Professor Howard’s Summer School Journey

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I’m a passionate advocate of summer school and, I confess, an old hand. As an undergraduate, I enrolled with great excitement in my first summer class 35 years ago. As a postgraduate 10 years later, I taught my first summer course. Now I teach Theatrical London at King’s College London every summer.

So over three and half decades, as both student and professor, what key advantages and disadvantages have I observed? Why, in my view, have the benefits always outweighed any potential shortcomings?

First and most obvious, summertime is typically warmer, sunnier, and drier, enabling more excursions, field trips, and seminars outdoors. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, I really appreciated learning in the open air, sitting on the grass, and swapping ideas. It helped open up conversations and seemed to open minds.

Second, because of this more relaxed informal atmosphere, I got to know my classmates better, as well as my tutors. I’ll never forget my Intercultural Communication module, when the distinguished Professor Michael Prosser arrived in khaki shorts and knee-high socks! Always friendly and self-effacing, “Mr. Prosser” literally modeled the preeminence of great ideas over high fashion, effective discussions over coat-and-tie formality.

Third, as opposed to a regular student workload of three or four modules over a three- or four-month semester, a three-week summer school course allows concentrated study of a single subject. In our internet age of shortened attention spans, this intense focus is refreshing and demanding, stretching our capacities to ascertain and assess subtle complexities of subject matter.

On the other hand, if the subject is not well crafted, tedium can set in, risking burn out. As an inexperienced young instructor in the early 1990s, I convened a summer course on the arts and literature of HIV/AIDS. Utterly worthwhile, this topic was nonetheless deeply depressing before the advent of antiretroviral therapies, since for most, diagnosis meant sure death. Indeed, despite the heroism of a select few doctors, epidemiologists, writers, artists, and activists, the death tolls over this period were staggering—and potentially intellectually paralyzing.

However, fourth, this kind of deep engagement, I’ve learned, works especially well with inherently diversified topics. For instance, British playwriting and London stage productions address such a broad range of themes as to perpetually rejuvenate readers and challenge audiences. This means that in addition to the traditional concerns with dramatic form, poetic language, stage performance, and the like, Theatrical London examines the varied, complex even puzzling topics of the critically-acclaimed plays we read and see, including gender, sexuality, ethnic conflict, nuclear warfare, and terrorism, to name just a few.

In sum, I’ve found that the unique combination of concentrated single-subject study in a sunny relaxed environment works wonders. Whereas the campus proper may be a bit calmer than usual (providing excellent quiet spaces for reading and research), the streets of London are never busier, always beckoning to bright students.

Immersive. Intensive. Informal. Ideal!

Keep it Real: Success in Project-Based Learning, Part II: Challenges and Solutions

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“We want our colleagues to embrace this new way of teaching, and we know that can’t happen if we place too much of a burden on them.”

There are several challenges, both pedagogic and motivational, in successfully implementing a PBL approach.  The team behind the Engineering: Creating Technologies that Help People module in the summer school have had to keep these are the forefront of our thinking when designing the module.

The main pedagogic challenges are timetabling PBL modules, allocating teaching resources and deciding on assessment methods.  Instructors unused to the approach often face a steep learning curve and, structurally, university departments may struggle to allocate sufficient staffing resources to the PBL stream, particularly in the early stages of adoption when the majority of instruction continues to be offered via the more-traditional large-scale lecture.  Proper planning – and the allocation of sufficient resources to planning – in advance of the launch of a new PBL stream is essential, as is continued monitoring of the impact of PBL on instructor workload once the stream has launched.  We want our colleagues to embrace this new way of teaching, and we know that can’t happen if we place too much of a burden on them.

The main motivational challenge is getting students who arrive at university having only received information-transfer based instruction to actively engage with this new approach to learning.  For example, a team from Dublin Institute of Technology examined the student experience of a PBL module offered as part of the 1st year of one of their undergraduate engineering courses.1  The module had two competitions, an intermediate competition at the midpoint and a second at the end; and the Dublin team found that students did not really commit to the PBL approach until the date of the first competition approached i.e. until the very last moment.

