I attended my first SEDA conference, and I loved every minute of it. The climate was so friendly, and everybody made me feel very welcome. The presentations were really professional and stimulating: I genuinely came back home with many ideas to reflect on.
We kicked off with a keynote by Keith Smyth (@smythkrs) on “Practice, Praxis, Place”. Keith highlighted the following points and questions:
- educational development (ED) is under scrutiny: we need to diversify and evidence how we conduct it.
- Where is the Scholarship of ED located in our institutions? How to make it explicit?
- It would be nice to see ED as activism in HE? A politically active ED community.
- How to evidence CPD? How to take a longitudinal approach to its evaluation?
- Good reference: John Cowan: on Becoming an Innovative University Teacher.
I then gave my own talk on Peer Instruction Unveiled (link to slides) talking about active learning and ways to measure its impact. I was pleased as the message seemed to go across loud and clear. I am a quant. guy, and metrics are not enjoying a good press these days due to the advent of TEF. Still, good metrics are possible and, even if not the panacea, they can help us getting insights in what our students learn, and how. This is what I tried to show in my presentation. It was important to see that ethical consideration also raised interest. Conducting in-depth empirical analysis on our student learning implies making sure that we do so ethically. It was suggested that I allow for facilitators to walk around the room during peer-instruction session to collect evidence on how students develop their discussions: a very interesting way to develop my research on active learning.
I was then off to Julie Hall’s (@julieh8) talk on “Using Marx to Discuss Educational Development”. This was very refreshing:
- Julie noted that the debate in ED feels quite “neutral” nowdays, hence not quite a debate at all. There is little evidence on critical views about ED. Some colleagues brought back memories of the ‘golden age’ when a debate was present.
- I remarked that I wish I could have at least these memories. As I moved to the UK after all this was already gone, I have no re-collection of knowledge of what the world could be. I only know one model of the world, and for that reason I find it even harder to imagine how things could be different. What was the climate in HE before marketization?
- Julie remarked that, according to Marx, the parameters necessary to qualify ED debate would be: the historical context of the institution and its evolution, the tension and imbalance of power between teachers and students, and the methodologies adopted to promote ED and scholarship.
- Julie went on claiming that there is tension between either an emancipatory or a domesticating role of ED. We live in the illusion of being a-political, which led us to tacitly support dominant ideologies.
Next for me was a talk by Amanda Platt on “Exploring the Impact of L&T Cultures in Engagement with SoTL”. Amanda talked about her investigation conducted on this topic. I think that the most important take-away from her talk is that academic leadership is pivotal in developing academic staff and establishing a SoTL culture.
And then was time for Jennie Winter, talking about her project of using an art gallery to engage HE students across different disciplines. I need to check her previous project on “Public Arts as Extra Curricular Learning (2013, University of Plymouth). It was interesting how Jennie reported that students do not feel welcome in art gallery spaces, whereas these can be promoted as excellent multidisciplinary spaces. I would love to experiment with these ideas. The use of visual arts and emotions generated by art work can be a great device to engage all students and go across cultures. (Internationalisation anybody?).
The second keynote of the conference was by Dilly Fung on “Strength-based Scholarship”.
- Dilly highlighted the importance of taking a holistic view of the 4 scholarship pillars established by Boyer (1990).
- I want to read Dilly’s work: Fung and Gordon (2015), HEA study on SoTL. She emphasizes that she prefer the word “education”, rather than “learning and teaching”. I definitely agree.
- Dilly went a bit philosophical (oh boy, I love it!) She told us about “bildung”: the feeling of ‘becoming’ and ‘self-formation’ that can emerge though authentic dialogue. A process that is simultaneously individual and collective.
- Open mindness and open-horizons are essential for Dilly. To promote good education we need to choose which kind of education we want to promote. We need to liberate the curriculum and liberate ourselves. Identify who has put boundaries around ourselves and our work. Some great ideas here, with just one objection: what are we allowed to do within our own institutional set-up?
- I need to check the “Connected Curriculum Framework” at UCL.
- Interestingly, Dilly does not like the idea of ‘facilitator’. She prefers the idea of teachers and communicants in a complicated conversation (Communicating Scholarship, Pinar (2012)).
- Dilly concludes that Strength-based Scholarship should be based on institutions promoting on the basis of ‘strength’, not on box ticking exercises.
Clare Kell and John Sweet presented on “Exploring Non-verbal Communication in Learning Interaction”. This was a bit far from my field of investigation, but it was an interesting session to reflect on the learning that can be visualized through behavioural vignettes. This is a useful tool for those who cannot film or record confidential session, yet want to make an account of the interaction of participants. I was interested in the concept of “teaching as choreography”, which is researched by a colleague at the University of Verona
Sally Brown, always accompanied by mighty Phil Race, facilitated a workshop on how to promote evidence-based research in learning and teaching: a core aspect of SoTL. This was good fun, and it gave me chance to reflect on how much I learnt about this topic: actually quite a fair deal! I felt rather chuffed myself, and I was pleased that I could pass something on to my colleagues, as well as listening to new ideas. Sally, needless to say, is a great facilitator and she cannot but be putting a smile on your face whenever you are around her. Sally and Phil are always a great source of inspiration for me. This is not just about what they say, but the way they do it, and the way they share resources with us. I hope I will be able to follow their examples all the way through my career.
For the final keynote, Gina Wisker presented on “Risk and Agency in SoTL”. The TEF came straight on the agenda, and some considerations with it:
- Personally, I think that we are missing out by leaving the students out of this debate. What do they think? Do they agree with what is going on?
- The University of Brighton (where Gina comes from) had a project whereby students defined what is teaching excellence for them. I would like to see more of this!
- It was remarked that there is a document produced collegially by the members of the Association of National Teaching Fellows, which is downloadable from Sally Brown’s website.
- Sally also remarked that the categories mentioned in the UKPSF are not aligned with the criteria set for the TEF: a paradox!
All in all my favourite point from Gina’s presentation was the fact that we need to create a sense of community and engage colleagues beyond jargon and methodological entrenchment. I would love to see more of this!
This concludes my account, but I have still a few notes about a really funny discussion had in the evening during our conference meal. (I met some really nice colleagues, as I mentioned). So TEF is coming, and everybody seems to hate it, which I still struggle to make sense of. What is happening? Well, we need to carry on debating on what can be good measures of teaching excellence. But measure for measure, and metric for metric, how about creating our own ‘Alternative REF’. We launched a #altTEF twitter hashtag, and I storified some of the tweets. Wanna join in an contribute?
Thank you SEDA colleagues: excellent conference, good presentations, good debates, good feedback to my talk, which I can put to good use. You will see back again!