It has been a while since I have blogged about my conference experiences, but I have had a few people come up to me at this conference to thank me for my blogs so I thought I would get back to it. At one point I wasn’t sure if people were reading it and finding it useful. I find it useful to blog, but time is tight and sometimes I am too tired or too busy networking. Blogging and/or tweeting about lessons learned helps the conference have a wider impact and promotes the inclusion of people who cannot afford to attend. This conference is certainly worth blogging about even if I waited until the long drive home to get to it (and the next day to post it). I wasn’t pre-planning to blog, and I wasn’t always clear about what presenters did and did not want to be shared externally, so it isn’t as detailed as my pre-pandemic blogs.
I had an amazing experience at the STLHE conference this past week, not only because I met the other award winners that I will be spending a lot of time with but also because it was an outstanding conference. It is always nice to connect with people who are committed to improving higher education from other disciplines. This kind of conference is where I get the best inspiration and feel at home. It is only my second STLHE conference, but it certainly won’t be my last. Next year I am planning to reduce the number of conferences I am attending but STLHE will stay on my list.
Pre-Conference (June 13)
On Tuesday, June 13 I led my first pre-conference workshop. I was nervous despite having a pretty robust presentation record with lots of positive feedback – I am not sure why, but it might have been the pressure of being an award winner this year. I came up with a new icebreaker activity that many people seemed to enjoy and will likely use again. I should write this up in a more formal way instead of putting it in a blog – hopefully, I can find the time. We discussed what co-creation is, critiqued the principles that will be published shortly in The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, and spend some time talking in small groups about how co-creation may fit with participants’ course context. This group didn’t like Nearpod or take many collaborative notes in the shared Google document, but there was lots of engagement in table discussions. I felt like I was interrupting any time I wanted to move us along to the next activity. I wish I had conducted a small feedback survey to assess the overall impact of the session. I am willing to bet that some networking happened in the room. From what I overheard during the group discussions there were people who realized that they already co-create, those that really liked the idea of integrating it into their classes, and some who realized that it is not yet feasible for them. People in the room were from a mixture of faculty (45%), educational developers (32%), students (11%), administration (5%), and an instructional designer (3%). Half of them work with classes between 26-50 students. There were some people in the room with over 150 students. We talked about ways to do co-creation in feasible ways, but I also made it clear that I do not believe it is necessary or even a good idea in all classes. While the workshop had a lot of positive feedback, I felt like three hours might not have been enough time. Next time I might do less co-creation in the actual session and remove Nearpod altogether.
Day 1 (June 14)
The next day I attended several sessions which highlighted the importance of taking action to promote equity in the classroom. The keynote provided an overview of the urgent need to address racism in our institutions. I have heard this echoed at many conferences, but what we need is real actions from all levels (administration, faculty, and students). I think it is abundantly clear that racism is a huge issue and it is time to take action to address it. Here is a link to information about the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion.
There were too many concurrent sessions that I was interested in, and I ended up wasting time changing rooms – a bad idea. As always it was hard to choose which sessions to attend – so many sessions looked interesting that I could not attend. My colleague and I decided to go to different sessions so we could share back key messages. I also learned that I should not change rooms between sessions unless it is necessary, and the rooms are on the same floor. I caught the sessions described below as well as a few minutes of two others with standing room only. Overall, I felt inspired to continue advocating for equity and experiential learning in education after the sessions I was able to attend. Here are some thoughts about a few of them:
In a session about the pedagogy of teamwork, I took away the message that psychological safety is a mediator of several outcomes that they looked at in their research. Jones and Kar plan to publish this work in the future and emphasized that the findings they shared now were preliminary. They also didn’t want us to post it before it is published. I will be watching for that publication.
