LA in October? Timed to coincide with the three days before fall break? With a focus on teaching? Sure, I thought. Why not? This was my introduction to the annual conference for the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) — and what I failed to realize in that flippant moment of “sure, sounds cool” was that this conference and others like it would come to define my own scholarly practices.
Sometimes, I confess, due to fatigue or busy-ness or just plain lack of preparedness, I might, when prepping for class, switch onto automatic pilot. I might do something I’ve always done that I’m sure will work well enough. What I learned from that first ISSOTL Plenary, however, and every SoTL presentation I’ve been to since, is that just because I “think” something is working or is tried and true doesn’t mean it is. It’s my responsibility to interrogate and examine my own practices in scholarly ways.
ISSOTL taught me about interrogating my own teaching in two important ways. First, the conference format: I thought I was going to a conference at which presenters would talk about an innovative classroom strategy that might energize my teaching and I would arrive back on campus with a handful of catchy activities to try out to keep my students engaged (or do I mean entertained?). And while there is a place for learning about discrete classroom practices, and I did get some new ideas to try out, what I found at ISSOTL and other SoTL conferences was so much more. I learned that it’s not enough to try out an idea. Rather, I need to test it and question it to really assess what might be going on.
A few strategies I learned to test my teaching:
- Teaching is not done in a vacuum — talk to others
- Ask questions
- Use a variety of methodologies, including:
Second, conferences are so much more than their formatting. At the end of the day, the participants shape the conference experience. A few connections I made with other participants:
- James, from Stylus, helped me explore and question my own publishing directions
- Nancy, former president of ISSOTL, became my mentor and helped me develop a SoTL community at Champlain
- Various presenters like Ingrid and Rachel inspired ideas to test out in my classroom
At a teaching college, digging into scholarship around our own teaching makes sense. Crossing disciplinary lines and exploring ideas with mathematicians, nurses, and philosophers all at once foregrounds interdisciplinarity in powerful ways. Most importantly, interrogating our pedagogies makes us better teachers.
LA? Calgary? Savannah? I’ll go wherever the conference is as long as my ideas about teaching continue to be interrogated.
Learn more about Scholarship of Teaching and Learning opportunities at Champlain and see a list of recommended conferences on our SoTL page!