Moments from a summer

Michael Salmon is Associate Director – Curriculum Renewal for Summer Programmes at King’s College London.

Having taken the decision to move our summer schools online this year, rather than cancelling outright in the face of Covid-19 uncertainties, it is safe to say that the last few months have been much eventful than they might otherwise have been! Dr Alexander Heinz, Chair of the Summer Executive, will suggest in a forthcoming article that one of the defining features of summer schools is their ephemerality: by nature and by design, they play out a constant tension between having only just begun and shortly to conclude, and indeed this contributes to make them special, memorable, educationally exciting.  

I would also argue that for these short summer weeks, it is easier to identify key moments that stick in the mind and reveal something about the communal experience that tutors and students shared in (compared to a degree programme, of course, or a full year abroad). Further, identifying these key moments is an important act of both reflective pedagogy and forward planning, a moment of stillness and consideration that enables momentum to be conserved. In this post I am going to describe a handful of such moments from the last few months. 

Seeing collaboration happen 

There were a number of ‘Aha!’ moments for me this summer which all involved seeing students conduct online discussions with one another. The practicalities around teamworking were a concern as we headed into the teaching period, especially as collaboration is such a fundamental part of all our courses. However, I repeatedly saw students either working together in very similar ways to how they would in a classroom or, in some cases, even more effectively. 

For example, one offhand comment a student made within a discussion channel (“wcould have a meeting here later – I think this room should be free after class”) really brought home to me the resilience of the students vis-à-vis the move online: they were able to conceptualise the digital spaces which our e-learning platforms provided as something very close to a physical classroom. I also greatly appreciated seeing students with the same mother tongue holding chats in English at a very high level of sophistication – the fact that they were able to type asynchronously rather than having to answer in real time paid dividends here. Although we had not taken student digital literacy for granted by any means, I was impressed seeing students able to navigate and negotiate the choppy waters on online group work with a great deal of flair. 

Our team found that through hosting and moderating various online platforms and working with students to ensure that collaboration was as effective as possible, we had a phenomenal insight into who students were and how they were experiencing the courses. This would not have been possible in the same way with students placed in distinct classrooms, and was an unexpected pleasure. 

Hearing the positives 

Perhaps the aspect of the course we were most unsure about, more than how we would support our tutors, more than how online social activities could be conducted, more even than how online teaching would be received, was how well we would be able to deal with student issues. Those working in summer schools of any shape or form will be familiar with the queues at helpdesks and urgent phonecalls which are an inevitable part of in-country delivery, and which need to be dealt with professionally and efficiently by a skilled team. Doing this online with students spread all across the world would be a new experience for us, and we dedicated a lot of our planning time to implementing new triage procedures, new contact methods, new communication channels, and much more. 

Running a summer school at a distance can also mean that it is harder to judge how students are experiencing the course. Despite confidence in our procedures and a strange sense of calm as the course begun, everyone on the team was somewhat nervous to see student feedback, both in first impression surveys and end-of-course feedback. In particular, the two items ‘I felt welcomed and supported on the first day of the programme’ and ‘I felt sufficiently supported throughout the programme occupied prime position in my mind, for the reasons stated above.  

As it turned out, the feedback received for these two questions was incredibly positive, and I think I speak for all of the team in saying that seeing these responses arrive was something that will stick in the mind when looking back at the summer. These moments when we were able to see for ourselves that essentially every student felt supported were extremely valuable 

Connecting in spite of it all 

The Summer Community of Practice has long been a fundamental part of the Summer Education Programme. It brings together tutors from varied disciplines in a collegiate network, allowing for best practice to be shared and for much informal support.  

Moving online was of course no barrier to holding regular Community of Practice meet-ups, but to begin with we did find that there was so much to discuss in terms of new procedures, new class types, new digital tools and all the other new uncertainties which have characterized 2020 since March at least. For this reason, it was the final session which really sticks in my mind as a memorable demonstration of the best aspects of the summer.  

This session was held around the halfway point of the course, and the idea was for those tutors already teaching to share experiences with those yet to teach. The conversation flowed freely, with some fantastic suggestions about managing group work online or getting the best out of taciturn students, and I was able to sit back and absorb, or add thoughts drawn from my own teaching practice, rather than sticking to an agenda. It was a wonderful session, over too soon, and really demonstrated to me how a summer school can enable connectivity among staff all around the university, driving student experience forward beyond the summer into ideas for quality learning all year round, even against a background of the most unprecedented disruptions to business as usual.  

Into the next phase 

These, then, were some out of many more moments that I felt worthwhile to reflect upon, and which brought a degree of  summer school sunshine to the work of the past few months. Now, the work of consolidation must begin, as we look forward to making these unexpected moments into part of the new normal 

Summer Teaching: A Professional Crossroads

Stefan Mandelbaum

Dr Stefan Mandelbaum taught International Commercial Law on King’s Undergraduate Summer School in 2012 and 2013. He is now a Senior Lecturer in International Law at Anglia Ruskin University and a member of the Senate at his institution. 

Teaching for King’s Summer Programmes as a doctoral researcher turned out to be an important crossroad in my academic career. Coming from a strong legal-philosophical background and responding to a 2012 call from the Summer School for module suggestions, I initially proposed a course on “dispute settlement in international investment law”, simply because my doctoral work already focused on this subject matter. During the interview, Summer Programmes put to me that a course on International Commercial Law would give me the opportunity to merge different aspects of international law into one course. While the course development and delivery turned out to be as challenging as preparing a fairly new subject for HE teaching naturally is, the course, with me as a lead tutor in 2012 and 2013, eventually ranked among the most popular courses in the Summer School curriculum. The in-class, organisational and pedagogic challenges which only a summer course poses, together with being involved in considering an audience even before their application  became experiences which have shaped my lecturing style ever since. In the following, I would like to give two examples of the impact my summer school teaching had on my career as a teacher in HE, one concerning the acquired pedagogic skills when dealing with an array of educational and cultural backgrounds in class, the other addressing the direct link between the subject of teaching and my current position.