There was a session about cultivating shared leadership in higher education that I wish I could bring home to my institutions. Kloster and Hutchinson emphasized that to solve wicked problems facing education a top-down approach to management is ineffective. Instead, they advocated for viewing leaders and followers as interchangeable, valuing multiple perspectives, and collaborating across the organization (i.e. not being siloed). They asserted that we can foster accountability and shared responsibility through shared leadership. A key approach for doing so is reframing how questions are asked through a lens of appreciative inquiry. Instead of asking “Why aren’t faculty coming to our workshops” they asked “When have faculty been most engaged with our services and what can we learn from those moments of success? When they changed how they viewed the issue it helped to address the problem in a more collaborative and positive way – Something I think can be done in many contexts. They also talked about nudging, connecting, and reinforcing habits of engagement. Here is a book they recommended:
Kezar, A., & Holcombe , E. (2017). Shared leadership in higher education: Important lessons from research and Practice. Pullias Center – Promoting Equity in Higher Education. https://pullias.usc.edu/download/shared-leadership-in-higher-education-important-lessons-from-research-and-practice/
In the last session I attended before lunch we talked about how we promoted student engagement during COVID-19. Emphasizing the humanization of learning and some different technologies that people found effective were shared. Interestingly, what worked for some went horribly for others. I am not recommending any of these technologies, but here are a few strategies that others found useful: Perusal, Jamboard, Hypothesis, Mural Miro, Flexible Syllabi, and virtual visits. Unfortunately, the presenters ran out of time to show their study results. To me, we also need to be mindful not to overload students with too much tech. Don’t get me wrong – I love technology and use it often, but I just think we need to be careful not to use too much technology or at least too many types of technology with the same group of learners.
The best part of conferences for me is networking. At this conference, I had some pre-planned networking to do. I met the other 3M National Teaching Fellows over lunch – this is a group of strangers who I will be spending a week with in Banff to come up with a project that has an impact on higher education. It feels like a short timeframe to meet, get a project together, and get it presentation-ready for next year. We did some introductions, met the student fellows, and started to talk a little bit about what to expect over the next year. I was not the only one interested in getting started before Banff, but that is going to need to wait. Over the rest of the conference, some further brainstorming happened but we aren’t chatting again until September. I left feeling both excited and nervous – a feeling that changed later in the conference.
Meet the 2023 Fellows
You would think that 8 minutes was enough time to get from lunch to this session, but I arrived late. I got caught up talking to the student fellows then got lost. Thankfully my entrance was humorous to the audience and I didn’t miss any of the 5-minute talks by the group. In alphabetical order we each shared one teaching strategy that we use in our classrooms. It was amazing listening to everyone and seeing the commonalities in the group. I didn’t take notes so I can’t share everything back, but I got a good sense that this is a pretty awesome bunch. After listening to everyone my sense of excitement and faith in this group grew and my nervousness decreased. While I still don’t know what we will be doing or if it is possible for all of us to work on one project, I know that whatever we come up with we can have an impact. I felt bad for running out as it was ending but we went overtime, and I was late for the next session – that I was presenting in.
It was also my first roundtable session. I really enjoyed the experience of having informal conversations about co-creation with colleagues loosely guided by a handout. I was able to meet others who co-created in their courses, people who were thinking about doing it, and instructional designers. I hope that participants took something away from these short conversations around the potential uses of co-creation, challenges, and strategies when implementing it. We also talked a little about challenges with teamwork and a new colleague sent me a form they use to try and encourage students to involve educators sooner when challenges arise. It can be really hard to manage groupwork challenges in an equitable way when educators are unaware of issues until the last minute. I look forward to reviewing the form and may use it this fall – I will need to send them a thank-you message.
Katherine Timmermans led the discussions at a second table that were guided by a postcard we made together – I didn’t realize when submitting the abstracts that all roundtables would be at the same time and was thankful that she was able to lead that discussion without me being physically there. She told me that people were very interested in virtual simulation, how it is integrated and graded.
There were amazing posters at this conference. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to talk to everyone at the posters. It might have had something to do with the potato bar and a general need to relax for a minute. Thankfully, the posters are available online for post-conference viewing. A couple of creative ideas that stood out to me were making the poster look like a giant cake and presenting information as a recipe, making it look like a game board, and one had an external computer screen in the middle of it. I won’t post pictures to respect people’s copyright, but I will remember the impact that those posters had. I have been told that I make some decent posters, but there is always room to improve! I also noticed that people are doing a lot of good work evaluating educational interventions. It was interesting to see the impact of different study strategies on student grades and some other initiatives like reading clubs and experiential learning.
We went to the Lobster on the Warf restaurant and were treated to dinner. It was nice to get to know a few of the fellows even more over dinner.
Day 2 (June 15)
Welcome to Our Classroom: Honouring Anne Marie Ryan (3M NTF 2019)
I had my doubts about attending this session as someone who did not know the late Anne Marie Ryan, but it was amazing. The presenters paid a beautiful tribute to her in an interactive session that focused on talking about building community, showing compassion, and fostering creativity in the classroom. We had a large group discussion of key values that Anne Marie held then worked at small tables to talk about how to integrate those values in the classroom then shared-back ideas for each of these foci. (Side note: I was pretty impressed by my ability to stay within seconds of the given time limit for summarizing our conversations even without a timer.)
