Reflections on the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning»
Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer, Paula Guimaraes and Balázs Németh
This volume places the development of the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning» (COMPALL) in the context of international development in higher education and adult education. Based on this framework, the authors discuss the development of the joint module in terms of its institutional and didactical structure as well as participants’ motivation and diversity. The book is divided into three parts: (1) Internationalisation in Higher Education, (2) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Case of Adult Education, and (3) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Example of COMPALL.
Benefits and potential of an international intensive programme: Insights from an evaluation of the Joint Module COMPALL (Susanne Lattke / Regina Egetenmeyer)
Abstract: This paper presents some findings from an evaluation that has accompanied the implementation of an annual winter school as part of the Joint Module ‘Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning’ (Joint Module COMPALL). The focus is on the benefits and outcomes of this module as perceived by the participants. Drawing on these findings, some reflections on the particular format of an international short-term programme such as the COMPALL Winter School will be proposed.
The Joint Module COMPALL, which is the key focus of this paper, is part of the ERASMUS+ strategic partnership COMPALL, which aims to address the need for more highly qualified researchers and practitioners in adult learning, who are able and motivated to work in international environments and engage with international issues. The Joint Module COMPALL is designed to contribute towards this aim. Following a short presentation of the Joint Module COMPALL framework, this paper presents, in the first part, some selected results from the external evaluation of the module. In the second part, some general reflections on the potential of this particular didactical format in the context of adult education studies are proposed.
The evaluation of the Joint Module COMPALL
The evaluation context
The Joint Module COMPALL includes an on-campus international intensive programme that targets master’s and doctoral students in the field of adult education and lifelong learning (Egetenmeyer, 2016; Egetenmeyer, Schmidt-Lauff, & Boffo, 2017; Németh, 2017; Egetenmeyer, forthcoming; Schmidt-Lauff,←183 | 184→ Semrau, & Egetenmeyer, forthcoming). During the preparatory phase of the Joint Module COMPALL, participants are required to do some preparatory reading. Additionally, all participants write an essay on a selected aspect of adult education and lifelong learning in their home country as a contribution to one of the comparative groups that are organised later during the on-campus phase. During the preparation phase, students are further supported through online tutorials offered by the COMPALL partner consortium3 and through special preparatory courses at their home universities. In February, participants meet in Würzburg for the Winter School, which lasts for 10 workdays. The intensive phase is structured in two parts: During part 1, ‘Lifelong Learning Strategies in Europe’, students are offered various classes and activities. They are introduced to basic concepts of lifelong learning strategies and policies in Europe and to a model of policy analysis. In addition, they learn about adult education structures in Germany and have the opportunity to do various field visits, attend guest lectures, and engage in discussions with German and European stakeholders in adult education.
Part 2 is dedicated to comparative group work. After having received an introduction to methodological issues for this group work, students work in groups on a pre-selected topic on which they have previously written a transnational essay during the preparatory phase. The group work results are presented on the final days of the Winter School. Doctoral students also have the possibility to contribute to an edited volume, published after the Winter School based on some of its outcomes. The Winter School programme is supplemented by a range of social activities (guided visits, social evening, intercultural role plays). An additional offer includes two LinkedIn networks (one closed, one open), set up by the organisers to support the professional networking of participants among themselves and with a broader specialist audience in the field of adult education.
First pilots of the Winter School were run in 2014 and 2015. Since 2016, in the frame of the COMPALL project, the winter school has been further developed as part of a joint study module on comparative studies in adult education and lifelong learning within a strategic partnership of seven European universities. All Winter School participants are enrolled as master’s or doctoral students at one of the COMPALL partner universities. Due to the enrolment of exchange students at the partner universities, however, participants’ countries of origin vary more←184 | 185→ widely, including additional countries from Europe as well as countries from Asia and Africa. Also since 2016, the winter school has been supported through an ongoing external evaluation with both formative and summative purposes. Regarding the formative aspect, the evaluation is interested in how participants assess the quality and usefulness of (different parts of) the Winter School, which elements they like best, and what changes they suggest. Regarding the summative aspect, the evaluation is interested in assessing the impact of the Winter School with regard to the project aims, in particular regarding the school’s impact on developing participants’ motivation and competencies for international work.
