At the School Away Day today, Prof. Kathy Armour spoke of the challenge made at a recent meeting by a banking executive for the University to change in order to address the expectations of Generation Z with regard specifically to choice and involvement. This prompted the thought: How do businesses engage in training? Indeed, how do we as academics continue to focus our learning?
One answer is the short, intensive course or summer school. I receive dozens of emails each year advertising these at institutions across the world. If I want to develop my ability in a particular language, or acquire a professional skill such as document conservation, or learn how to write interactive webpages, these provide an attractive way of focussing on a particular topic for a specific period.
But why restrict these to professional development? What if undergraduate and taught postgraduate modules were offered in this way, as intensive courses running at different times within the academic year (perhaps more than once) for a focussed week or fortnight? The acquisition and development of skills sequentially, with immediate assessment and gaining of credits, would allow students to build their own programmes, with the opportunity to specialise or diversify within a single academic year. Within my own area of language teaching, immersion in a particular language towards the beginning of an academic year would enable students to apply these in subsequent courses to do with the interpretation and understanding of texts and their contexts.
Of course there are drawbacks to such an approach. How would class numbers be handled? How do we ensure progression, and a differentiation of levels? (A beginner’s language class is a beginner’s language class, at Levels C, H, I and M, yet different speeds of acquisition or learning outcomes might be expected.) How can students be supported to gain experience of long-term engagement, with a more organic development of knowledge and extensive engagement with secondary literature, as well as short-term focus? Many modules would need strict pre-requisites.
Yet the flexibility of such a scheme might also be a benefit. If students take multiple courses, not all need be for credit: they could choose, say, to count only their top eight marks in each academic year, which might encourage them to step outside their comfort zone and discover hidden abilities. As a researcher, too, I would welcome the opportunity to lead courses related to different skills or aspects of my research over a shorter, intensive period rather than commit to the model of weekly sessions over a ten-week term; members of my research team could also contribute courses or sessions on techniques or aspects of their expertise which could appeal beyond the immediate discipline. And, with the move to digital delivery, even these shorter courses could be followed at different speeds and times. But that would be another blog post…