“When examining what reasons students give for feeling motivated by a project, one of the themes that comes up most often is “authenticity”.”

The Dublin PBL module was centred on creating a robot to take part in a Sumo wrestling contest (the second competition).  However, when examining what reasons students give for feeling motivated by a project, one of the themes that comes up most often is “authenticity” – having a real-world problem to solve.  The table below, taken from a Finnish study2 of two projects assigned to IT students, summarises the findings of three earlier studies that touched on motivational factors.  Taking out the aspects centred on the team-based project aspects common to all PBL, we have factors related to the “real world” – authenticity, and, related to this, the existence and participation of a client.

At the same time, the Finnish study found that there two project teams sometimes felt pressured by having to meet the expectations of the client and tackle a real-world problem [that they may see as intractable].  It is here where support from the instructor/advisor is key providing context, encouragement and helping the students focus on achievable goals and maintaining a good working relationship with the client.

“The role of the instructor/advisor is to support the student with encouragement and context”

So these are the factors we’ve had to think about in putting together our Engineering module.  And with these in mind we’ve designed a learning experience centred on bringing together students and clients to solve real-world problems.  Project-Based Learning is a powerful tool for helping deliver knowledgeable students who are active in pursuit of their own learning, but the choice of project is key to triggering engagement with an approach that the student will likely be entirely unfamiliar-with upon arrival; keeping it real delivers that engagement.  At the same time, we recognise that the authenticity of the scenario can also prove daunting.  So we’ve recruited a team of instructor/advisors ready to support the student with encouragement and context, giving them the confidence to make this leap from the classroom into the real world.

“We need to make sure that in keeping it real, we don’t also make it miserable.”

And there is one last thing we know we need to get right: we need to make sure that in keeping it real, we don’t also make it miserable.   I think Beau Lotto, neuroscientist and expert on perception said it best: “Uncertainty is what makes play fun. Right? It’s adaptable to change. Right? It opens possibility, and it’s cooperative. It’s actually how we do our social bonding, and it’s intrinsically motivated. What that means is that we play to play. Play is its own reward.

“Now if you look at these five ways of being, these are the exact same ways of being you need in order to be a good scientist. If you add rules to play, you have a game. That’s actually what an experiment is.” Beau Lotto, TED Talk “Science is for Everyone, Kids Included” 06/12

 References

  1. Duffy et al “Student Experiences of a Project-based Learning Module” 41st SEFI Conference 2013
  2. Hilvonen and Ovaska “Student Motivation in Project-Based Learning”, International Conference on Engaging Pedagogy, 2010

 

Keep it Real: Success in Project-Based Learning, Part I: What is PBL?

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Dr Jamie Barras, Informatics Teaching Fellow at King’s College London

“I’m a big believer in learning by doing”

I’m a big believer in learning by doing.  That’s why I’ve joined the team who are bringing Project-based learning (PBL) to the 2017 King’s Summer School with the module Engineering: Creating Technologies that Help People.  In PBL, students, generally working in small groups, are presented with a problem to solve or task to complete and allowed to work out for themselves the best way to go about doing that – including what knowledge they will need to acquire in order to succeed.  The instructor acts primarily as an advisor and support, stepping in to guide the student(s) only if they lose their way.