I may not have known her, but the video they played at the end was beautifully done and made me sad that she had died – it was an emotional way to close the session and I was happy for a break between sessions.
From Evaluation to Reflection: A Critically Reflective Tool for Professional Learning (3M NTF 2022)
This session provided an overview of what it is like to be a 3MNTF, which was of course interesting to me as one of this year’s cohort. The 2022 group identified a problem around the way higher educational institutions evaluate teaching performance. There are not really a lot of metrics for measuring or reflecting on teaching. They meet biweekly on Mondays to do the work and are still developing their tool. That was comforting to me (that it was not 100% done yet). They have agreed on some principles to guide the process, have gotten ethical approval, developed a script, and are in the middle of interviews (I believe). They showed some preliminary views of what the tool may produce as a visual output and there was a lot of excitement in the room to see the final product.
EDI Focused Presentation Block
This block of sessions was interesting and showcased some strategies that have been used at different institutions to promote inclusion and engagement. I enjoyed them but didn’t take many notes because it doesn’t relate to my area of work. That said, one thing that really stood out was that “to understand you I need to know me.” I thought that was insightful when talking about supporting student engagement. I also listened to a session about how an institution’s learning support area was able to serve higher numbers of students and reduce no-shows for appointments. I couldn’t help but think about the loss of individual support and how that might be a loss for students who really need it. I also wondered if there was any other reasons for the large increase in numbers – but there was not enough time for questions (a theme across the presentations).
Designing open-book testing to improve equity, metacognition, and assessment authenticity
I presented about open-book testing as a strategy to promote equity for students with disabilities alongside videos from my co-presenter – an undergraduate student advocate (who could not attend because she was at her graduation ceremony). I believe that the session went well based on feedback, but again there was not enough time to cover everything we had hoped to. Also, without a timekeeper in the room I started late. We sparked some questions that some people stayed into the break to discuss with me so hopefully, it had an impact on some educator practices. I think I need to plan my sessions with the below principle in mind – don’t try to fit too much into 15 minutes.
Shannon Murray – Christopher Knapper Lifetime Achievement Award
I really hope this was recorded because I didn’t take enough notes. I focused instead on listening (and eating). I did write down Shannon’s 6 principles:
- Start with (and return to) what you love
- Cultivate Freudenfreude
- Ducats are not daughters
- Beware of efficiency
- Mind the gaps
- Don’t give up the ship
This is a session that stood out to me because of how it made me feel – inspired. I want to spend more time with that human. I got to talk to her a couple of times at the conference. She is one of those people that makes you feel valued and exudes some kind of contagious calm joy I could use in my life. The conference was a little busy for long conversations, but I will look for her again. I talked about what I took away from it on the beach with my husband after the conference was over. For me, all the lessons mattered, but being intentionally not efficient with the things that matter and ruthlessly efficient with the things that do not was what resonated most. I am going to need to send a thank you note to Shannon.
The Afternoon Sessions
Again, with so many good choices it was hard to choose what to attend. I was happy to end up in sessions about evidence-based practice, retrieval practice, and sustainability. My takeaway from these sessions was the encouragement to keep doing more of these kinds of activities in my classes. I already use case-based learning and lots of quizzing during class. I need to look more into the optimal structuring of these activities and maybe even do some research on it (after finishing up current projects). The session on retrieval practice had me re-thinking adding low-stakes testing for grades back into one of the classes I am teaching in the Fall instead of relying only on quizzing embedded in my slides.
This is where we were presented with our awards. The 3M fellows seem to be a humble bunch, myself included. I am not accustomed to being celebrated so much. Still, it was really nice to be acknowledged for the energy put into constantly improving education at various levels through my teaching, research, and service work. Over dinner, I got to know a few more of the fellows and left with a good feeling about the future.
Day 3 (June 16)
I really enjoyed the presentations on assessment and student closing plenary. Two of the presentations on assessment were on ungrading, one was on an Indigenous assessment framework, and one was on examining authentic assessment across the curriculum. All four needed more time for discussion. There are so many people at this conference I would love to chat with further.
