Reflections on making an interinstitutional intensive course work

by network Coordinator Frederik Hasle, Cphbusiness

The Nordic Ideation network(NIN) represented a brand new way of carrying out an international collaboration for all network partners, and it proved to be an innovative way for students to acquire international competences.

Setting up such a collaboration is a unique challenge, and in this final post, I wish to share some key learnings based on the biggest challenges the network faced from the perspective of the network coordinator.

  1. Alignment of partners:

One of the biggest challenges and first ones to overcome is making sure the intensive course can actually be integrated into the curricula of every institution, and that it can be done so in an comparative manner, which ensures equal commitment of partners and students.

For example, the way the students are assessed (exam or otherwise) and the expected deliverables from the course influences the students participation, and the feeling of the students of being on equal grounds. Therefore, the network closely collaborated on defining not only the course, but also the assessment method of participating students.

The same is true for the amount of time dedicated to for each student to the course at each insitution. This can be tricky to match up, in the case of the NIN the IP was offered as an elective at one institution, while two others integrated it in other courses. For the students who had it as an elective, their entire time was assigned to the course for three weeks, but for other institutions, they had to find time for the course in a schedule that also included other courses over a longer period. It is very important to set expectation beforehand of the amount of time students can participate. The network struggled with this the first project year, until such an expectation setting was done, and a plan of the exact subject students should have in preparation was agreed on. Also, reserved timeslots were agreed on for student team work in advance during the pre-week before the camp.

Another aspect of aligning the partners is the actual involvement of teachers in the camps, where some different teaching styles had to negotiate how to help the students. Should it be more directing or should it be more coaching/process-oriented for example? The final form was one where the teachers swapped groups in order to expose them to different expertise and styles of teachers. It may not be possible to achieve a complete alignment, instead we decided to rotate teachers between groups to expose them to different expertise and guidance styles.

2. Facilitating the camp

The camp itself took place during the middle week out of the three weeks of the course, and it was the centerpiece of the network activities.

The most pressing challenge of the camp was time management and ensuring the student teams stayed on track. As the project developed we became better at instituting daily deliverables and to help students on track towards this goal. The camp was designed in a way that should allow for a progression in stages towards solving the cases posed by the commissioners. It became a crucial role of teachers to help the teams focus in on what they needed to produce to advance.

Here is an example of the plan from the 2nd camp in Copenhagen.

As it can be observed, clear expectations of what students would be doing were defined in timeslots. Unexpected problems will always occur, and therefore it is also important to have some “buffer” time, where students can catch up. Furthermore, the plan allowed for testing and revising the products. This was deemed critical in actually coming up with applicable solutions for the commissionaires, who were able to give feedback midway.

This leads us to the involvement of the commissionaires, who were providing the cases for the students. It proved very important to have a solid expectation setting with every case-holder, both in terms of their involvement during the camp and in terms of the solutions that students would provide for them. Since the course was an ideation camp, it was important to for commissionaires to understand that students were also encouraged to be innovative and come up with alternative strategies and solutions, which the company should be open to. It was also important to find some common themes for the case-holders, for example that they were interested in expanding their product, finding new customer groups etc. This was important, because students from other countries than the hosting one should be able to take advantage of the fact that they were from another country and give new perspectives on the product. If the product/service the case revolved around did not have some relatable features to students from different institutions, it would be very difficult for all students to contribute meaningfully.

3. Division of labour and sharing the workload

The intensive course rotated each year with a new partner taking on the role of hosts. The hosts had many responsibilities such as practical arrangements for accommodation, teaching facilities, meals and also with selecting and preparing commissionaries for each camp. It was very difficult to share these tasks, since it was natural for the hosts to make these preparations in their home country. We attempted to ease the work pressure on the hosts by having teachers from the other countries take care of more of the facilitation of the camp week, but this did not take the preparation duties off the hosts. Over the three years, this evened out, but on a yearly basis it was difficult to balance the division of labour. This is somewhat to be anticipated, but it is important to share the amount of time spent and have an equal expectation of the preparatory work. Furthermore, each institution should have administrative staff involved, who can help with practical arrangements and managing the budget.

There were many other smaller learning points as well, and it is impossible to list them all. Please feel free to contact the network if you are interested in tips about how to arrange an interinstitutional intensive course. We would be happy to share our experiences.

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