I had the pleasure of attending the Festival of Learning hosted by BC Campus at the end of May.
The theme of the conference was care in higher education—care of students; care of teachers; care in practice; care in technologies; and more—and the conference organizers did a fantastic job of embedding care into all aspects of the conference. There were quiet, reflective spaces and multiple yoga classes each day. There were walking tours led by volunteers. The food was the most delicious (and healthy) I’ve ever had at a conference. There were gender-inclusive washrooms and there was child care. On top of all that, the conference volunteers and staff were incredibly welcoming.
While I was inspired by all of the sessions I attended, here are the top five sessions (in no particular order) that resonated with me:
1. Jesse Stommel’s keynote presentation
If I were to describe Jesse Stommel’s opening presentation in one word, “wow” would be fitting.
Jesse talked about how teachers can centre their teaching around care and compassion for students. He explained that learning happens in tangents, diversions, and interruptions, and it is not a linear process. What students need are thoughtful, critical, and skillful teachers who centre the specific needs of students in their courses. In order to understand the needs of students, we as educators need to ask students—and listen to the answers! Jesse stated that this compassion and care are rooted in trusting students. Furthermore, he said that “fairness” is not an excuse for a lack of empathy. Students are not machines, and they are not interchangeable. Their needs are unique, and teachers need training, institutional support, and collegial support in order to effectively meet the needs of students.
2. Ki Wight and David Geary’s session on accessibility and diversity
From the interactive session by Ki Wight and David Geary, I took away two practices I will incorporate into my classes.
When thinking about course accessibility, it’s important to think beyond learning accommodations. Creating a document shared by the entire class and encouraging students to add their class notes throughout the term helps make the course content more accessible to everyone in the class, not just those who may require a notetaker. Any student who misses a class now has on-demand access to a collectively curated set of course notes.
Asking your students to provide examples and stories from their experiences that are relevant to the course material and then sharing/using these (with permission) in future classes is a great way to increase the diversity in the examples you use in class.
3. Student panel discussion
At the beginning of the second day of the conference, four incredible students participated in a panel discussion. One thing I took away from that moving conversation was that it can be a very, very fine line between surviving and thriving for students—and this is an important perspective to bear in mind.
4. Peter Arthur’s session on critical thinking
Critical thinking is a skill that takes continued practice to build. Self-reflection is another skill that also takes continued practice to move beyond the “grocery list” approach. Critical challenges, which are structured opportunities to help students develop interpretation, analysis, and evaluation skills, can be applied and adapted in many ways. From Peter’s session, I took away a critical challenge activity for developing critical thinking AND self-reflection skills and which I’m excited to try in my classes.
The critical challenge begins by asking students what makes a good reflection. The class collectively brainstorms and then clusters the criteria. Given a prompt, students then try writing a short self-reflection that uses the criteria the class curated [interpreting]. Students then exchange and peer assess their papers [analyzing] and discuss how they could make their response more powerful/better using the criteria [evaluating]. The activity concludes with students sharing what they learned from the activity.
5. Monique Gray Smith’s keynote presentation
On the last day of the conference, Monique Gray Smith gave an inspiring presentation. Monique said that a teacher’s words can be medicine for students–or not. She explained it’s important to look for the gifts our students have and to name them because we, as teachers, can change trajectories. Her presentation was a good reminder about the emotional impact that teaching and learning can have on students (and instructors).
Event Page: https://bccampus.ca/festival-of-learning-2018/Tags: BC Campus, Festival of Learning 2018, professional development, teaching