Notes from a conference I

Also worried about whether the duck can cope with that harsh New England climate

We’re a bit more than half-way through ISA here in snowy/rainy Montreal and I’m concerned about a number of things.

Most mundanely, I’m worried that even as we’re getting people interested in writing some guest posts for us, the top post is about the movie I watched on the way over.

Almost as mundanely, I’m worried that I’m not built for such an extended period of rich dining.

But mostly, I’m worried about how I teach.

There have been lots of roundtables and discussions about teaching at the conference, touching on all aspects of our practice. It’s been a while since I’ve had so much time to reflect and debate these points, in the broad way that we have been.

Obviously, much of this has been couched in the language and frame of the US experience, with its particular concerns and touchstones. But abstracting from that isn’t so much of a problem as the nature of my work.

As regular readers (who are more numerous and engaged than I realise: props to you all) will know, I work in a distance-learning University, where I never interact directly or synchronously with my students.

Much of our discussions have been about building the relationship with the students in our class, to create a space in which to exchange and learn, however we might specifically go about that.

But I don’t have that. Instead, I have to imagine my students.

Imagine who they are, how and why they study, what they know and what they want to know. My colleagues and I take an educated guess and pitch our materials in that general direction.

And then some (long) time later we find out how those students did on assessments, get some feedback and tack for the next time around. Not that the next time will necessarily be the same types of students.

I’d not really thought about this until now, mainly because I know that the system works pretty well in practice: student performances are strong, feedback is positive, our institution’s reputation is sound – none of that would be the case if we weren’t getting it right most of the time.

But the general is not the particular: just because we got it right before, doesn’t mean I will get it right now.

My worry is perhaps the worry we all hold, whatever our situation – that there is a risk in teaching, for our students, for us, for the process.

That worry is also perhaps what keeps us motivated to be thoughtful about what we do. By turning our worries into action, we might forestall the failure, we might improve our chances of making a difference, we might help our students to be, well, just more than they were before.

So I’m owning my worry, because my worry is pushing me forward, not holding me back.

And it shouldn’t hold you back either.