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.

Cultural exchange session – Mexico, South Korea and Britain in dialogue

Dr Brian Wallace teaches two modules on British governance to South Korean and Mexican students on King’s Summer Programmes.

This July, King’s College London Summer Programmes hosted students from Mexico and South Korea for parallel courses on governance in the United Kingdom. A highlight of both courses was a joint session between the two cohorts, in a cultural exchange to facilitate reflection on the themes they had been exploring. One of the key aims of both programmes is encouraging students to use our learning sessions and the experience of residence abroad as a vantage point from which to consider their home countries via a series of themes applicable across borders. The students could both reflect on what they had learned about Britain and apply these reflections to their respective homes.

The session was designed primarily to spark dialogue and the exchange of ideas and experiences among our six mixed student groups, each composed of five South Korean and four Mexican students. After a brief introduction laying out their shared course themes and the shared London experiences they had all likely been encountering as tourists, our first ice-breaking conversation session asked the students within their groups to simply introduce themselves, their home town or city, and their favourite or least favourite thing about London. Our second strand explored the idea of common ground. Drawing on the ‘cultural exchanges’ theme, I gave our students a brief presentation on cultural and political links between Britain and their home countries, introducing cultural products such as art and food along with official occasions such as state visits, with their political rhetoric stressing the shared history and values of the nations. The second breakout conversation session asked the students to respond to this idea of common ground – was this reflected in their experiences visiting London? Did they feel their nation’s culture was familiar in Britain? What were the greatest similarities and differences? As these discussions were ongoing, I toured each group’s table and sampled their conversations and conclusions. There was a wide range of opinion, but one common theme which emerged among the students was interest in the ‘export versions’ of their national cultures they had encountered in London.

Our final conversation session asked the students to produce a more formal response in the form of a lesson plan poster presentation. Each group was assigned one of the common themes of the two programmes – national identity, monarchy, the empire and Commonwealth, government and Brexit, the British press, and cultural ‘soft power’. We then asked them to take on the role of teachers, composing a lesson for their fellow students back in Mexico and South Korea. How would they explain these themes? What case studies, objects, or sites would they use? What did they think their students would find most surprising about these themes in Britain? With one Mexican and one South Korean ‘teacher’ as co-presenters, the session encouraged students to not only demonstrate the knowledge they had acquired in our learning sessions, but to translate it for a home audience as well as considering it in an international context. The student groups responded creatively and thoughtfully, using diagrams and illustrations to lay out the similarities and differences between the three nations. Common features between the three nations were identified in the shared structures of government, while the greatest differences were identified in the realms of journalism and soft power.

The idea of cultural exchange is central to the aims of our summer courses and this session proved to be an invaluable venue for putting it into practice, offering a space for our student cohorts to respond to the themes of the course and give their own reflections on their London experiences. At the culmination of our students’ learning sessions on British themes, it productively reversed the student-teacher roles and encouraged them to discuss and delineate how these issues resonated at home. Finally, introducing the Mexican and South Korean cohorts to each other in order to engage in this reflective work generated a creative energy and excitement within the session which was reflected in the enthusiasm of their conversations and presentations.

The way we learn on summer schools

Thais Russomano, MD, is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre of Human & Applied Physiological Sciences, part of the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine’s School of Basic & Medical Biosciences.
Thais teaches summer school students about body systems and how humans adapt when exposed to hostile environments.

 

If asked at the age of 16 what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’, the answer university professor would never have crossed my mind. I knew what I wanted to be, it was simple – for as long as I could remember I dreamt of becoming an astronaut. This would be a difficult career path for anyone to follow, however, coming from a country (Brazil) that didn’t at that time even have a Space Agency made the task as difficult as climbing Mount Everest blindfolded! I wish at that stage of my life I’d had the opportunity to experience a course like the King’s Summer programme.

Exposure to material taught by an international professor in a ‘university-type’ form would certainly have given my confidence a boost and allayed many of the doubts I had about studying abroad and at a higher level. Nonetheless, I planned my journey, completing medicine in Brazil, then facing my fears and going oversees for a 2-year MSc in Aerospace Medicine in the US, and a PhD in Space Physiology at King’s College London, before working at the German Space Agency (DLR).

