Collaborative presentation challenges through metaphor – Trevor Holmes


Recently I attended the biennial conference of the International Consortium of Educational Development (ICED), an organisation that brings together national Societies for higher education development, research, and practice. The conference crosses borders quite literally (it rotates around different continents), and the opportunities for intercultural learning are rich. My fourth ICED helped me to recharge my intellectual and practical batteries, and so I thought I would share some experiences on our CTE blog over the next weeks, beginning with a presentation in which I was involved (because I can remember it quickly and Mark is after me to get a blog entry done!).

A bunch of folks from the Challenging Academic Development collective (formed some years ago after a creative session at ICED 2004) proposed a Symposium, in which we would present three thematically-linked presentations. The overall title was “Political Geographies of Academic Development: Neutral, Non-Neutral, or Marginal” and each section had multiple collaborators. My section was inspired by the question that also inspired a somewhat different presentation at Educational Developers Caucus this past February, that question being simply “If your university were the world, what country would your teaching centre be?”

This question arose as a response to an idea that a couple of us in the field had heard before, namely that our teaching centres must be “Switzerland.” Essentially, I wanted to question first the idea that we had to be neutral in our work, and second that Switzerland itself may not be a great metaphor for neutrality.

Hence this abstract and workshop for the section of the Symposium co-authored by myself, Beverley Hamilton (Windsor), Catherine Manathunga (Queensland), and Brad Wuetherick (Saskatchewan)…


The [im]possibilities of neutrality: metaphors of nation for academic developer identities
Universities are geopolitical spaces. Within the territorial spaces of post-secondary institutions, it is often said that academic development should be ‘like Switzerland’, meaning ‘neutral’ in contrast to other university zones. We argue that, the neutral zone in which academic developers work is a kind of fictional truth which allows us to operate without owning our actions in real terms. This session will explore the tropes of neutrality and engagement, also exploring other less dominant forms of neutrality (e.g. Ireland or Iceland) and other metaphors of national identity that can be applied to academic development in order to question what possibilities these tropes open up and close down.


We found, just as a somewhat different group of us found at EDC, that this idea (University as nation, departments as countries) became a really good way in for people to think about their identities as scholars and developers, or as members of a support unit. What do you think? If your institution were the world, which country would YOUR department be? What do you think about the neutrality of the work we do as teaching centre employees? For me, it’s one thing to be confidential, respectful, ethical, responsible to those we support, and quite another to claim “neutrality” — which I think is really impossible in the end. There’s no positionless position, I think, from which to proceed in our work, even when we claim to be “only” facilitators rather than experts. That itself takes a position vis-a-vis the work.


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

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As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.

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