Café Success

Dörte Bernhard and Tove Mattsson from the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning organised a joint seminar in the form of a World Café for 60 students of teaching and 30 students taking the accelerated course for those newly arrived in Sweden. 


So how was it?
“It was great! We have previously held a World Café for students of special needs education, and we held one in the spring with exchange students. But they are so few compared with the students of teaching, and there is no course in special needs education in the autumn. This meeting, between experienced teachers from Syria and students of teaching who are familiar with the Swedish school system, was a great success. Among those taking the accelerated course are teachers who have 30 years’ experience, and some who have been head teachers. They emphasised for the students how important their work as teachers is.

Who came to the seminar?
“We had 60 students of teaching taking the course in special needs education, and 30 students taking the accelerated course for those newly arrived in Sweden, all from Syria. We used two rooms in the Key Building and the study places close by for group discussions.”

How was the seminar arranged?
“The World Café format is a well-established method for discussion and problem-solving used all over the world to get people to work together. The participants are given questions that they discuss in small groups. Then all of the participants change tables, except for the table coordinator, and the members of the new group tell each other what they discussed in the old group.
The topic of discussion was “a school for all”. It was easy to get the discussions going and everyone contributed. The students taking the accelerated course had received the questions before the café so that they could prepare. We were also helped by people who spoke Arabic, and the student society Elimu who had made coffee and snacks for sale.”

Why did you organise the café?
“It’s natural for us to work with course development. We’re trying to get the students of teaching to reflect around their future profession. They are going to meet pupils from other countries when they start teaching in a school. And this fits in very well with issues related to special needs education from a historical and international perspective.”

How did the students respond?
“Many said that they felt inspired after the café. The students were compelled to take more responsibility for the discussions, and it felt more authentic. We hope that this will lead to better contact between our students and the students taking the accelerated course.”

Did it work as you expected, or did something surprise you?
“We were surprised that it was such a success. The only thing that didn’t work out too well was that the translation of the questions into Arabic became corrupted when we transferred it to our Word document. It turned into another language than Arabic. We could see several cultural differences: the students taking the accelerated course were less used to group discussions. But we also saw many similarities. Syria, for example, has a nine-year compulsory school system, as Sweden does. The schools in Syria are separated into boys’ schools and girls’ schools. But when you look at the upper secondary schools in Sweden, you can see that they are also quite highly separated by sex, even though this is controlled by other norms.
And students from the accelerated course did not always agree with each other, so they started to discuss with each other.”

Are you planning to continue with these cafés?
“We will carry on next term. They are great fun, and they don’t have to be so complicated, even though it’s a good idea to have some form of structure. So arranging them as World Cafés is an extremely good way.”