My academic career began at a university in Brazil, where I established the Microgravity Centre, a pioneering Space Life Sciences Research Centre, but my links with King’s always remained strong, and I eventually became the Deputy Course Director/Senior Lecturer of the Space Physiology & Health MSc course. Another constant in my life was dedicating spare time to teaching school-aged students about the life and works of astronauts during space missions.

Therefore, when asked to participate in teaching for the King’s College Summer Programmes, I was delighted to accept, as, from my own student experience, I knew the benefit this kind of interaction brings – I see it as a two-way win-win situation for both students and professors, both of whom encounter different learning styles and gain from an exchange of cultural values, which broadens perspectives and adds to personal and professional growth.

The design of the Summer Courses fosters this interaction of tutors/students and provides an enriching learning environment. Students gain a great insight into what life would be like studying at university level, and possibly experiencing for the first time a British way of delivering knowledge. This opportunity also gives a special experience to us as professors, entering a highly multicultural environment, bringing with it challenges as to how best to engage these young minds, but at the same time making the teaching-learning process more stimulating and special.

Given the short length of the courses, they can be no more than simply ‘taster’ experiences for both sides, however, the enthusiasm and curiosity of the students is evident from their willingness to participate in activities, and from their questions, which become more probing and frequent as the week progresses and confidence grows. And it is exactly this growth in confidence, this exposure to professors of a different culture, and this opportunity to mix with a different way of doings things that is the most invaluable lesson of the week for students, opening their eyes to potential new horizons.

Likewise, teaching pre-university students, and especially those from a culture for whom English is not their native-tongue, provides lecturers with a reminder that sometimes we must adapt our skills to better communicate the content of our classes, making the language we use more accessible, building on logical reasoning and employing good analogies that help in the understanding of more complex ideas. I am reminded that these skills are important within our practice at King’s, which is by its very nature, a very international university, with more than 40% of its student population drawn from 160 countries.

For me, the experience of teaching young students on King’s Summer Programmes is gratifying and enriching; something new to add to my lifelong learning portfolio. For the students, I hope they find their pre-university programmes inspiring and motivational experiences, bolstering their self-belief and turning the first page of their academic journey.

Addressing the Signs of the Times

Dr Huw Dylan is a Senior Lecturer in Intelligence Studies and International Security in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Dr Dylan is also a Visiting Research Professor at the Norwegian Defence Intelligence School, Oslo.

 

One of the most exciting things about the King’s Undergraduate Summer School is the variety of approaches to teaching and learning that students will experience. This reflects both the scope of subjects on offer, but also the energy tutors put into creating engaging learning environments. This entry, building upon our colleague Dr Diana Bozhilova’s blog post on teaching international relations in this series, offers a brief introduction to our approach to teaching Politics and the Media.

For those of us interested in politics and international relations it seems that not a day goes by without some controversy or other concerning what is the truth of a particular situation making the headlines in the press. From the competing narratives offered to the electorate in the BREXIT referendum, to the myriad debates concerning President Trump and words and deeds, to the running series of debates between Russia and the West over a number of issues, including the shooting down of MH17 to Russian involvement in east Ukraine, matters of strategic communication, allegations of propaganda, and charges of ‘fake news’ have come to dominate several areas of our political discourse. This course aims to place many of these issues in a deeper historical context, and to consider carefully how information and messages have been utilised by political power throughout history to further their goals.

Our teaching is based on our experience in the Department of War Studies. This department encourages an interdisciplinary and creative approach to studying conflict and war and all associated phenomena. We aim to combine teaching of core concepts and ideas, such as exploring the main theorists or thinkers of propaganda and strategic communications, in tandem with the conflicts or issues that they sought to influence at the time. And then to examine how these ideas resonate today in our contemporary debates. So, we will begin with the ideas of Gustav le Bon, and propaganda in the age of the Two World Wars, before moving on to the Cold War and the post 9/11 world. Students will engage deal with theory and practice, setting the scene for many of the issues we the class will consider during the latter part of the course.

The learning outcomes for this short course on Politics and the Media are centred upon the development of an understanding of key subject matter and fostering critical thinking. The class will consider the core components of propaganda and strategic communication narratives in various case studies. Many of these case studies involve campaigns that aimed to convert or entrench the political stance or the voting intentions of a large body of people, and have become contentious. Analysing the construction, delivery, and impact of these various campaigns will leave students equipped to more effectively engage with such campaigns in future, in particular with regard analysing and challenging the competing claims of ‘truth’. A key component of developing these critical skills will be an active consideration of the modern information environment and information technology, and how they both facilitate the propagation and the challenge of key messages.