The evaluation design relies exclusively on participants’ own perceptions and, in terms of methodology, on their feedback, which is gathered through questionnaire surveys as well as individual participant interviews.
Sample and data base
The quantitative data presented in this paper relate to a paper questionnaire given to all Winter School participants in the years 2016 and 2017 on the final day of the event. The total number of questionnaires received was n=166, corresponding to a response rate of 90 per cent (2016) and 100 per cent (2017). Roughly two-thirds of participants in each year came from European countries, one-third from countries outside Europe4. Similarly, about two-thirds of participants were studying at the master’s level; one-third were PhD students (Table 1). Respondents came from 17 (2016) and 14 (2017) different countries, of which 9 were European countries in both years.
Table 1: Characteristics of the sample
*includes EU and mon-EU countries, including Russia and Turkey
Source: Lattke’s own, based on COMPALL external evaluation data
Data from both years were analysed separately, but since the response patterns are very alike with regard to the questions of interest here, in the following only the total numbers for 2016 and 2017 together are reported.
The evaluation findings
In the questionnaire, participants were asked to rate on a 5-point scale how they perceived the Winter School’s impact on their own interests and motivations on the one hand (Table 2) and on the development of a number of skills on the other hand (Table 3).
Looking at the results, it is striking at first sight that all single items score rather high, with almost all of them scoring above 4.0 or only slightly below. The first thing to conclude, therefore, is that participants obviously gained a very positive overall impression from the Winter School (which is also confirmed by equally high satisfaction ratings in the questionnaire) and that they attribute a rather high and multifaceted impact to the Winter School. This impression is further corroborated by the open comments given in the questionnaire as well as by statements from the interviews.
It also seems that this perception is quite uniform across different groups of students. As a general trend, students from countries outside Europe tended to give higher (more positive) ratings than their counterparts from Europe – a finding that was consistent throughout the questionnaire and may possibly be attributed at least partly to cultural reasons and different mentalities. In any case, these differences were of a limited extent, and even considering the ‘European’ scores only, the lowest value to be found across the items reported in Tables 2 and 3 would still be as high as 3.73 (item ‘The winter school improved my methodological skills for comparative research work’). Doctoral students furthermore tended to give slightly higher ratings than master’s students, but again, these differences were usually not very prominent and, in addition, this finding may also be due to the←186 | 187→ fact that in the PhD group the proportion of non-European students was higher than in the master’s group.
Table 2: Impact of Winter School on participants’ interest and motivation
* n includes only master’s students
** n includes only PhD students
Source: Lattke’s own, based on COMPALL external evaluation data
Table 3: Impact of Winter School on participants’ competence development, as estimated by the participants themselves
This participant feedback indicates above all that the Winter School was highly valuable in the eyes of participants. As regards student satisfaction and motivation, the Winter School’s impact can be seen very clearly directly from the feedback. Regarding its impact on students’ actual competence development, the limitations of an evaluation based only on students’ feedback are equally obvious. Certainly, the reported figures alone cannot claim to provide ‘hard’ evidence of an actual increase in respondents’ competence. To collect such evidence, more sophisticated research designs involving pre-post competence tests would be required but are beyond the scope of the COMPALL project. Nevertheless, the students’ perceived impact on their own competence development does provide a basis for proposing some exploratory reflections on the potential of an educational format such as the Winter School in the context of a degree programme in adult education. This is elaborated in the remaining part of this paper.
Reflections on the Winter School format
The Winter School of the Joint Module COMPALL can be considered an example of the specific educational format, meaning an (in this case: international) intensive programme for higher education students that is characterised by a particular temporal and didactical structure.
Based on the insights from the evaluation, I suggest that a) this format is particularly well-suited to respond to the complex claims and demands being made upon higher education in the context of contemporary policy reforms; and b) that in order to fully exploit the potential of such a format, it is necessary to widen its scope, as it needs to be systematically linked to other offers or services in the context of a degree programme.
