Reflections on the inaugural Learning & Teaching Conference at the University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh held it’s first Learning & Teaching Conference in June. It was a full, impressive programme, showcasing good practice from the University and  apposite keynote speakers from Hong Kong and Sweden.

With several parallel sessions, I was glad a couple of my Academic Support Librarian colleagues were also attending, so we could cover more ground. This post is a collection of a few lasting thoughts, impressions and learning points.

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Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park dwarfing the conference centre

The first keynote was from Amy Tsui from the University of Hong Kong, speaking about the long, messy journey to undergraduate curriculum reform, from a 3 year to a 4 year model. In Scotland we already have a 4 year curriculum, and having worked in other universities in England with 3 year degrees (and having done a 3 year degree myself) it was interesting to hear about the move and the comparisons. HKU introduced ‘common core courses’, which emphasise generic, lifelong skills. (It’s easy to see how information skills and literacies could fit here).

The presentation for which I took the most notes was from Diva Mukherji, Vice President Education of the Students’ Association. She presented on several of EUSA’s initiatives and objectives, including ways in which the curriculum can be made more inclusive. The University Library services got a couple of mentions, and I was happy to see our ‘Request a Book’ purchase recommendation tool highlighted as a way to amplify marginalised voices.

Diva pointed out that it’s not about tacking on a couple of texts to a reading list, it’s about transforming the curriculum. This tool empowers our students to actively contribute to collection development.

(Though, of course, there is so much more we can and should be doing.)

And, it was so refreshing to hear a student voice at a conference like this!

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I also enjoyed a presentation on ‘Intimacy at scale; fostering academic community after enrollment growth’. It was a heartwarming talk from an academic who clearly cares about his students and their experience of university. He has been heading a project to simplify the course options for students so there is more opportunity to get to know classmates, and more social-style events to build a feeling of community. With student recruitment increasing in so many of our Schools, and in other universities, it is sure to be something other audience members have been thinking about.

The final keynote was from Torgny Roxa from Lund University in Sweden. He was charismatic, energetic, and a perfect choice for the post-lunch slot! He spoke about the importance of weak and strong ties in learning and teaching communities, and how those relationships can influence your own teaching. It got me thinking that I do talk about my own teaching with colleagues, but rarely the actual content. For example I might say to someone that I’m running a session on literature searching and Medline, but I possibly wouldn’t delve into the detail of how I plan to do that, leaving less opportunity for discussion, debate and ideas with my colleagues.

The conference was a mix of learning new things, and some things that aren’t so new but are new for Edinburgh. And a good mix of attendees; plenty of academics, and plenty of non-academics like myself. Events like this are a way to get us all together and thinking and talking about learning and teaching.

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