A journey to Berlin, a Trip for a Lifetime

Aida Baghernejad,  Lead tutor – Berlin: City of Reinvention, explains that getting to know Berlin helps us understand how community and civic engagement can make a difference.

This year I’ll have the pleasure to lead a study tour to Berlin for the second time. Last year the students came from all different disciplines, but they each shared an eagerness to learn and to experience this city and its unique history.

Berlin is known by some as the capital of big-scale rave, but also as a city that allows creativity and individualism to thrive. A German proverb says “you are crazy, sweetheart, you must move to Berlin,“ and indeed, Berlin can be a haven for those who think differently.

On our course, we follow in the footsteps of Prussian kings, learn about the chilling history of the Olympic stadium in situ, talk about Berlin’s wild and creative years during the Roaring Twenties and hear about what Berliners endured in the post-war years. We met lawyers who gave historical walking tours with a twist, young creatives who took over an old warehouse and established a co-working place where you pay for your desk with your creative labour by contributing to a self-organised conference and a writer whose blog has become to definitive guide to Berlin. In short, this course introduces you to dynamic people who have taken their life and their destiny into their own hands. It’s all about personal agency and responsbility; about not only dreaming of a utopia, but actually just creating it yourself – that’s the Berlin way!

By the end of the week last year, as one of the participants observed, this group of students from different backgrounds had become a group of friends. By travelling together through the different time periods in Berlin’s history, learning about the legacies and the bright and open future of the city, we come to understand cultural difference as a precious resource to learn from each other and broaden our perspective. Berlin can teach us what it means to not only live somewhere, but also strive to make that place better. It is a living example of how community and civic engagement make a difference and provide a glimmer of hope even in the direst of times; of which Berlin has had many…

I am looking forward to welcoming the next cohort to Berlin and re-experiencing the city through their eyes. Berlin is constantly reinventing itself – and you might just do the same!

University Futures: Starting the journey early

Zoe Galvin – Academic Services Manager and Pre-University lead for King’s Summer Programmes – describes an exciting new skills based programme to inspire students towards their future at university and beyond.

In July 2018 King’s Summer Programmes will launch its University Futures programme; a one week conference designed for 14 and 15 year olds. In partnership with King’s’ Entrepreneurship Institute the programme is designed to build students’ skills in innovation and leadership through a combination of lectures, group work activities and personal reflection. This new venture will extend King’s existing summer programmes portfolio for high school students, which already includes the well-established Pre-University Summer School and Pre-University Taster programmes aimed at 16-18 year old’s.

Students, both international and domestic, are seriously thinking about university before the age of 161. With career choices often being informed by undergraduate level study and degrees, in turn, being informed by A Levels (or their international equivalents) it is no surprise that students start to consider their options long before they reach their final few years at school. The University Futures programme is a step towards supporting these younger students. During the week students will learn about the wide variety of degrees on offer from different faculties, and campus tours and daily interaction with current King’s students will offer a unique insight into undergraduate study and life at university. We hope that the programme will inspire students at the start of their journey and help them to understand what they need to do to achieve their goals for university and beyond.

The University Futures programme will focus on skills based learning rather than the subject specific study typical of our Pre University programme. This complements the growing emphasis within HEIs and the workplace on the importance of equipping students with transferable skills. In their future careers, the ability to collaborate and innovate across disciplines and sectors will be more important than ever and the rise of automation may “amplify the comparative advantage of those workers with problem-solving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), empathy and creativity skills.”2 These skills will be at the heart of this programme’s curriculum.

Students will be tasked with an entrepreneurial challenge at the start of the week and will work collaboratively with their peers from initial idea generation through to the final pitch of their team’s business idea. Along the way they will be challenged to think creatively, communicate effectively and present with confidence. The challenge will be rooted in the concept of social entrepreneurship, in line with the Entrepreneurship Institute’s mission to equip King’s’ students, staff and alumni with entrepreneurial skills that can help serve society. We hope that this unique learning experience will inspire these university students of the future to build the skills and experiences they need to solve the global challenges of today and tomorrow. We cannot wait to see what ideas they come up with!