Peer learning

In both years, the summer module on International Commercial Law cohort consisted of students of very different backgrounds, ranging from first year UG students and Masters students of various subjects to judges and business people. Overcoming this welcomed but also challenging mix of sometimes very different abilities led me to develop an in-class tutoring scheme in which I prescribed an overall task (e.g. case study, moot problem) for all students while appointing the most senior class members as group leaders. This method enabled a study atmosphere where the junior class mates were learning from me and their peers whilst the more advanced students were recognized as leaders and had to learn how to teach what they already knew. While this model of hierarchical participation originated in the diverse composition of an international summer school class, it developed over time into a critical pedagogic method which I have continued using ever since. From good student feedback in my previous years to a 100 percent satisfaction rate in both my King’s summer courses, the facilitation of such an integrative learning environment had led my last semester’s course on “International Commercial Arbitration” to be among the 10 top-scoring classes out of 2.500 at my present institution, Anglia Ruskin University.

Shaping my career

Learning how to cater for the varying abilities and expectations of summer school participants, however, is only one of the pedagogic upshots for my career. The subject of “International Commercial Law”, rather peripheral at the time to my research expertise, has been pivotal in getting the lectureship that I am holding now. My teaching orbits not so much the very specific doctoral topic I was working on (the market for such a position is rather thin) and my first appointment outside King’s College London as well as the leeway to my permanent post now was via a “visiting lectureship” on “Transnational Commercial Law”. I can honestly say that if it would not have been for King’s decision to opt for the ‘commercial side’ of international affairs, I would not teach and do research in this field, and I would not be able to now expand my research collaborations to the business aspects of international sports law or management studies, both of which emerging into cutting edge fields of scholarship.

EAIE 2019 in Helsinki: Summer as a Creative Space

In the coming week, members of King’s Summer Programmes team will be attending the EAIE Annual Conference in Helsinki. In a schedule packed with encounters with partners new and old, King’s Summer Education Programme will form a key part of the wider conference programme.

Dr Alexander Heinz, Associate Director (Research & Innovation), will be speaking on summer schools as a creative space for education; sharing a platform with Nita Kapoor, Director of the University of Oslo Summer School, and Jason Kinnear, Assistant Dean for Study Abroad at UNC Chapel Hill.

As Vice-Chair of the EAIE Summer Schools Expert Community, Dr Heinz will speak at and co-host a summer school health clinic, as well as a large reception for sector professionals.  He will also lead a campfire session for peers from around the world.Together with Lorraine Ishmael-Byers, King’s Associate Director for Disability Support and Inclusion, Dr Heinz endeavours to whet the appetite of other institutions to follow into the footsteps of Dialogues on Disability, a sector-leading programme by King’s, the University of Delhi, Humboldt-University, the Autonomous University of Mexico and others, and to encourage colleagues to think beyond national boundaries about mobility for and policy discussions among disabled students.

Fahema Ettoubi, Academic Services Manager, and Emma Carlile, Assistant Programme Development Manager, will attend EAIE for the first time and will be available to meet with partners and members of the wider international education community.  Both look forward to showcasing King’s Summer Programmes portfolio to current partners but also new institutions, enabling us to stand out from the crowd.

Ten Years of Summer at King’s: A Pivotal Space

Professor Soelve I. Curdts, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, and Visiting Lecturer at King’s in July 2010, reflects on the value of transitionality.

Incredibly, almost a decade has passed since I taught at King’s Undergraduate Summer School in 2010. The experience turned out to be pivotal in ways I could not have foreseen at the time, and its layers grow more multifarious with each passing year. In fact, such layering over time is one of the things we – hopefully – share with our students beyond the subjects we happen to be teaching.

Arrivals and Departures

For me, 2010-2011 was a time of transition. I had studied and taught in Germany, France, and the United States, and was in the process of contemplating where to go next, both literally and metaphorically. The world was all before me – a prospect that filled me with a sense of uncertainty, to be sure, but also of exhilaration. The latter was fostered both by London as a pivotal space, and by the Summer School at King’s College London as a place that brought together scholars, teachers, and students who reflected on (their) transitionality in intellectually stimulating and productive ways. In a world where we increasingly discover states of transition as the norm they have perhaps always been, such reflection, which the summer school at King’s College London is uniquely positioned to enable by creating rare constellations of international students and teachers, is of crucial significance. In my own teaching and scholarship, I try to sustain a sense of those very moments of transition which, precisely as they claim neither origin nor end point, are constitutive of thought.

“The summer school offered a privileged space, where students could explore areas of inquiry they would not otherwise have engaged in.” Soelve Curdts

Thinking between arrivals and departures happened quite literally that summer at King’s, as a community of scholars and students gathered for a brief period of time. Our students came from—and would go back to—not only different parts of the world, but often entirely different fields of study. In this, too, the summer school offered a privileged space, where students could explore areas of inquiry they would not otherwise have engaged in. I would like to think that the occasional business student reading a work of literature, or the English major tackling the intricacies of a physics problem can make – has made – some kind of difference.

King’s College London welcomed me (back) to Europe after a long absence with a preciously open and heterogeneous vibrancy which spoke – to quote one of the poets I taught there – of something evermore about to be.