I first learned about the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) after enrolling in the CUT program early in my doctoral studies. For the last few years, I’ve been keeping an eye on the location of their annual conference, waiting for it to come a bit closer to home. The conference finally came to Toronto in June of this year with the theme of “Creative Teaching and Learning: Exploring. Shaping. Knowing,” and it was well worth the wait. Despite the overwhelming security measures that took place for the neighbouring G8 conference, over 600 attendees from Canada, the United States and abroad attended the three day conference.
Due to the increased security measures in downtown Toronto, we arrived after the opening keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Wesch from Kansas State University, presented on building new learning environments for new media environments. Luckily, we were in time for his subsequent session geared specifically to graduate students and junior faculty members entitled “Creative Teaching: Risky Business?” (if Wesch’s name isn’t familiar to you, he’s the professor behind the incredibly popular YouTube video “A Vision of Students Today”). Wesch’s laid-back style encouraged rich dialogue on how new instructors can develop their creative side as a beginning teacher. Together we considered how creative we could be when we are starting out (he encouraged us to ‘go for it’), whether there’s a risk associated with being creative before tenure (possibly, but we discussed steps we could we take to manage that risk), and how we could learn to take creative risks in teaching (he suggested on-going participation in teaching conferences and bouncing ideas off other, more experience instructors). Throughout the session, Wesch shared stories of his own experiences (both positive and otherwise) and concluded by encouraging us to read, or re-read, a favourite of his – The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life, by Parker Palmer.
The rest of the three day conference included sessions related to teaching introductory level classes, collaborative curriculum development, on-line teaching, small class to large class initiatives, innovative ways to engage in formative evaluation, and how to embed civic engagement and innovative practices such as digital storytelling, ‘live writing,’ and peer review into classes. Over the course of the conference, I found it refreshing and energizing to be talking to instructors from a range of disciplines including engineering, journalism, language studies, psychology, physical education, and sociology. Everyone I met had a wonderfully open and welcoming spirit for those of us starting out in academe, and seemed genuinely interested in engaging in dialogue related to the art of teaching.
I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive as a graduate student presenting to experienced instructors, but a conscious decision to frame our presentation to emphasize dialogue and peer-to-peer learning allowed us as presenters to step away from the podium and engage with the session attendees on the topic of academic apprenticeship. Sitting in a room of academics with more experience than I did, I didn’t feel the least bit intimidated.
What am I taking home from this conference? First of all, it was eye-opening for me to realize that instructors of all experience levels were asking the same questions that we are as graduate students. Second, with an emphasis on creativity in teaching at this conference, I came away convinced that I need to continually engage in opportunities for non-traditional methods of teaching and learning.
If you’re interested in teaching and learning, consider submitting an abstract to the 31st Annual STLHE conference taking place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan between June 15 and 18, 2011 (stlhe2011.usask.ca).
Colleen Whyte, PhD candidate
Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies
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