Some thoughts from NU2022 - a meeting place for experience and ideas.
Written by: Kirsty Dunnett, Postdoc iEarth
The topic of the Swedish Higher Education Development conference, NU2022, that I attended in June 2022 was 'Att synliggöra lärande' which I will translate roughly as 'Making teaching visible'. The conference was attended by academics and academic developers from all over Sweden, and was a place for sharing and gathering ideas. A number of presentations mentioned 'Students as Partners' practices, though in a Scandinavian context, the older 'Active Student Participation' naming seems more appropriate since involving students in developing and redesigning courses was presented as a largely natural progression of course development.
My choice of talks to attend was largely motivated by involvement in the teacher development work of iEarth - Focus Area 3, A Learning Environment for Teachers, and within this two round table discussions (including one that I ran) provided a wealth of ideas for normalising the sharing and discussion of pedagogical practices. These can be broken down into three areas: the work of individual actors, teaching structure and recognising excellent practice.
One area considered actions by nominated individuals within a department. One approach might be that the Director of Teaching asks anyone who passes a particular point (e.g. new coffee machine) around a given time each day about their teaching (related article).
A related idea is to establish regular `Teaching Tips and Tricks' sessions where members of the department present things that they have tried and found work in their teaching. This is coordinated by a dedicated individual, who recruits presenters through asking about their teaching and also directly recruits attendees (since this was pre-Covid, lots of knocking on doors was involved, and is likely to still be an important component).
More closely related to teaching practice, asking teachers to complete a questionnaire that rates their ideas of learning and teaching against their practices may be an uncomfortable experience, but has the potential to force a critical examination of practice. In promoting collegiality, the organisation of instruction, for example co-teaching, co-designing courses and co-writing exams within a teaching team, may not only help integrate the material in a single course better, but also lead to improved creativity, especially in exam writing. Teachers' involvement in multiple courses, and regular meetings (fortnightly) for all staff involved in teaching, may provide opportunities to address complaints about not knowing what students have already studied. Using student-generated or authentic cases that the staff have not examined in detail beforehand may also increase interest for staff, provide opportunites for them to learn alongside the students, and may have the additional benefit of promoting dialogic student-teacher relationships.
The third area of particular interest was a review of the relative ineffectiveness of pedagogical merit systems for promoting the value assigned to pedagogical or teaching work and effort in Sweden. Discussions considered ways to make sure that the value of pedagogical excellence is real, and a number of ideas came up.
These included: funds for recognised excellent teacher to go to pedagogical conferences; ensuring that the same organisational space for teaching as is given to research in both departmental meetings and career review meetings; and allowing excellent teachers more time to do their current teaching rather than increasing teaching or administrative work because they are good at it.
While the focus of much of the discussion at the conference was on how to encourage staff to improve their teaching, a very interesting question was raised that relates to the way that universities are defined by the presence of students, so learning environments for students and teachers (iEarth Focus Areas 2 and 3) are inextricably linked. As iEarth progresses and develops, the question: `What student and teacher journeys are there for students and teachers to talk to each other about teaching and learning?' will become increasingly important.
Conferences like NU2022 not only bring together many people with common interests and attitudes and provide opportunities to ask and answer existing questions, but can also be places to raise new questions and gain a rather different perspective on one's current thinking.
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