The Winter School as an engine of internationalisation
A core feature of the Winter School is its international focus, which not only refers to the composition of the target group but also to its central topic (comparative studies). In the field of (adult) education studies, this international focus can still be considered an innovation in both senses. Compared with other disciplines, (adult) education studies still show a lesser degree of internationalisation (cf. Nuissl, Lattke & Pätzold, 2010 p. 10; Lattke & Jütte, 2014, p. 9; Egetenmeyer, 2016, p. 156), thus trailing behind a trend that is being powerfully promoted through European policy agendas, first and foremost the Bologna Process, and through general globalisation.←188 | 189→
There are good reasons for this delay, because the field of education in general and adult education in particular are very much rooted in national traditions and linked to regulatory frameworks at the national level. Nevertheless, current trends of internationalisation have an increasing impact on the education sector as well, offering new opportunities for adult education professionals – both practitioners and scholars – but also placing new demands on them. Thus, adult education professionals today may have to deal with multinational student groups, become involved in international networks, go to work or look for employment in other countries, keep up to date with international policy developments, and understand their implications for their own work – to name just some of the challenges.
Against this background, the Winter School seems to be able to make a significant contribution to enhancing the international dimension in the field of adult education. For half of the participants, the Winter School represented their first academic mobility experience ever. Other participants had attended conferences abroad before but never before had such an intensive international experience as the Winter School provides. This added value of the Winter School also emerges very strongly from the open answers in the questionnaire, in which the encounters and intensive interactions with fellow students and lecturers from a broad range of countries were very much stressed as a particular highlight. And to quote from the interviews, one participant put the difference between Winter School and ‘normal’ conferences in this way:
I participated in some conferences abroad in recent years, but this was the first like really not only a conference that you are sitting and listening and somebody is presenting, but you are actually producing something. And also various and really different people that you meet here, that’s something that’s really really good for the winter school. (PhD student, external evaluation of the 2017 Winter School)
The Winter School itself is an outstanding opportunity for student mobility – one of the main concerns of the Bologna Process – but its impact in this regard does not stop there. As seen above (Table 2), increased participants’ motivation to undertake even more mobility activities in the future was among the highest-rated perceived effects of the Winter School. Several participants were also attending the Winter School for a second time – or expressed their intention do to so in the next year(s). Some of the interviewed participants even stated that they were considering going abroad for work after their studies and that they had been able to make relevant contacts through the Winter School which might be useful for them in this regard.
It is also interesting to note that the learning outcomes most frequently stated in the questionnaire’s open comments included increased self-confidence in as←189 | 190→serting oneself in an international and multicultural environment and increased intercultural competencies, including in particular a more open mind set and tolerance.
Considering all these indicators, it can be concluded that the Winter School promotes internationalisation in adult education not only – and maybe not even primarily – through its academic outcomes (competence for international comparative studies) but to a considerable extent also through its impact on motivational and attitudinal aspects, as well as through its support for building relevant social networks in the form of international contacts.
The Winter School as a multifunctional microcosm of higher education
The Winter School format, with its intensive, two-week on-campus phase, differs significantly from the standard teaching provision at universities, where most teaching formats are either intensive over a few days (e.g. weekend block seminars) or with lessons distributed in smaller portions over a longer period of time (e.g. two hours per week over a semester).
Due to this prolonged as well as intensive schedule, the Winter School format presents a very suitable opportunity to combine a broad range of different types of teaching-learning activities within one complex overall learning experience. Teacher-centred activities (e.g. lectures) are combined with a variety of more learner-centred activities (e.g. group work); knowledge-centred activities (inputs) are combined with practical application exercises (e.g. comparative analysis) and forms of social learning (e.g. role plays). Field trips, furthermore, provide an opportunity to make connections between the ‘real world’ and theory and to apply analytical and reflective skills in making this connection. Besides those explicit and planned learning activities, the Winter School format provides many opportunities for informal learning (e.g. intercultural encounters during breaks and free time). These informal learning opportunities are not completely incidental – they were deliberately included by the organisers in the Winter School concept. However, they differ from the other explicit learning activities, as the Winter School only provides the broader setting for the learning to take place but does not intervene to shape and structure the learning processes in more detail.
In that sense, a short-term intensive programme like the Winter School can be somehow considered a microcosm of higher education, combining in a compact way all kinds of didactical approaches commonly applied in this sector.←190 | 191→
This character of a microcosm, which can be found on the input side (didactical arrangements), is also mirrored on the outcome side (students’ competence development). According to the evaluation, participants attribute to the Winter School a high and at the same time multifaceted impact on their competence development. This becomes visible when the evaluation items are placed in a matrix along two axes representing different facets (cognitive, social-communicative, motivational) and scopes (specific vs. generic) of competence (Figure 1). The Winter School thus seems to have a good impact on both cognitive and social-communicative skills, on both subject-specific and generic skills, and, added to that, on motivational aspects as well.