PBL has many attractions; it allows students to take ownership of their learning experience, encourages a broad-based approach to acquiring skills both technical and non-technical and fosters a co-operative outlook to making progress, attributes that are particularly relevant to engineering as a discipline.  The benefits are often contrasted with the characteristics of lecture-based learning, as in the table below, taken from a 1996 paper1.

table 1

Activities have a strong practical basis and are often “lab-based”, while teaching is primarily through the medium of the “round-table” tutorials organised and led by the students themselves with the help/presence of faculty advisors/mentors.  Projects proceed through a number of steps, the most-common expression of which is the so-called “Maastricht Seven Steps” of PBL2:

  1. Clarify and agree working definitions, unclear terms and concepts
  2. Define the problem and agree which phenomena require explanation
  3. Analyse the problems (brainstorm)
  4. Arrange explanations into a tentative solution
  5. Generate and prioritise learning objectives
  6. Research the objectives through private study
  7. Report back, synthesize explanations and apply new information to the original problems

Research on the impact that PBL has on student’s education is on-going, but completed studies point to students who follow a PBL-centred curriculum retain knowledge longer and gain a deeper understanding of a subject than those who learn only through information transfer; they also develop better problem-solving and collaborative skills.  We’re hoping that’s what the students who take our summer school module will discover too.

In my next blog post I’ll discuss some of the challenges with PBL – and the solutions we’ve come up with.

References

  1. Lutz and Schachterle “Projects in Undergraduate Engineering Education in America” European Journal of Engineering Education (1996) 21, 207 – 214.
  2. Taken from “An Introduction to Project-Based Learning”, Maggi Savenn-Boden, Coventry University Publications

Academic discovery and personal development: the Pre-University Summer School

Untitled design 2As we said farewell to the 255 high school students who joined us this summer for the Pre-University Summer School it struck us once again how dramatically the programme has grown since its inception in 2013.

Starting with 50 students in its first year the programme now looks and feels very different, but its core objective remains the same: to offer students a taste of university life in London at one of the world’s best universities, King’s. With a packed timetable of lectures, seminars, group activities and skills based workshops this two week programme allows students to experience the style and demands of undergraduate level study and to build their skills and confidence for the future. Many of them also opt to live in our halls of residence which provides a valuable cultural opportunity, as one student put it, “to understand how people from all around the world think and live”*. It is an intensive and highly rewarding experience and as we begin to plan for our 5th summer we have been reflecting on the successes of this year’s developments to inform our approach.

Diversifying our offer
Summer 2016 was when we launched a newly designed Pre University Summer School. It had a lower cost to participants than previous programmes that we had offered and had a larger range of academic course options that we’d been able to offer in the past. As a result, we were thrilled to receive 40% more students on to campus and into our learning community.

Medicine, Psychology, Law, Business Management, Politics opened King’s doors to a whole new set of students. The appetite for the health-related courses in particular was huge. Student feedback suggests that in the case of vocational subjects, where study involves a heavy investment of time and energy, the chance to ‘try out’ the subject and find out what it entails is an attractive proposition –“I came in being unsure about my future prospects, I left almost positive that I wanted to pursue psychology”.

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Developing the curriculum
We recognised that the students applying to our summer school had strong academic capabilities so we designed the 2016 programme accordingly to be as challenging and immersive as any of King’s rigorous undergraduate level programmes. An extended timetable included afternoon seminars in the daily schedule, allowing students to engage with academic literature and case studies which would feature in degree-level study. All courses also set their students two assignments, designed to mirror the undergraduate assessment patterns of the relevant subject. One class was even asked to submit their written assignment (to critically assess a referendum as a decision making tool for government) via the plagiarism software Turnitin.

Summer learning is a natural extension of King’s faculties’ teaching agenda and so summer students get access to the same active and experiential learning as year-round degree students, with hugely popular visits to laboratories, research facilities and training centres. On the Medicine course, for example, students spent a morning gaining valuable clinical skills experience at the Chantler Simulation and Interactive Learning Centre and this was cited as one of the best aspects of the course in the end of course evaluation. With 96% of students stating the programme helped them develop their academic skills and with a 10% increase to 91% of students agreeing that the overall programme met their expectations we will continue to challenge and extend our students through a dynamic and rigorous academic offer.

