What does it take to create the best possible environment for student and faculty success? I’ve often looked to answer this question by looking at research, in a quest to ensure that I provide students with what is likely to be most successful.
Conferences like the Festival of Learning provide an opportunity to learn from the research of other colleagues – to find out what initiatives are successful and worth pursuing. So, as a part of my commitment to continually improve my own practice, I took the opportunity offered by the Teaching and Learning Commons to participate in the Festival of Learning.
As someone who might be described as a data-driven educator, the Festival of Learning met my expectations. I was stimulated by well-thought out presentations, largely stemming from successful initiatives at other institutions, that can inform my own practice. However, the conference also provided me with something beyond data. With this year’s focus on the theme of care in education, the Festival of Learning demonstrated that compassion, empathy, and care are vital parts of creating excellent educational environments.
Within the broader theme of care, I noticed three other key themes throughout the conference: (1) Knowing and recognizing our students’ gifts and contributions, (2) Collaboration, and (3) Effectively using technology to support student and faculty success.
Key Theme #1: Knowing and Recognizing Our Students’ Gifts and Contributions
The conference’s opening keynote by Jesse Stommel emphasized the need to show compassion and empathy for students in their work of learning. Jesse highlighted the value of compassion in creating learning environments that facilitate effective learning. The second conference keynote featured student leaders from several BC post-secondary institutions, demonstrating the value of student perspectives in shaping our campus environments.
A significant session I attended related to this theme was Students as Partners in Developing Curriculum and Teaching and Learning Initiatives, presented by Laura MacKay, Radovan Marek, Alea Rzeplinski and Andrew Willis (the latter three were student presenters). The session described the active engagement of students on student success committees. Often, as educators, we fail to incorporate student perspectives even when we are seeking to support student success. As I reflect on the session, I have been considering how we can harness the talent of our KPU students in more meaningful ways.
Key Theme #2: Collaboration
A second key theme throughout the conference was collaboration. Several of the presentations I attended modelled collaboration between institutions, between faculty and students, and between faculty and teaching/learning professionals.
Consulting with Care: Supporting Faculty Development and Program Enhancement through Collaborative, Relational Practice (presented by Kathleen Bortolin: kathleenbortolin.com,
Marilyn Funk and Sally Vinden) was a particularly high-impact session along this theme. The session highlighted the value of deep and long-lasting partnerships between faculty and teaching/learning professionals to create positive program changes. The session demonstrated the way that relationships built on trust can help us work together across departments to create positive changes in teaching and learning environments.
Key theme #3: Effectively Using Technology to Support Faculty and Student Success
Throughout the conference, using technology well to support learning was emphasized. This theme ran through sessions on Open Education Resources, as well as demonstrations of specific tools to support learning. Rather than focusing on technology for its own sake, conference presenters focused on its role in supporting learning.
One effective session along this theme was Venturing Beyond the Walled Garden: Building Online Learning Activities Outside of the Learning Management System that Allow for Flexible, Adaptable and Meaningful Learning (presented by Liesel Knaack viu.ca/ciel and
Michael Paskevicius michaelpaskevicius.com/). They focused on effectively choosing tools to support meaningful learning in online and blended environments. Their resource handouts were particularly effective, and are linked below:
Why Attend the Festival of Learning?
The Festival of Learning organizers provided a high-quality learning experience for participants. As with any strong teaching and learning conference, I grew in my knowledge of good practices and was inspired by the successes of other colleagues. I’d recommend attending the conference to my colleagues for the following reasons:
- The conference brings together educators from different “streams” of the teaching and learning world to collaborate together. This experience meant that collaboration was not an abstraction, but a lived reality throughout the conference experience.
- The design of the Festival of Learning allowed for meaningful networking. By spending time with other KPU colleagues and colleagues at other local post-secondary institutions, the conference conversations were meaningful, and can continue into the future.