on the supervision of the demo seminars of
the Communication Sciences Thematic Study Group

by Pierre Dunand Filliol

Research supervision : D. Peraya

Executive Summary

This report - written in July 1995 - is a preliminary attempt at explaining how the co-ordination of the HUMANITIES Project' demo seminars in Communication Sciences has been perceived as seen from Geneva Univerity, who acted as modderator for the HUMANITIES Demonstration distance Seminars.

  1. Following an introduction setting these seminars within the perspective of innovative practices introduced in Universities in the field of Human Sciences and Communication Sciences, a first chapter describes in some detail the process of the distance teleconferences that took place around video transmissions of courses given by :
    • Umberto Eco in Bologna (Italy);
    • Mr P. Marion in Louvain (Belgium) and
    • Mr Brucke and Bauer in Vienna (Austria).
    After retracing the history of the experiment (section 1.1), the report deals with the issues raised by setting goals for a largely improvised supervision and animation of these tele-seminars (section 1.2.1) and concludes with the proposition of the setting up of a formally acknowledged management.

    This chapter then describes the general schedule followed by the seminars (1.2.2) and evokes some of the activities that took place, as preparatory work, over Internet and the Web (1.2.3) among students, tutors, teachers and members of the Task Force of the Project.

    Section 1.3 describes in more detail the actual work that took place during the Seminars and summarises in a few recapitulative charts attendance and technologies used by the different sites/universities.

  2. Chapter two deals in a first section with the two audio conferences held by the tutors in Communication Sciences co-ordinated by Geneva University acting as supervisor.

    The following two sections, as they describe and summarise the main points that have been discussed during these conferences, show that much could have been done to help the tutors by providing them with a structured and moderated virtual electronic forum (sections 2.2.1 and 2.2.2).

    Section 2.3 further discusses of a possible complement to HUMANITIES' "hybrid" model by proposing answers to the difficulties encountered by the tutors in their virtual mobility and distance studies activities.

    The obstacles encountered may point to another dimension of the distance education model proposed. Why not complement virtual learning over expensive communication networks with vigorously sustained electronic mail debate structures, even if they look less glamorous than centralised shows of academic stars ?

  3. A third chapter exposes in an informal manner some evaluation points raised by the tutors of the sites/universities that took part in the demos, as a response to a request by the Geneva co-ordinator.

    Sub-sections 3.1.1 to 3.1.5 give an over-view of criticisms, suggestions and hopes expressed by the tutors along the following headings :

    • organisation;
    • technology;
    • learning & pedagogy;
    • culture and
    • future perspectives.

    Section 3.2 treats of two evaluative messages by the professors of Aarhus (Denmark) and Vienna (Austria). They emphasize prominent points like :

    • careful planning;
    • sustained collaborative debate and
    • the creation of a culture of responsibility to sustain new ways of communication and learning.

    As a conclusion, a quotation is made by summing up suggestions by a Leuven literature professor on some of the shortcomings of HUMANITIES (see the end of section 3.2) such as :

    • lack of explicit rules;
    • want of unambiguous didactic options and
    • default of liable chairmanship.

  4. Chapter four is a conclusion to this report and points - beyond sheduling problems that were mostly due to the very short time span within which these seminars had to be set up and delivered - to past and future pitfalls.

    Discussing pedagogy and didactic issues, it summarises essential points about the use and pertinence of the communication tools chosen as the projects seems to lean towards heavy broadcasting technology instead of using and improving on existing low-tech channels and making an adequate use of human competence already present on each site.

    Citing an alternative human resource management model, it reasserts the necessity of a debate on management issues and also emphasises on the need for more consensus making.

    Emphasis is also laid on the study and the observation of other virtual mobility schemes tried elsewhere as inspirational cues for the best use of the goodwill and the enthusiasm created by this initial effort of the HUMANITIES project.

  5. Finally, chapters five and six serve as documentary resource as they suggest some further reading reference and give, in extenso, the evaluation papers written by tutors and teachers after the seminars.

More detail
A complete viewable version of the document with a TOC hotlist is available here.

How to print the document
If you wish to read the complete report, it is downloadable in postscript format (1.3 Meg) from here.