Enhancing our pastoral care
At its heart the Pre-University Summer School is also designed to offer an insight into university life: independent living, being a responsible adult and building positive relationships with a new and diverse group of people. As such, and with a 54% increase in the number of residential students this summer, we implemented a change within our pastoral staffing to better support students outside of the classroom. Every year King’s employs current King’s students as student ambassadors to supervise the Pre-University students due to their age (mostly under 18). However, this year we refined the staffing structure and placed a greater emphasis on the role of specialist pastoral ambassadors, who were assigned a discrete group of students within the accommodation for the duration of the programme. These ambassadors were instrumental in enhancing the feeling of a safe and secure environment and we therefore scheduled more time on arrival day for introductions, icebreakers and briefings about the programme which were all conducted within these pastoral groups. This allowed students to get to know their assigned ambassador, and vice versa, but also fostered a sense of community within these small groups. One of our returning students noticed these subtle developments, commenting that it “was amazing to see that by the end of the programme the flats were more like small families”.

 

Scholarships for refugees at King’s College London

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This summer King’s College London welcomed six individuals, all with refugee status, to study for three weeks on the Undergraduate Summer School.

Students and staff involved in this partnership with UNHCR were interviewed about their experience, giving readers an insight into how these scholarships aimed to improve the lives of those currently in the UK as refugees.

To read the full article by Omar Karmi, please see the UNHCR website here.

‘Teaching Joyce to an international classroom’

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Helen Saunders is a PHD candidate at King’s College London, writing on modernist literature and fashion, who is also a freelance media analyst. Helen co-taught the Literature in the City module with George Legg. The original blog can be found here.

I’ve just finished co-teaching a Summer School at King’s College London. My co-tutor and I split the course, so he took on some more theoretical stuff, along with Yeats and Woolf, while I taught Joyce for a week – a whole week! – as well as Elizabeth Bowen. I also took the final session of the course, in which we talked about Rebecca Solnit’s views on maps and I showed my students the evolution of the Tube map over time.

It was a spectacularly busy three weeks, with afternoon sessions each day running 2-6. It is really hard to teach for four hours a day, and to think of ways to keep students interested, so this was great teacher training. And while I wasn’t a teacher in the sense that I wasn’t in loco parentis (all my students were over 18) my admiration for my schoolteacher friends grew inestimably over the course.

Nonetheless I like to think I managed things well. I knew all their names within a day or two (!) and was touched at the end of the course when several said they’d enjoyed Joyce as one of the favourite writers. We’d done extracts from throughout Joyce’s career – ‘The Dead’, ‘A Little Cloud’, ‘Two Gallants’; ‘Wandering Rocks’ and ‘Lestrygonians’; and finished with some extracts from the Wake, including ALP’s beautiful closing lines (which we compared with ‘Penelope’, too). No Portrait, you’ll have spotted, because it didn’t quite accord with the theme of the course as clearly as the other texts did (I may change this next year, as part on my ongoing project to learn to love Portrait). With this exception, I think the immersion into an author like this, for five solid days, is a great experience. Teaching Joyce to an international classroom was great fun: when tackling the Wake, we established we had 19 languages between us all, and if that’s not a good thing for tackling it, I don’t know what is.

We also went on some terrific trips. I took my students to the British Library and the Museum of London, but my favourite external trip was to the now-closed tube station at Down Street, as part of our Elizabeth Bowen/Blitz lesson. We had a guide from TfL who showed us the amazing station, explaining how it had been converted during the war into the offices of the Railway Executive Committee. Many of the original features and fittings are still there, including signage and even baths and toilets!  Though I took some pictures, we were told not to share these on social media. It’s worth booking your own trip, but our guide warned us these cost about £70.

I say ‘external’ trip above because we also spent some time in the KCL archives. Our wonderful college archivists had prepared an assortment of bits, including Virginia Woolf’s Class List (you can just see her, Miss V. Stephen, in the German category) and John Keats’ enrolment register (he’s right at the bottom of the list)! I work a little bit on Woolf and I’d love to come back to these archives post-submission (hopefully in the next six months or so?) to work on these documents more. Her father, Leslie Stephen, also went to King’s for a bit (post-Eton, pre-Cambridge) and I wonder if there’s an article to be written, ‘The Stephens at King’s’ or such:

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Back in the classroom, I had a really marvellous view from my teaching room in the KCL History department:

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I might be teaching the course again next year. If so then I’ll make some changes to the syllabus such as adding more authors in, even if this means – yes – reducing the time spent on Joyce, and maybe getting the students to put together a mini Symposium one afternoon. Irrespective of future changes, it was a great three weeks to be involved in.

