Teaching and Learning Conference Basics

Many GC grads enter the academic job market already boasting some fairly impressive teaching experience.  If you’ve been teaching for a while, you’ve almost certainly identified a number of specific teaching challenges and have already experimented with new strategies and technology to get students more engaged.

Attending teaching and learning conferences can be a good way to learn what’s worked (and hasn’t) for other instructors, and to share what you’ve discovered yourself.


The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Teaching and learning conferences and journals, however, offer more than just teaching tips (like the type found in this blog).  The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning–or SoTL–is an academic discipline in itself, one that analyzes teaching strategies and and resulting student learning in a more systematic, documented way, and in formal, peer-reviewed forums.  As Vanderbilt’s Teaching Center website states, SoTL “aims to bring a scholarly lens—the curiosity, the inquiry, the rigor, the disciplinary variety—to what happens in the classroom.”

Paul D. Wittman and Laurie Richlin recommend the following process as one way to enter the scholarly conversation about teaching and learning.  These guidelines are general, but you might find this sort of “reflective practice” a helpful starting point if you’ve never written a paper or presented at a SoTL conference:

  • Identify the situation you’d  like to improve as an instructor, or an opportunity to try something new (for example, utilizing a new technology).
  • Review the literature and put the situation into the context of what others have done. One place to start looking: Kennesaw State’s handy directory of SoTL journals.
  • Document the problem.  According to Wittman and Richlin, this the most important step.  What do you wish to change? (For example, low test scores or classroom participation)  “We must have a baseline with which to compare,” the authors emphasize.
  • Observe and record the application of the new method in a systematic way.


Professional Development Benefits

Presenting at a teaching and learning conference can be a “good way to boost credibility in areas many GC students already have a strength in.  People coming out of our program tend to do more teaching [than at other institutions],” GC alum Ben Epstein said.  And when it comes to the academic job market, “lots of schools want more teaching experience, especially if you’re not applying just to R-1 schools.”

Epstein, now an an Assistant Professor at DePaul University, presented at a teaching and learning conferences while he was a student at the GC and teaching at Brooklyn College.  He also volunteered to take notes and then co-authored a report for his discipline’s peer-reviewed journal of record

Epstein added that he found it easier and more natural to network at this conference.  Participants signed up for a designated track centered around 1 topic (for example, the track on using simulations in the classroom), and then spent the next few days attending panels and workshops with 20-30 people in the same group.

“It’s different from a regular conference, where you’ll go to panels and maybe introduce yourself to people after a talk or at a mixer,” he said.  “Some people are natural networkers, but most people find this a little awkward.”

Epstein also said he felt “more of a sense of belonging right away” compared to other conferences he attended while a grad student, and said he encountered “fewer status checks” when speaking with fellow conference-attendees.


Finding a Teaching and Learning Conference:

Your discipline’s professional association might sponsor a conference, so check out its website.  The following websites are useful to consult as well:

  • By topic. See the University of Michigan’s website for conferences devoted to general issues in higher education, instructional technology, and multiculturalism.
  • By date. The directory from Kennesaw State University’s teaching center lists upcoming teaching and learning conferences in chronological order, as does this list from Elon University.

In the next post, I’ll speak with another GC alum and ask how attending a SoTL conference has changed the way she teaches.