessions that went on all through the night ( 🙂 ). And I’m deeply impressed by the professionalism with which the local organizers were addressing the various problems that arose during the week. (Zuzana, if you have any difficulties in finding a position in TEL, you can certainly find a great future in the conference-organizing business).

    I also find it very interesting that Graham’s “provocation” – publishing some of the student feedback on his own blog, and claiming things like “overall, students were critical of the summer school” – has generated so many (counter)comments. It’s really an excellent example of the power of “provocative modeling” ( 🙂 ), and shows that many students feel the need to disagree. If the discussion had taken place on the summer school website (where it belongs from an organizational point of view) I doubt if there would have been so many comments.

    Regarding the clustering, as Zuzana mentioned in her comment above, we received criticism last year for over-structuring the interaction of the students. So this year we decided to downplay this aspect, and allow for more of spontaneous clustering. So we held the pre-meetings in a more free form format – in order to give the students a chance to present themselves and their research interests to each other, put a name to a face, and facilitate the clustering during the week. However, only a handful of students showed up in any of these meetings, which was a rather disappointing experience. Judging from some of the comments above, I guess many of you have realized the importance of these meetings by now.

    Last year we also received criticism for using the electronic portfolio system Confolio (www.confolio.org from 2002), since it does not have the modern social features to support the networking of the students. We (the KMR-group http://kmr.nada.kth.se) are just about to introduce a more modern version (http://oe.confolio.org ), and we plan on using it for the summer school next year.

    Regarding the never-ending discussion of technology versus pedagogy, I cannot help noticing that the people that talk loudest about “learning is not about technology” often seem to be the ones most eagerly adopting the latest technological fads and fashions. Here is a provocative thought for the TEL community: I think it’s time to realize that learning has always been (more or less) driven by technology, and the question we must ask ourselves in order to move forward is how to make the best use of technology for learning purposes. Complaining about the shortcomings of technology for learning may have beneficial therapeutic effects, but let’s face it – most students today are doing a lot of their learning by making opportunistic use of various technological devices, such as e.g. laptops. Does anyone thing that laptops were created for the purpose of learning? So I think that we could say that “TEL is about making opportunistic use of technology to support and enhance the learning process.” And of course, the feedback from such experiences can – and should – be used to improve the technology as much as possible to make it more effective and efficient for learning.

    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. In fact, this is a lecturing model that I’m planning for our emerging global math learning environment (http://math.se) here at KTH.

    Of course this will mean more preparation work for all of us, but it will shift the interactions at the summer school in a direction that we all are interested in. It is a high risk, since we all are getting more and more pressed for time – but I think that we can demand this type of preparation from the students – at least from the ones that are being paid to attend the summer school. After all, if you don’t have time to prepare, then why should we pay you to attend? Of course, it’s a great social experience, but (as Sebastian said) we are paying for this event with taxpayers’ money, and I think they have a right to expect more than just a great vacation.

    Best regards to all of you – and hope to see you again at the next summer school!
    /Ambjörn

    P.S: I have created a Confolio for the Terchova summer school, which is available at
    http://my.confolio.org/portfolio/main?manifest=JESS-TEL&cmd=open
    It contains folders for each item of the programme (to which Zina soon will upload the presenters’ documentation) as well as links to the activities (and students) of the earlier summer schools. Feel free to use it to network and contact people that you think might be helpful for you.

Tweetbacks

  1. !RT @GrahamAttwell: Refelections on the European Summer School: … on Technology Enhanced Lea.. http://tinyurl.com/mfdslp

  2. #telss09 i wrote a small comment on graham’s post. see http://tinyurl.com/mfdslp

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