Every year there is a conference based at the university where I work called “Talking about Teaching”. I can safely say that this is one of my most enjoyable events of the year not only because the focus is on teaching – something which I am passionate about – or that my image appears on much of the publicity (fame at last!) but also it is one of those events when people share good practice and I always leave full of great ideas and enthusiasm to implement this into my existing practice. So what did I experience – well Let’s waffle about the event!
The theme of this year’s event was inclusivity. After several attempts at trying to say the word out loud I must say that I resorted to saying that it was about promoting inclusive practice. The day is organised into key notes, workshops and discussion forums. Rather than providing an overview of the whole event, I thought I would just waffle about the sessions which I attended. Unfortunately I had to miss the first workshop due to a tutorial, but I did manage to attend both the key notes, three discussion groups and one workshop – and of course refreshment breaks and lunch 🙂
Opening Keynote – Chris Bradshaw and Bob Matthew “Developing an Inclusive Curriculum” – I really enjoy keynotes – it allows me to gain a wider insight not only into practice but also theory. There was an informative back channel happening on twitter as well. Unfortunately ‘Bob’ didn’t arrive in time (had an accident – hope he is ok) but Chris completed the whole presentation. There were some points that were brought up that caused me to think and/or consider in relation to my own practice. Initially I had not actually thought about curriculum design to be inclusive of LGBT learners. You would have thought that after writing my blog post for the LGBT site at work that (Beneath the Rainbow Lanyard) that I was more aware of these issues. The discussions about gender issues within certain degree programmes was also very interesting. Being male in the primary teaching profession actually makes me a minority, although I have never acknowledged this. I think one important aspect of the staff within our department is that there is a healthy representation of both males and females – important role models for everyone – although I am hardly a model! The final key point from this talk for me was the emphasis of inclusivity when it came to assessment. Although I am completely in agreement with this – one point I made on twitter was – if we are being inclusive with our assessment procedures, we surely need to be inclusive with our teaching as well and, if students are allowed to decide how to be assessed (a point that Chris made) then it would follow that they should be allowed to decide how to be taught. While I was thinking about this – I considered that throughout the module I would utilise a range of teaching approaches and so, although the learners do not directly have a choice, there might be some ways which they are able to engage more with. And talking about engagement…
The student engagement challenge – Sarah Crabbe and Mark Dransfield – These might not be in the exact order in which I attended the talks, but this one seemed to follow on nicely. As I am currently trying desperately to put together my PhD proposal which will hopefully involve some aspect of student engagement, I was really looking forward to this session. The discussion which we had was brilliant and the presenters did a fantastic job of relating the points we were making to theory which they had read about. I learnt about a range of different strategies which other tutors use to promote engagement within their sessions and it was interesting how the theory related to some barriers for learners relating to engagement. Being in a profession when we are training learners to always be ‘presenting’ in the classroom, I had never considered that there might be anxiety about this – something that I guess I should have been more aware of – that’s why these events are so important.
Open Badges: how do they impact on teaching and learning? Eden Marrison (student), Kerry Sorby and Daniel Mackley – It was really great to see and subsequently hear the students view within this session. I think we should do more of this within higher education – not only listen but also act – although we might be considered experts in teaching and learning – the real experts are the learners themselves who are experiencing the process. I’ve been working on open badges for a while now, not only within my own modules but also for this site. I certainly see the benefits of them and I recognise the advantages of these over the ‘traditional’ certificates of attendance. It was reassuring to hear about the difficulties and the barriers that both the tutor and the students had in implementing the badges within the system – also the ways in which they were going to overcome these in the future. I think the important points which I came away from this session with was to ensure that I demonstrate to the students the ‘reason’ behind the badges and how these shared with employers. From the gamification side of the project I was disappointed to see that only 55% of the students achieved a badge – something which I hope would improve if the purpose of the badges was evident.
I’m tempted to break this into two separate waffles due to the length of this, but I think I need to include all the sessions – so hang on in there!
“We have a dream”: Inclusive learning,teaching and assessment – a student perspective Laura Jackson and Gabby Wilson – After the initial key note referring to inclusive practice being focused on the learners – this was the discussion group I was really looking forward to. I had initially seen some of the student feedback on this issue and I was definitely keen not only to hear more but also to hear the reasons and solutions. I have already completed some research about the use of PowerPoint so the comments relating to not wanting slides to be read to them was already known to me. There were many points which would be solved by implementing the Flipped Classroom approach including copies of the presentation and prior reading identified. A variety of approaches were discussed and I felt that the use of technology could also support many of the discussion points including promoting communication for distant learners and students on placement – very important on our primary education programme. One point which did come up which I will be certainly engaging with in order to improve my practice is the use of vocabulary. I do, as a tutor, use a wealth of academic and educational specific language within sessions. I always assume that the learners know what pedagogy means. This is probably an assumption and although I hope I have a learning environment which learners feel secure in asking me questions, it would be quite easy for me to define the words I used within my teaching. If you are a student reading or listening to this – then remember I do really believe what I always say in sessions – “There is no such thing as a stupid or silly question!” – so please ask away.
Making the university inclusive for all students and staff: a BSL teachers’ perspective by Amanda Smith and Dai O’Brien – I have never been able to master another language throughout my education – but one language which I have learnt, and continue to learn since I am no expert – is BSL (British Sign Language). The final key note was therefore one which I was very interested in. Although interpreters were present, I tried to engage directly with Amanda and Dai as they signed – sometimes laughing slightly before the rest of the conference as they signed something funny and the interpreters ‘caught up’. I also had a small glow of achievement when I understood the sign for the ‘Beetles’ and when Amanda mentioned about assessment videos with the learners cats and dogs appearing in the background! Their experiences through education were varied and often concerning – although I was pleased to hear about not only the determination but also the changes that can and hopefully will occur in the future. The description of the deaf university was interesting and the changes that they were making could easily be included within all institutes to make them more inclusive for the deaf community. I found Dai’s interpretation of the sign for mainstream very interesting and thought provoking. The most important point of this presentation that I came away with was to ask and communicate. Too often we assume that we know how to include or be inclusive but really we always need to remember that only by asking can we really achieve this. Inclusive practice in its most perfect form has to be individual practice.
I’ve decided to do a separate waffle about “Using screencasts to provide accessible feedback Alison Organ” since this will include some of the applications I use – sorry Alison that you don’t appear within this waffle but it was a great session!
So – what have I learnt? You might think that this is quite basic and that you wonder why it took me a whole day at conference to recognise this but I think the main point I took away from the conference was communication. Laura and Gabby in their session said that inclusive practice is more about communication, communication, communication. Dai and Amanda reinforced this within their final key note and the impact of the open badges and promotion of student engagement all related to communication. I hope that I do always listen to what learners need and react to this. I need to ensure that there are opportunities within sessions to listen but also recognise the need for me to ask the right questions. Although sometimes we are seen as experts in our field, education is constantly changing and we will only remain experts if we ask the right questions, take the time to listen to the answers and make the appropriate adjustments to our sessions.
I am looking forward to next year’s conference already and I am also looking forward to hearing your comments and ideas, so please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.
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Have fun and I’ll catch you later