In response to resource pressures and the demand for greater flexibility for diverse student cohorts, higher educational institutions have been broadening the delivery of teaching and learning into differing formats. The LSE is no exception here. In addition to its traditional courses and programmes, the School now offers a range of courses and programmes in different intensive and accelerated teaching and learning formats.
The LSE Summer School, which was established over 25 years ago, now offers 70 different three week courses in subjects ranging from advanced level econometrics to cyberlaw. This year the Summer School has over 6,000 students and its expansion looks set to continue. As of the current academic year, the LSE is also running eight part time executive master’s programmes including in finance, law and health economics, of varying duration. Meanwhile at the course level the Department of International Development has been experimenting with compressed weekend consultancy based courses on the evaluation of humanitarian interventions, and the School’s Teaching and Learning Centre runs LSE GROUPS, an intensive programme for undergraduates to engage in cross-disciplinary group research in weeks 9 and 10 of Summer Term. Across the higher education sector there has also been a huge expansion in online and blended course offerings delivered in a range of formats.
Alongside this growth in intensive and accelerated teaching formats in higher education settings there has been a growing body of educational research exploring student learning outcomes and effective teaching practice in such formats compared with traditional courses and programmes. The notion of intensive teaching has been differently defined and may encompass “a schedule that is organised into large blocks of time” and/or courses “being offered in less time than normal” which may involve fewer contact hours (see discussion in Davies, 2006). Several studies have suggested that students achieve either comparable or better learning outcomes on intensive courses compared with traditional learning formats (Wlodkowski et al, 2000; Kucsera and Zimmaro, 2010). Others have identified the importance of an interactive, structured, student-centred teaching approach as critical to engaging students in the learning process given the length and compression of individual sessions (Daniel, 2000). Another strand of literature has identified different levels of motivation as critical in determining student learning outcomes (Scott and Conrad, 1991, in Davies, 2006).
In preparation for this post, we did some informal research of our own among LSE academics currently teaching on some of the School’s intensive and compressed programmes and courses, and asked them about the challenges of teaching and learning in those formats compared with traditional classes. In terms of approaches to teaching at the LSE Summer School, Professor Robert Falkner of the Department of International Relations observed: “Teachers can’t expect the students do a lot of background reading and reflection between sessions. This means the teaching has to be structured to facilitate more interactive learning and reflection in the classroom.” Karin King, class teacher for the Summer School course on Human Resources and Employment Relations, noted: ‘In Management courses, we use case studies to help bring relevance and context to the literature and concepts being taught and draw linkages in the course material from one day to the next to help students construct a balanced understanding of the debates on any given topic.”
Dr Stuart Gordon is the teacher behind the Department of International Development’s Humanitarian Evaluation workshops. These are convened by LSE academics with support from external consultants and taught intensively over a weekend at the School. Students have the opportunity to learn together with junior staff from a number of development consultancies and NGOs which not only provide networking opportunities for students but also mean that the workshops are rooted in practical experience alongside academically rigorous approaches. Reflecting on the teaching and learning experience, Dr Gordon noted: “We usually start with a knowledge and comprehension based piece of pre–reading and lecture and then slide into problem based group sessions that focus on application and structured analysis and then try to bring the solutions back into a plenary session to enable synthesis and more individualised evaluation/reflection but with the benefit of hearing lots of alternative perspectives. There also seem to be more opportunities for diverse forms of learning that cater for different preferences – some love the group problem solving work, others are far more comfortable with reflecting on the process in a more distant way. Others prefer the reading or the lecture and reflect in slower time – or any other combination!” In terms of the challenges presented by this form of teaching, Dr Gordon highlighted that of maintaining an appropriate balance between skills and theory training or practitioner focused events and academic analysis.
Finally we spoke to Dr Steve Coulter who teaches on the European Institute’s new Executive MSc in European Political Economy. Our discussion here focused on the question of student motivation and learning. “The key challenges are the pre- and post-residency formative assignments, i.e. getting them to actually do them. Outside of the residence, it’s hard to motivate them, presumably they are pre-occupied with lives/jobs …Once they are in residence they are highly motivated and absorb knowledge like a sponge. They also bring ‘real life’ experience to the classes.”
Davies, Martin W. (2006), Intensive teaching formats: a review, Issues in Educational Research, vol. 16
Daniel, Eileen L. (2000), A review of time-shortened courses across disciplines (excerpt only), College Student Journal, vol. 34, pp. 292-308
Kucsera, John.V. and Zimmaro, Dawn M. (2010), Comparing the Effectiveness of Intensive and Traditional Courses, College Teaching, vol. 58, issue 2, pp. 62-68
With thanks to Dr Claire Gordon in LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre for contributing this post.