Last week, I attended the Higher Education Academy ‘Inspire’ Conference for the Social Sciences in Manchester. My free passport to this great conference was as a member of the “BlogSquad” to live-tweet and blog about the event.
I will first say just how valuable it is to attend the occasional conference or talk that is seemingly on the fringe of your usual research or discipline. I learned at the conference that this is called “disciplinary tourism” – and it is a valuable and eye opening experience.
The HEA put on a packed two days, covering many innovative and inspiring ideas for HE practice: from engaging students through humour, Facebook, flipped learning, and Open Badges, as well as technical ‘how to’s’ for profs, including screencasts, working with industry to boost student job skills, determine, interactive feedback, publishing tips, and VLEs in the ‘boundary-less campus’.
There were some truly excellent talks, each of which broadened my mind to the incredible amount of thought, energy and care that profs are putting in to their teaching practice for the benefit of their students.
The Keynote was delivered by Prof. Steve Wheeler – “Learning in the digital age: Theory and practice”.
Learning in the digital age – theory and practice from Steve Wheeler
Prof. Wheeler talked about the technological reality of HE: “Your students are younger than Google and Facebook”. Technology is here, it’s how our students have grown up and learned to engage with information, so we have to meet them on their level.
Being only about a decade older than my students, I realized that even this gap had me lingering in the ‘analog’ world of the past in my teaching style, and that embracing tech in the classroom (or Flipped Classroom) is an essential. Students can engage with tech as ‘digital natives’, and so while I will teach them, they will also be teaching me – what Wheeler calls ‘paragogy’.
I had found myself interested in this conference because of my budding interest in academic practice since my introductory LEaD module and my first term teaching at City University this past year. Previously, I had thought of myself in academic terms (rather naively, I now realise) as simply a PhD researcher in Food Policy. All this new exposure to academic practice, LEaD, and the HEA has shown me that being an academic means bringing together both the research and teaching elements of the role… Two different skillsets, disciplines, literatures, experiences and streams of professional and personal development.
It is a hugely inspiring thing to realise that as an academic you are multidimensional, and more than just your PhD research. It was also reassuring to discover that there is so much support available to early-career academics like myself and that there is a community of professionals pushing HE development. The HEA conference opened my eyes to the amazing things that profs are doing to engage their students, and I find myself truly excited to try these out in my next teaching role.
I believe that I will look back to my two days at the HEA conference as a standout moment that started a chain reaction in my awareness and professional development as an academic – I simply can’t put down on paper all the different ideas and lessons that I came away with.
Don’t forget to play on the fringes of your discipline and be a tourist – there is much inspiration to be found!
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