Bridge21 with EUROSOLE

Earlier this year, some of our friends in college ran a very interesting student workshop. It involved students working together but it was quite different from anything we’ve done before in Bridge21. Aibhín describes what they did and how it all went…..

“A Self-Organized Learning Environment, or SOLE, can be set up anywhere there is a computer, Internet connection, and students who are ready to learn. In a SOLE, educators pose “Big Questions” to students. Big questions are the ones that don’t have an easy answer. They are often open and difficult; they may even be unanswerable. The aim of them is to encourage deep and long conversations, rather than finding easy answers. These questions encourage children to offer ideas, work together and think logically and critically. With the help of the Internet, students discover and create answers, solutions and new ways of thinking.

SOLEs encourage students to work as a community to answer vibrant questions using the Internet. The SOLE learning path is fuelled by big questions, self-discovery, sharing, and spontaneity. These parameters are needed to create a non-threatening environment in which children feel free to explore.

In late November 2015, the first Bridge21 SOLE was conducted with a group of 16 Transition Year students from a variety of schools. Our Big Question was “Is ageing a disease?” The entire experience lasted 3 hours.


One thing that makes a SOLE different from a normal day at Bridge21 is that the teams are not fixed. In our Bridge21 SOLE, teams were initially made up of students from the same school. However within the first 15 minutes the groups changed many times with small groups turning into large and then small again very quickly. Certain students moved when they saw a group getting too small. Others moved to be with friends they met in previous Bridge21 days.

For the first hour, students concentrated on research, and trying to figure out what to say. One group decided early on to make a video and collected footage. Other teams choose PowerPoint for their presentation as it was an approach they were all familiar with and as such it could be done fast and effectively.

During the second half of the session the level of focus varied; some students became more engaged, while others seemed to lose focus. There were fewer roles for those in big teams and but they did not attempt to develop the thought process further or join another smaller group to help. Once a basic stance was made students did not research further. Some jobs were left to one or two individuals to complete as they could not all do jobs like editing at one time. This led to periods of inactivity for many of the students.

Facilitators’ Reflections


I think the students were positively influenced by their prior experience of teamwork in Bridge21. This gave them the confidence to work with people that they did not know from school. They chose to work with people that they liked working with, as opposed to their friends.


All students engaged to some degree. Discussion happened without prompting in all groups although challenging of each other remained minimal outside of large group discussions. In most cases if someone disagreed they soon changed groups rather than fight their case. When roles like editing were occurring some students were left to do most of the work as it was impractical for whole groups to be involved. Some students lost interest at this point and there was more use of non-related YouTube, Facebook, etc. in the second half of the session. However, the work that was being produced in this period seemed more focused.


The students were thrown into the task from the very beginning without assistance in the creation of teams, collection of information and other important areas. They coped surprisingly well but seemed confused and hesitant regarding the correctness of their viewpoints. The idea of being correct and doing things a certain way seems to be ingrained in them, although their experience in bridge 21 seemed to have challenged this a little.

Through discussions with the students after the session it emerged that they would have appreciated some more structured planning at the beginning of the project. Issues around the literacy levels of the students had a negative impact on their experience of the research element, which could potentially be addressed through scaffolding. Related to this is the students’ levels of digital literacy which was reflected in the low levels of critical analysis of the sources of information that they used. If we were to conduct another SOLE, I would suggest increasing the level of structure, perhaps organising it as follows:

  • Start with a group discussion.
  • Then allow students to choose initial teams.
  • Team research.
  • Allow for another group discussion at the halfway point.
  • Team recreation for the preparation of presentations
  • Presentation
  • Group discussion.


Students showed patience, flexibility and fairly good teamwork skills. Some showed high levels of verbal communication skills which did not fully transfer into their projects. Others seemed to struggle with verbal presentation. Students’ research was mixed but many of them initially seemed to believe that surface level information was adequate and that counter checking source information was not needed. Throughout the discussion and reflection at the end, they recognised that this was not sufficient. Many groups seemed to find planning difficult and group leaders did not naturally emerge, leading to slightly disjointed plans and presentations.


Presentations were generally surface level. The discussion after the presentation was a much more valuable experience and seemed to spark many more thoughts and areas for further reflection in the students. Some students seemed dissatisfied by the fact that the day was over, as they would have been happy to explore the topic further after the discussion.

Final thoughts

From our own reflections, we believe that drawing on the Bridge21 activity model would be of benefit in some areas of creating and running SOLES. The structure provided by the warm-up divergent thinking, and planning phases in particular could have improved the session. Increasing the level of scaffolding and planning could also be beneficial.

In terms of what Bridge21 can draw from the SOLE, I think looking at other models of teamwork is interesting. We were all surprised at how well the fluidity in that area worked. Additionally, the increased focus on reflection and debriefing at the end, was very enriching for the students.”

We’d like to thank Aibhín and Sarah who supervised the session and, of course, the students from Moyle Park College, Colaiste Bride and Mercy Secondary School who took up the challenge of answering a “Big Question”.    

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