What do you want from your L&T event?

Teaching’s done for me now, so it’s heads up for the summer round of getting out of the office conferences.

Not the conference venue… I think

Somehow – probably as a function of signing up to everything I could during the busy spring of Brexit – I’ve got a pile of events to attend, so it’s a good moment to reflect on what the point of such things might be.

I write that not despondently, but hopefully, since my experience of L&T events has generally been much more positive than the usual round of academic conferences. They tend to be more focused – by definition – plus the vibe is more constructive.

A new one for me – and everyone, in fact, since it’s the first time out -will be the International Teaching and Learning Conference, running in Brighton next month (co-organised by Amanda, of this parish), a mash-up from the PSA and APSA.

It’s a good example of the competing visions of what L&T events can do.

Firstly, there’s pedagogic research: systematic efforts to understand the dynamics of student learning and instructor activity. It’s still more common in the US than the UK since the latter doesn’t have the same institutionalisation of such work in career promotion processes, but there’s still a good number of people working on this, aided by the high level of connection with European colleagues.

Secondly, there’s reflection on the practice of L&T in general terms. I’m going to be running a roundtable discussion at the conference on how Brexit challenges how and what we teach: like other such examples, it’s a chance to step back and think about the environment in which we work.

And thirdly, there’s sharing practice. Here’s where there’s a lot more diversity. EuroTLC, for example, is much more about hands-on demos of things we do (or could do) in the classroom, while other events are more about more conference-like papers on one’s case-study.

All of these things are valuable: theory and practice need to inform each other, while also keeping an eye on the shifting sands of our sector (and institutions).

But the balance is one that sits somewhat uneasily with many. For a long time, the cry from colleagues was “give me something I can actually use”, but when we organised events that did that, they then looked for the things behind it.

As ever, there’s never a solution that going to work for everyone on this: we’re all at different places professionally, plus we might not even been aware of our requirements in the round.

My own approach has been to look for what I need from several different places and formats, rather than just one. I’m fortunate that I get invited to contribute to quite a few things, but given the number of events out there, it’s not so hard to get a spread of stuff that could work for you.

And with that in mind, I’ll be posting back from Brighton on the conference, plus pestering Amanda to do the same.

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