Museum of London: Digging deeper into London’s history

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Vyki Sparkes, Curator of Social and Working History, with some of this year’s students at Museum of London Docklands

Sarah Castle, Higher Education Programme Manager at the Museum of London, and Beatrice Behlen, Senior Curator for Fashion & Decorative Arts, reflect on a memorable collaboration between the museum and King’s Summer Programmes.

‘Curating the City: 1900 to now’ is a course of two complementary halves; a morning of academic teaching at King’s on the Strand, followed by an afternoon going behind-the-scenes, exploring galleries and handling objects with curators at the Museum of London. Armed with the theory and critical insight provided by the lead tutor at King’s, students immediately get to see this theory put into practice as curators discuss both the art and science involved in curating the city of London.

This course introduces undergraduate students from a wide range of disciplines to a subject area largely unfamiliar to them. This year, courses being studied at home institutions ranged from Medicine to Industrial Design and from Information Engineering to Medicine. Students who wouldn’t usually learn together were united in their desire to find out more about the workings of a social history museum and to dig deeper into London’s history. ‘In-class’ and ‘at-museum’ discussions and activities meant that students got to hear the perspectives and opinions of classmates from countries and cultures often very different from their own. This year, we welcomed students from India, China, the US, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and the UK.

We know from feedback that students love the hands-on aspects of the course and alternating lectures with activities at the museum; with comments such as ‘It is very different from anything I’ve ever done’ and ‘the curators were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful’ being common. But what do we at the museum like best about this collaboration? Above all, it is great to watch the students grow in confidence throughout the three weeks; confidence not only in asking questions, navigating the city, and understanding the collection and display decisions which museum professionals must make, but also confidence in thinking about objects. From the overriding desire in week 1 to simply identify what an object is, to a more reflective and interrogative approach to the material culture by week 3. As they develop skills of observing, touching and contextualising, so you see students’ faces light up as they begin to experience the very same passion for objects which is shared by all our curators.

Now in its 7th year, this Summer Programme continues to attract enthusiastic and industrious students who really appreciate and embrace the uniqueness of the teaching experience on offer. One of this year’s students commented: ‘If you love history and talking about historical artefacts, you’ll love this course’. We at the museum say: ‘If you love history and talking about historical artefacts, we’ll love having you on this course!’ Looking forward to welcoming next year’s cohort of London-curious students already…

 

 

 

 

Comings and Goings

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Dr Sarah Williamson, Director of Summer Programmes, talks about the start of King’s Summer Programmes in London.

We love the summer!  Normal work closes down.  People get out and about more and enjoy longer, slower days.  There seems to be more time and more energy for life outside of the everyday.  When I took this job, I did so knowing that my summers were about to change. Instead of heading away from London or catching a plane out of the UK on holiday, summer would become my busiest work time and I would spend it in London. But somehow I knew that working over the summer would not be like working at another time of the year.  Summer is magical.  Summer is special.  Summer can’t help but be full of possibilities! And so that has turned out to be true (lucky for me otherwise this would be a very different blog!).

