Tag Archive | teaching-research nexus

SEDA Conference – Cardiff Nov 2015

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.

Storify of all tweets available here, and my own tweets only available here.

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!

Have you ever taken your students to an academic conference?

I did, and it was an exciting experience that made me see things in a new light. I recruited Chris, a 3rd Year student of mine here at UEA, as research assistant to support my work. We are crunching data and co-ordinating various activities for a HEA funded Teaching Development Grant on the use of Student Response Systems to elicit student confidence. Chris has been excellent support to the project activities. After so much hard work I thought it would be interesting for him to see where the results of our analysis would end. I asked Chris whether he wanted to come and help me presenting some preliminary results at the HEA Social Sciences Conference. Busy revising for his final exams, dribbling between books, review notes and exam sessions, Chris packed his bag and joined me on the way to Birmingham. The train journey from Norwich takes forever, but we did not stop talking for the whole duration of it: projects for the future, his experience at UEA, the future of Higher Education…this went on over dinner. Nevertheless, professionalism kicked in again just before sleep time as Chris asked me to review our PowerPoint slides together, to make sure that he knew what we wanted to say and how. (He did already know better than me!) A good night sleep and we were ready to join the crowd of delegates. I suggested that Chris could take a few hours off to take a wonder in the city centre, but he insisted to stay and attend all the sessions. (I was secretly pleased to have some company and somebody to discuss the presentations to be true). But that was not enough to him: as we were walking around conference sessions and venues, Chris started to talk to colleagues and engage with debates like a veteran! Not only was I proud, but also amazed by how much wisdom, knowledge, and information Chris was willing and able to share with fellow conference delegates. There is a lot of discussion in the HE literature about ‘creating partnerships’ with the students and on the ‘teaching-research nexus’, but this was truly a prime example of how to move from (sometimes -let’s admit it-) vacuous words to facts. Chris delivered his part of the talk captivating the audience and I think he truly enjoyed and made the most of his experience in Birmingham with me. My colleagues and I gained so many useful insights from his experience. Yes, indeed, because none better than him could give us a clear picture of what truly means being a HE student in current times. Have you ever taken your students to an academic conference? Try that!

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Chris delivering his presentation to the audience.

Chris and I in a cheeky selfie

Chris and I taking a Twitter selfie