In Fiesole and beyond: facilitating academic mobility in Europe

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by Nicky Owtram, Head of the Language Centre, EUI

The FIESOLE Group came into being hand in hand with the opening of the Max Weber Programme in September 2006. A group of applied linguists, educationalists and language professionals from various higher education institutions in Europe met to brainstorm ideas about how to give concrete support to the first cohort of Max Weber Fellows. An initial list of suggestions for workshops designed to address the academic communication needs of these highly mobile young scholars was immediately accepted by Ramon and off we went!

Since then, the focus of the Group’s activities has widened to include a concern with developing and disseminating best practices in the field of academic communication, with particular reference to the needs of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers and junior faculty in today’s multilingual Europe. The group collaborates through face-to-face interaction, teaching exchanges and (in the pipeline) a virtual platform in order to share teaching and learning practices which have proved successful in the members’ home institutions, which include – in addition to the EUI Language Centre’s English Unit – the London School of Economics and the Institute of Education (University of London), Humboldt University (Berlin), Collège d’Europe (Bruges), Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona), Central European University (Budapest) and the University of Siena). Through its activities, the group is dedicated to developing teaching materials, methodologies, and curricular guidelines particularly suited to multilingual settings in which English functions as an academic lingua franca. Specific areas of expertise include teaching and learning in university classrooms (with particular attention to issues of cultural diversity), academic literacy, writing for publication, para-academic communication.

Over the last five years, the Group has contributed to the Programme both in-house and beyond. One of the strands running through it is, for example, the consolidation of fellows’ oral academic communication skills. This work begins in September with observation and feedback on the fellows’ initial presentations by the in-house members of the Group, moving on to a workshop on teaching small and large groups held in Fiesole by a member of the LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre. Following this, in January, fellows carry out a short micro-teaching exercise on which feedback is given by our colleague from the Collège d’Europe. This strand culminates in the Teaching Practice weeks, in which fellows can practise their teaching in situ in London, Barcelona or Berlin. Here, fellows receive more input/feedback on their teaching with students in the host institutions.

Members of the Group stay in touch through an annual meeting, usually in September, before activities kick off. Additionally, one member of the in-house team tries to get to the TP weeks each year (last year we observed the work at the Humboldt and this year we should manage to see all three institutions) in order to better co-ordinate the activities carried out. Occasionally, time and budgets permitting, we also meet up amongst ourselves to discuss areas of common interest: this February, for instance, we met at the CEU, Budapest, to discuss issues related to teaching academic writing and supporting writing for publication.