ISSoTL Thoughts – Take Two

Scribbled down on October 24th, 2008 by she
Posted in Learning & Education

The fifth annual International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) conference was held in Edmonton last week and I took some time out of my vacation and studies to attend.  I attended partially because (as a student working full-time) I don’t expect to have another chance at attending a conference of this nature again anytime soon but also because the conference had come highly recommended by a number of individuals who’s knowledge and expertise I respect.

I’m not sure what I expected.  Once upon I time I was a frequent attendee at tech conferences – mostly of the Microsloth/Novell variety.  Thrown in the odd WebCT conference – which doesn’t easily fall under an educational or tech conference label – for fun and you’ve pretty much got the extent of my conference background.

On the bright side I had been warned that an Ed. conference was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.  Having survived the 4 day journey I’d have to say I agree with this assessment.

For those who don’t know, the ISSoTL conference focuses on the development of scholarship in teaching and learning.  Of course, everyone has a different definition of what that means.  Thus the interesting conference presentations.

So what did I really learn at ISSoTL?

  • My opinions on learning and the use of technology to support learning are far stronger than I’d realized.  I’m perhaps less open and flexible when it comes to considering others philosophies of education, teaching, and technology use in education.
  • When a presentation goes off the rails, it really goes off the rails.  A portion of ours did.  It started well but ended badly after the presenters swapped roles.  Our secondary presenter appeared to have forgotten the entire theme of the conference and spent the time talking about what he/she/it does for a living rather than how we incorporate SoTL into our development process.
  • Far too many people seem to have forgotten who their audience is.  In our case, attempting to design courses to meet the perceived expectations of millennials completely misses our target audience and sets us down the wrong path.
  • Pedagogy is not always driving technology use.  People are still getting caught up in the “ooh, that’s shiny, lets add it” stage.  Again, I believe this is tied to having lost, forgotten, or completely ignored the audience.
  • I’m tired of repeating “just because we can doesn’t mean we should” when it comes to technology. Please don’t misunderstand my comments. I love technology.  But we have a duty to ensure that courses are accessible and that we’re using the right tool for the job.  A carpenter isn’t going to use a Skil saw to pound in a nail.  We shouldn’t be using Second Life to deliver PPT presentations.  Better tools, with lower digital requirements, already exist for this function.
  • Undergraduate students don’t typically attend conferences such as this one.  The few students I met at ISSoTL were all grad students (Master’s or Ph.D).
  • There are some amazing and generous educators in our world.  I’ve had a number of conversations that have really forced me to rethink my position on a number of topics and a few great opportunities to learn from others far more knowledgeable than myself.

As for the sessions themselves, approximately 50% had me wanting to pull my hair out in clumps while the other 50% gave me lots to reflect on.  One disturbing comment I did hear in a session led by U of A profs was that it was the duty of the specialist (i.e. Prof) to give knowledge to students.  UGH!  That goes so against my beliefs surrounding informal learning and my constructivist leanings that I can’t even describe the rock that sank to the bottom of my gut when I heard the statement.  And yes, it was repeated later.

Then again, there was a lot of sage on stage behaviour displayed during the presentations.  If this is the quality of delivery that students receive in the classroom and is celebrated at Ed. conferences, I weep for the students.

For an alternate view of the conference check out Raj Boora‘s ISSOTL posts [here & here].

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2 Responses to “ISSoTL Thoughts – Take Two”

  1. My brain hurts from reading that.

    frustrating isn’t it?

    I was informed today, by a masters program director that ALL clinical psych programs require an honors degree.


    And HE is a supposed expert in the field of academia?

  2. Yeah, often conference presenters go off the rails – especially when the topics are rather nebulous and academic. Technical presentations tend to go a bit better, but when presenters get excited about people actually understanding what they are saying… what they are saying tends to wonder.

    There will always be people attracted to the “shiny” stuff, but it is interesting to see what groups like this consider shiny as opposed to more edtech people – the later group is also likely to be more apt to understand the ills of too much tech. The former often assumes that what technology there is must be ready for prime time – or they have large amounts of resources and don’t consider everything that goes into support and development.

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