As the so-called “quiet time” of the academic year draws to a close, and the chilly winds of autumn snap at inappropriately sandal-clad feet, thoughts turn to the upcoming semester.
A big gig for our unit in September is the Dublin City University Teaching & Learning (T&L) Day, an annual conference where up to 100 staff members converge to seek inspiration about effective teaching and assessment practice. Like similar events at many institutions this provides a valuable forum for staff to share their experiences and knowledge about teaching. So if you’ve been thinking about responding to a call but are still somewhat ‘undecided’, here are five reminders about the sometimes forgotten benefits of sharing that might spur you on to proceed:
1. The “This worked, it really worked” Effect
There is something incredibly refreshing (dare I say it heartwarming?) about paying forward good ideas, particularly if they solve problems that you know many of your colleagues also struggle with. Who has not lamented a disappointing lack of class discussion or frustrating attitudes to group work, for example? What works for you is often good for your colleagues and we’ve seen several examples of this at gatherings over the years. Sometimes these suggestions involve technology e.g. highly usable peer review tools or effective uses of audio feedback. But sometimes they don’t require any tech at all: simple but powerful ideas such as getting students to stand more closely in groups (rather than in circles) was one proven technique for supporting active class participation that went down a storm last year. Hearing a colleague from your institution talk about what worked for them is one of the most persuasive forms of professional learning there is.
2. The “It seemed like a good idea at the time” Lesson
Ah yes, the innovation that didn’t quite go according to plan. It takes real bravery to admit professionally that the inspired plan to enhance student engagement did not succeed as one might have hoped. True, you might have learned from the class, the assessments, and the subsequent student evaluations that something was amiss. But as well as reflecting on it yourself, have you ever experienced the cathartic effect that sharing the experience with colleagues can have? Instead of the misplaced tendency to think it was entirely your fault (an impression that student evaluations can all-too-easily promote), your colleagues could help to put it into perspective and give you constructive feedback that might encourage you to make adjustments, reconsider your audience, and perhaps try again. So when it feels right for you, share those stories of experimentation and even failure, please, we can all learn from them.
3. The “I’m really not doing so bad at all” Insights
Closely related to 2 is the idea that oftentimes we can be our own harshest critics. It is also possible, however, to experience a moment of quiet triumph when you realise you are actually more experienced/creative/technologically-adept than you had given yourself credit for. One way to achieve this is to share your work with colleagues and let them know what you are doing in the classroom and/or lecture hall. Quite often the feedback and questions you will hear after you’ve presented will highlight that not everyone is doing what you’re doing and your unique insights are of real value to fellow professionals.
4. The “I have to get this on paper” Opportunity
Have there ever been times when you’ve missed and regretted a promising opportunity because you have not yet written your ideas up? The blank page fills many of us with dread so any chance to describe your teaching approaches and position them within the literature could also prove very useful elsewhere. Getting an abstract or proposal in for an event at your local institution could be the vital first step towards initiating a collaborative research project, a publication opportunity or a response to a funding call. Carpe Diem, get started, and you are very unlikely to regret the time spent.
5. The “Who are all these people?!” Moment
Your local T&L event offers an opportunity to meet and get to know your teaching colleagues better. There seem to be relatively few chances to do this in higher education, which is one of the reasons why The Sipping Point was set up at DCU. Sometimes informal learning happens over coffee or lunch conversations on the day. It can also come about through follow-up emails and approaches by colleagues afterwards. Whatever way it occurs, the sense of community and solidarity that emerges from a common understanding of challenges (and indeed solutions) can foster connections that stretch well beyond the day itself. On that note, put your best foot forward and get your thinking from your head to the page at the next possible opportunity.
If this post has whetted your appetite to either share your practice or attend the event itself, make sure you sign up for DCU T&L day today: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/dcu-teaching-learning-day-2018-tickets-49086468950