Initiating Peer Conversations

It’s been a while since I wrote a conversational blog post – in a pre-pandemic world, more of our content on this site was first-person and took the tone of a friendly colleague. In the pandemic context, our blog quickly became a knowledge base to help you get the help you needed, when you needed it. The dropping temperatures in Saskatchewan are reminding me of last winter, when work felt like a much different place. While most of us aren’t currently walking, biking, skiing to campus, the days are still just as beautiful with the crystalline quality of light and crisp skies. I hope that this post is a moment to breathe (in…and out) and listen to a couple fascinating conversations between colleagues.

To set the scene, I recently offered the third edition of the Internationalization Short Course and this was the first time it was offered online. It was different to only ‘see’ the participants briefly but the quality of their submitted responses and written discussions left me just as inspired as the in-person sessions of the past. In this iteration, I asked participants to develop an action plan incorporating one of three strategies into their course:

I also asked participants to share their plan with a trusted colleague or peer and to get feedback on how to improve or strengthen it. This step was important because, more than ever, conversations between colleagues who are exploring new ideas is extremely important to create lasting impact and changes in practice (Roxå & Mårtensson, 2017). I selfishly felt like I was missing out on the conversations so I put out the suggestion that they might consider recording the conversation so that I might listen to it after – not required, but a suggestion. Thankfully, a couple bought-in and recorded their discussions and also agreed to share them with you!

Emily chatted with a lab colleague Laura and discussed how the SDGs could be used in her class. It gave me so much joy hearing how they made the link between their research SDGs and bringing this into the class. Laura and Emily also talked about strategies to improve student interaction including how it can feel as a student which is an important consideration. They move on to talking about feedback from students for making small changes in the classroom – Emily describes clearly how creating a culture of safety is important to encourage students to share their experiences. Laura mentions how much more useful it is to get feedback throughout the term instead of at the end when you can’t really do much with it until the following term. I liked that Laura was asking Emily when she didn’t understand and that Emily also took ideas from Laura – it was a clear exchange.  They wrap it up by mentioning FFT from Brené Brown – I won’t spell that acronym out for you but I suggest you read about it here!

Giuliana shared her course outline for a COIL project with a colleague in Holland. Wendela shares how her institution in the UK used learning objectives and it helps her understand a course outline when she knows what students will, “walk away with at the end of the course.” There’s a clear back and forth about what students need to accomplish in the course and how they should be shaped by their course experiences. Together, they get to what students ‘need to know’ at the core of the course. They then move on to language which is a current hot-topic in internationalization. Currently, there is a hegemony of English in COIL and even just the fact that they talk through that issue, along with other current social justice movements, is good to hear. I appreciate that they were able to separate themselves and their own perspectives from the issues and concerns with the course they were reviewing – they were not attacking each others’ beliefs or as individuals.  They found clear connection between animal ethics and human mutual understanding. Their conversations start to migrate into their disciplinary passions (also awesome, just not relevant here!), so I’ve ended the recording of the conversation on an important point – you can present information to students, but how do we ascertain that they engage with it?

For me, it was an excellent opportunity to be a fly on the wall while these four academics discussed teaching and learning. I encourage other practitioners to have more of these conversations with colleagues and to open the space for collaboration in planning. In both recordings, I heard vulnerability from the person who was sharing their plan and compassion from the person who was supporting them.  Those are likely two fundamentals to peer-supported endeavours. If you need someone like that to talk through a teaching & learning idea, please reach out to me or my colleagues at the Gwenna Moss Centre.

Be well and take care!

Referenced:

Torgny Roxå & Katarina Mårtensson (2017) Agency and structure in academic development practices: are we liberating academic teachers or are we part of a machinery suppressing them?, International Journal for Academic Development, 22:2, 95-105, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2016.1218883