It was refreshing to hear two honest presentations on the topic of ungrading in Higher Education. There are so many problems with grading. Ungrading is something I have done before with the goal of empowering learners … but it is not all sunshine and roses – there are real issues we need to consider like the influence on workload. It was nice to hear the perspectives of others who have tried what I called negotiated grading. A few key messages were the need to check in with students, support them, and take risks. There are many ways to do ungrading and the presenters found this book helpful (It wasn’t as helpful to me when I listened to it but does have some good ideas). Ungrading is highly contextual and more research on the nuanced ways to approach it is needed. Like one of the presenters, my flexible deadline policy had some negative consequences in 2023, but worked well in all other classes (I have been doing it for a long time). This supports that an intervention like this is contextual. The one presenter who talked about using process letters said they would not do it with lower-level students, but I thought it sounded similar to what I did with year 4 nursing students. The problem was my workload. That said, I got a few ideas from these sessions that might help me bring more ungrading back into my year 4 course in the fall where I am already planning to do learner-educator co-creation of assessment (a type of ungrading in my opinion). I don’t think I will use contract grading or negotiated grading again, but basing grades at least in part on more self-assessment is something that is highly appropriate for year four nursing students that I was already thinking of adding back in. These sessions have me thinking of how to feasibly re-integrating ungrading into the course. Another key message is to clarify the process again (and many times in my experience) because students are not accustom to so much feedback and power over grades.
An Indigenous Assessment Framework
This assessment framework was very innovative and I wanted to talk to the presenters to find out if it could be adapted for use outside of their learning management system in consultation with the Indigenous community at our respective campuses. The framework was fascinating and I would love to use it … but I am not sure if it is available for reuse or remixing. That said, it is something that I think could apply to several courses and would help to decolonize grading. It fits very well with ungrading.
I took lots of pictures of these slides and really hope that this paper is published. Again, I am not sure what the presenters are okay with being shared so I will just note a few lessons I took away from the session. Authentic assessment needs to be purposefully integrated and leveled across courses. We also need to make sure that we prepare students for all the dimensions of authentic assessment (such as evaluative judgment).
The Closing Student Plenary
The student closing was an inspiring way to end the conference. They shared the wonderful work they are doing and closed with a message for all of us. I got a few notes, but didn’t quite catch everything they said at the end of their session. After the session, I got to talk to them about it and they said the session was recorded and they would send out their take-home messages in the STLHE newsletter. I will certainly be watching for that message in the newsletter! Here is what I captured:
- Compassionate accountability matters.
- Empower passion through authenticity.
- Work to make learning more accessible.
- People who are struggling in university aren’t necessarily people who are in deficit. Sometimes they’re just people who need support. Create opportunities, and break down barriers. Invite everyone to a seat at the table.
- Create an environment where people can show up as themselves and feel affirmed in their abilities.
- Be the creator of opportunity for minority communities.
- Be the support your students need in order to spark their flourishing potential.
I am so grateful for the support received to get me to this conference in the first place – I have so many people to thank for their support in getting me here. Until I found out that I was a 3MNTF I was not planning to attend. After receiving the amazing news, my Institutions (Cambrian College and Nipissing University) stepped up to support my travel, which I am extremely grateful for. I am also thankful for the emotional support from Katherine Timmermans, my colleague who was there for me all along the way, and Pat Maher who helped me figure out how to navigate getting to the conference with some last-minute planning. I will never forget this experience and the support received along the way.
The best part?
By far networking is always the best part of attending in-person conferences for me. The people below agree. I am looking forward to nurturing the connections made at this conference over the next year. There are so many people I want to get to know better from this conference – some of whom I didn’t get to chat with during the conference. If you want to chat please do reach out! If not, maybe we can connect next year.
My Human Side
While I was at the conference enjoying all these amazing sessions my family was exploring PEI. I don’t normally bring my family to conferences – and it was nice hearing about their adventures the next morning (they were in bed before I got back from the dinners). It was quite the road trip, but well worth the long drive from Sudbury. We saw several interesting things along the way and got to spend a lot of time together. I wish we could have spent a little more time exploring PEI but my kids needed to get back to school and I have a lot of work to do. We made the most of the time we had, ate seafood, made it into the ocean, and visited a haunted house before coming home. Overall, the trip was awesome … but we came back to a broken fridge and a truck that decided to stop working in the driveway (not too serious, just the locking stopped working). It was a good thing we didn’t extend the trip.
Here are few other tweets from sessions I did not catch that I need to explore further. I continue to watch the conference hashtag for other gems.