Fostering exchange (and an invitation to come visit)

This guest post comes from Patrick Bijsmans, Maastricht University.

A few weeks ago, many of you visited the ISA conference in Montreal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend myself, but I was able to read up on some of the many interesting discussions on teaching and learning that you seemed to have had. Indeed, this blog and others (I also shamelessly promote our own) are my go-to places for learning about and engaging with such discussions, just like I always attend dedicated teaching and learning conference panels and days (for instance, during the annual UACES conference) and enjoy attending teaching staff professionalisation workshops here in Maastricht. In fact, I coordinated and organised quite a few of those before taking on my current role of associate dean for education in September of last year.

The value of these forms of exchanging experiences and ideas cannot be overestimated. In fact, I think that they should even be emphasised and pursued much more in a time in which teaching and learning seem to be gaining importance in academic careers in at least some places. For instance, in the Netherlands universities are now starting to implement a programme called Recognition & Rewards, which is all about valuing different academic careers (read more about how this is being implemented at Maastricht University here).

At the start of this year, I had my best exchange experience so far. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend two full weeks at the University of Leeds on an Erasmus+ mobility grant. Leeds has embarked on an ambitious programme that I wanted to know more about, called ‘Curriculum Redefined’. But I also used the opportunity to shadow my friend Simon Lightfoot, who’s in a similar position as I am, but has much more experience than I do.

Those two weeks have been among the best and most inspiring of my time in academia. I talked to many students and colleagues from a whole range of disciplines, attended super interesting events and workshops, and hosted two workshops on problem-based learning myself. I learned a lot and brought home many new ideas on issues such as assessment, decolonisation, and the hidden curriculum. But it also became clear again that the grass is not always greener on the other side; not only do we encounter similar challenges, but sometimes the solutions for these challenges back home are not that bad at all.

I also was reminded again that words matter and that a sense of belonging is important, for students and teaching staff. In fact, one of my key take-aways is the need to “find your own people”, as a participant in one of the workshops put it. I think that this blog is one way of doing so, just like attending teaching and learning events and workshops. Yet, when it comes to developing and reflecting upon your own experience nothing beats spending a little bit more time in another place.

I have already decided that I want to do more of this. I’m not quite sure yet how to finance it, but, ideally, I’d want to spend one week at another university each year. Perhaps connect these visits to conference attendance? Frame it in the form of a project? Something that I will still have to explore further.

But in my experience, it is equally rewarding to welcome colleagues here. Just the other month, Christopher Huggins visited us from the University of Suffolk to learn more about Maastricht University and problem-based learning. We had many interesting discussions and I’m looking forward to contributing to an online Suffolk event in July to continue those discussions.

In short, while I may not be stating anything new to the converted teaching and learning geeks who read this blog (‘my own people’), do feel free to view this post as an invitation for you to get in touch to see if we can arrange a visit to Maastricht!