London in the summer is an incredible place to be and two weeks ago, 364 Undergraduate Summer School students arrived on campus to experience it for themselves.  From Brexit debates on a boat trip down the Thames at sunset to Royal Parks with and without umbrellas.  Each day is different but all of them start with hard graft.  Some summer students kick start their London days in world-changing bio laboratories (drug discovery, cancer research, stem cells research, forensic science) and end them in west end shows and east end pubs.  Others spend their waking hours studying London history and handling artefacts at the Museum of London on the Curating the City course.  Then there are those working to understand human rights law – never more fundamental to our world than now with the profound migrant crisis in Europe brought about by displaced people from conflict zones like Syria.   You don’t get more cutting edge learning than in the Friday masterclasses taught by the United Nations Refugee Agency! And frankly, to my mind there’s no point studying in one of the world’s most global of metropolises without drawing on the full community resources available and at King’s that means learning from practitioners as well as our academics.  Practitioners in all senses, since next session some visiting students will have made quite an incredible journey to the classroom: ten will be recipients of summer scholarships, gifted by King’s Summer Programmes to refugees that the UN Refugee Agency is supporting.

Two weeks in, everyone has had a proper taste of the sheer size and diversity of the great city of London with all its hearts, minds and spirits operating at 100mph. Before they know it, it will be time to leave.  And who could have predicted that they will have been in town at just the moment that Britain gets a new Prime Minister and its second woman leader.  Times they are a changing and I know 364 visitors to the capital who saw it all happen first hand…

 

‘Google cannot find your slippers in the Temple’

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Dr Diana Bozhilova, Teaching Fellow Summer Programmes, brings her lively discussions on the theory and practice of International Relations to our London programmes and to India through her annual contribution to the King’s Summer School Programmes in Delhi and Mumbai.

The Summer School should be fun but also achieve interpersonal growth and fire up passion for higher education. Amidst young people’s busy lives, it should bring about such outcomes with speed and panache, most certainly, it should be a substantive variation on information available via Wiki, FB, Twitter, et cetera. So, what is it like to teach faced with such challenges?

I teach Politics and International Relations and my experience has shown that the humanities encourage creativity. I still want my students to read without worry they’d be called nerds if they do so also in the summer. A vital tool of Summer School teaching is the practice of the subject. My students partake in daily strategy games, such as Negotiations with DPRK; simulations, like the United Nations Security Council Reform Group; international trade games; smart city building exercises, and the rest.

My own expertise comes from constantly researching my subject. A great enabler of that is seeing my students as a focus group that literally take the pulse of the course through their comments and feedback. Because I teach international students in London and then also take Politics and IR ‘on the road’ to India, my students cover between them a substantive portion of the globe and bring together a myriad of views and expectations.

Making sense of the world is about acquiring a key skill – the ability to separate information from knowledge. As a lecturer, social media poses a tremendous challenge on how to inculcate this key skill in students, namely the separation of knowledge from information, whilst appreciating the great utility of the internet. Given the limitations of time, I see the summer programme as an opportunity not only to learn about IR but to practice it on a daily basis and thus walk away with not only the theory that one gains from a classical degree approach but also from application of it to real life events in IR.

International Relations (IR) particularly lends itself to a variety of teaching approaches. This is most relevant to how students engage with IR as a summer course, since the brevity of the programme calls for a unique method of engagement than a year long degree course otherwise would.

Lectures on IR are thus supplemented by real life simulations in the summer programme classes. One example of how this occurs in practice is presented through the very topical current discussion on the United Nations, given the forthcoming election of its next Secretary-General later this year. I contributed a recent blog on the various aspects of the process. But how does one then translate this passive information into active knowledge in the classroom?

An excellent way to engage with the lengthy calls for United Nations reform is to focus student attention on its key body, the Security Council. This then allows for the implementation of a simulation exercise modelled on the “Open Ended Group on Security Council Reform”, where students can study in depth and analyse the positions of competing powers as to whether to enlarge, level out for parity, or do away altogether with this key institution of UN decision making.

One of the most memorable sayings I heard taking my subject ‘on the road’ to India was: ‘Google cannot find your slippers in the Temple’ (which in Hindi translates into something like ‘Google Apni Chappal Mandir Se Nahi Dhoond sakta’.) With that, my students find that social media is a phenomenal way to exchange beacons, whilst the Summer School enables the connection of a great series of these to create a whole and gain a different understanding of the world altogether!