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Reflections from the Festival of Learning: Our thinking, being, and doing as educators

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FOL2018 CandyHo“How could we be better caretakers and caregivers in the context of post-secondary education and in service of student learning?” This was one of the two key questions posed as part of BCcampus’ Festival of Learning conference in Vancouver at the end of May 2018; the theme, “Higher Education: Handle with Care,” was delivered through an array of keynote sessions, poster presentations, and workshops. As a conference participant, I was able to arrive at my own response to the question – that we as educators can take care of our students and support their learning, through our thinking, being, and doing.

Through thinking. The conference reinforced my thinking around exhibiting care for students beyond teaching courses by interacting with them within and outside of the classroom. In particular, the keynote student and administrator panel on student wellbeing, facilitated by Jonny Morris (former Senior Director at the Canadian Mental Health Association and leader in the Healthy Minds/Healthy Campuses community), considered ways faculty and administrators should rethink systems and structures in place to help post-secondary students thrive. Key ideas included:

  • acknowledging that students learn in different ways, and as such allow for multiple ways of knowledge and learning demonstration in our courses and curriculum;
  • investing in physical spaces that promote meaningful interactions between students and faculty, and between students themselves (a proud KPU moment took place during the Q&A portion, when Beth Beeching shared how our ELST department used their classroom to promote a sense of community through informal social interactions); and
  • recognizing that students may at times experience “belonging overload” and feel overwhelmed by involvement opportunities – the goal for us as educators then is to help them develop self-awareness, so that they can curate these opportunities and decide on the ones that would help fulfill their personal and professional goals.

Through being. To be a caring educator, we ought to recognize the various life roles our students assume in a concurrent manner, aside from being a learner in our courses. For instance, they may be employees who hold multiple part time jobs (often to pay for tuition), or parents who provide care for their children and other family members. Jesse Stommel’s keynote presentation titled, “Centering teaching: The human work of higher education” reminded me to consider the circumstances and pressures students often face when they manage and negotiate between their life roles. He encouraged attendees to think about the assumptions we have about our students, and the relationships we want to cultivate with them. When we believe student requests for assignment extensions are based on procrastination or laziness, what impressions might we formulate about them that may negatively impact our relationships? Developing negative impressions may prevent us from digging deep into their requests and learning that, for example, they have been struggling with mental health issues and require our compassion and support during their crises. My favourite quote from his presentation: “We can’t get to a place of listening to students if they don’t show up to the conversation because we’ve excluded their voice in advance by creating environments hostile to them and their work” (Slide 29).

Through doing. While there were many workshops highlighting caring practices, several sessions I attended were worth noting:

  • Set for Success: Multi-institutional Perspectives on Orientation for International Students: Colleagues from Selkirk College, Thompson Rivers University, University of the Fraser Valley, and University of Victoria shared their initiatives to help new students transition successfully to their institutions. These included: incorporating a MOOC on academic integrity as part of their first year curriculum; offering one-credit courses on student success skills; and providing an comprehensive training session to new faculty teaching first year courses.
  • Convening a New community of Practice: Reflection, Learning, and Mutuality: Rebecca Wilson-Mah discussed how her and her colleagues at Royal Roads University formed communities of practice (CoP) to exchange and advance practices and support one another. She shared advice on setting up a CoP, from articulating goals and objectives, assigning roles and responsibilities, to identifying resources for support and capturing process and learning.
  • Measuring the Institutional Impact of OER Initiatives in BC: Challenges and Preliminary Results: Colleagues from Douglas College, Royal Roads University, and KPU (our very own Rajiv Jhangiani!) described the preliminary results of their research on the impact of the adoption of open educational resources (OER) on students and institutions. Another proud, inspiring KPU moment was learning that students enrolled in Zed Cred courses tend to earn higher grades and have higher mean GPAs, confirming the need for us to encourage further OER adoptions to enhance student success.
  • Supporting Student Wellness Through Experiential Learning & Career Mapping: Linda Pardy shared her impressive research on career mapping as a strategy to help students and faculty realize career is not linear. As an example, using LinkedIn as a data source, she effectively expanded the traditional list of vocational possibilities associated with specific majors. The expansion of career opportunities, in turn, encourage students to be open-minded and explorative with their post-secondary education by using both their curricular and co-curricular experiences to develop knowledge and skills to benefit their future.

The learning derived from this conference will continue to unfold as I transition to my new role as a faculty member in EDST this Fall. I look forward to attending the next FoL and would like to take this chance to thank Dr. Stephanie Chu and the KPU Teaching and Learning Commons for their support to KPU presenters to attend the full conference.

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