The Importance of Conversations



I had the privilege recently of attending the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISOTL) conference in Hamilton, ON (hosted by McMaster University), and I came away once again reinvigorated by one thing in particular – conversations!

The sessions I attended at the conference were great, including sessions on topics ranging from decoding the disciplines and curriculum development to the importance of scholarship exploring academic leadership and embedding experiences for undergraduate research and inquiry in courses.  From tremendous, thought-provoking plenary sessions to individual papers during concurrent sessions, I had the pleasure of hearing about tremendous new research exploring teaching and learning innovation from Sweden, Hungary, the UK, Ireland, the US, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, Canada, and I just scratched the surface on the close to 300 concurrent sessions, workshops, and posters included in the program from over 14 countries.

My ISSOTL conference experience was preceded by two and a half days dedicated to an invite-only collaborative writing group retreat where teams of 7-8 people were invited to collaborate together on an article related to different topics of importance in teaching and learning in higher education, as well as an all-day symposium on undergraduate research and inquiry hosted by the Council for Undergraduate Research.

As rewarding as all of these experiences were, the common element to all of them was engaging in rewarding and reinvigorating conversations about teaching and learning.  This lesson, which is usually reinforced when I have the privilege of traveling to conferences in Canada or abroad, is something very important for us to remember here at the U of S.  For those of us exploring innovations in teaching and learning through scholarship, the importance of dissemination is key to what makes that work have impact.  One often forgotten element of that dissemination, particularly when struggling to play the traditional research game – ie. finding a journal to publish an article or a conference to present at, is conversations with peers in our departments, disciplines, and institution.  In addition, conversation (resulting in engaged dialogue and community-building about teaching and learning innovation) is an absolutely critical characteristic of successful teaching departments, as reinforced by the research of Gibbs, Knapper and Piccinin (2009) exploring the common characteristics teaching departments within research-intensive universities.

This experience left me wondering a few things as I have returned to the U of S:  Where am I engaging in those deep and meaningful conversations about innovation in teaching and learning at the U of S?  Am I regularly sharing my excitement and enthusiasm for teaching and learning with colleagues across the institution?  How am I helping to foster conversations in the work that I do for my department (the GMCTE) and the institution?  I have some thoughts about how I would answer these questions, do you?

Gibbs, G., Knapper, C. and Piccinin, S. (2009).  Departmental Leadership of Teaching in Research-Intensive Environments. York, UK; Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

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