Figure 1: Competence facets addressed by the Winter School
Note: Several evaluation items do not belong to one single category of competence aspects but represent a mixture of cognitive/social-communitive and subject-specific/generic elements respectively; e.g. ‘English language’ includes cognitive understanding as well as communication skills, everyday language as well as subject-specific terminology. The relevant axes of the matrix should therefore be understood to represent a continuum rather than distinct categories.
The Winter School thus not only presents itself as a multifunctional didactical format but also seems to fulfil in an almost ideal-typical way the demands placed on higher education as a whole. According to these demands, higher education is supposed to develop not only students’ subject-specific expertise but also their generic and personal skills to enable them to deal with varied and complex challenges in the labour market and in society (Brinker, 2015, p. 10). The Bologna Process in particular has contributed to establishing these high expectations of higher education as a guiding objective (cf. European Ministers Responsible for Higher Education, 2007, para 1.4).
In fulfilling this multifunctional purpose, the Winter School follows an ‘integrative’ – as opposed to an ‘additive’ – didactical approach that aims to promote generic skills (or ‘key competences’) in parallel with subject-specific skills through the same learning activities at a time. This approach is considered to be especially apt for ensuring the practical relevance of the competences gained (In der Smitten & Jaeger, 2010, p. 7), thus also contributing to students’ employability.
In the previous sections, I have argued that the Winter School, thanks to its special characteristics as an international intensive format, is particularly suited to successfully address all kinds of demands placed on higher education in general. But obviously, the Winter School as a single event has its limitations. One Winter School lasts for a certain time (e.g. two weeks), and this time frame alone confines its potential regarding both comprehensive and sustainable competence development. Its intensive character, which allows for a particularly complex and multifaceted learning experience, can be seen as a clear strength, but it is obvious that this intensity cannot be extended over the whole course of a study programme. A short-term intensive programme such as the Winter School therefore needs to be seen as a building block that can make a significant contribution to the aims of a given (degree) programme of study in adult education, but which also needs to be linked in a meaningful way to other parts of this programme. Otherwise, there might be a danger of the Winter School remaining an isolated addendum, which will provide an individually inspiring experience to the participants each time, but whose impact in terms of sustained competence development is likely to remain limited.
The Joint Module COMPALL has addressed this issue in various ways in order to realise a systematic integration of the Winter School with local curricula in adult education studies. Central elements of this integration are:←192 | 193→
– the integration of the Winter School in a comprehensive joint module, giving participants the possibility to earn ECTS credits for their master’s studies;
– the inclusion of an extended preparatory phase prior to the Winter School, with mandatory assignments for students and related support services;
– provision of follow-up activities, which help to maintain the Winter School’s momentum and allow participants to study in-depth the subjects discussed during the Winter School (one example is the involvement of Winter School participants as co-authors in the COMPALL follow-up publication);
– in individual cases: support of students’ long-term engagement through repeated active involvement in winter schools in increasingly responsible roles, such as co-teachers, co-moderators, or co-organisers.
It is certainly possible to think of further options for extending and deepening the impact of a short-term intensive programme such as the Winter School (e.g. links with internships or research projects). And in a longer-term perspective, it might be a worthwhile task to perform career-tracking studies to explore how such integrated approaches have impacted on the professional pathways of former graduates.
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1 Author of this paper and external evaluator of the winter school
2 COMPALL project coodinator; COMPALL partner universities: University of Aarhus, Denmark: Prof Soeren Ehlers; Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy: Prof Vanna Boffo; Helmut Schmidt University, Germany: Prof Sabine Schmidt-Lauff; Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal: Prof Paula Guimarães; Universitá di Padova, Italy: Prof Monica Fedeli; Pécsi Tudományegyetem, Hungary: Prof Balázs Németh; Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg, Germany (Coordination): Prof Regina Egetenmeyer.
3 The online tutorials are provided to all interested students as open educational resources over the webpage https://www.hw.uni-wuerzburg.de/compall/startseite/
4 Here and elsewhere in this paper, ‘country’ refers to participants’ countries of origin, not the place of the university at which the participants were enrolled at the time of their participation in the Winter School.