If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you’re probably wondering: what’s wrong with this Charles guy? The other bloggers write about really interesting things, like going to plays and the TIFF, trying out yoga and segways, dealing with mental health (Harry Potter style), quitting smoking, how to do assignments the day they’re due, and food (we blog about food a lot). Important, fun things. But this Charles guy, he just likes to talk about classes and education. Is he a nerd? Does he ever get out? The answer to both is yes.
I never really introduced myself on this blog, but I am a huge nerd. And that’s no diss: I love being a nerd. I like knowledge, and learning, and knowledge about learning, and learning about knowledge… about learning (and so on). I’m particularly interested in teaching and learning, and how we can make the university a better place to live and to learn as students. And, I think it’s really important that we, as students, take control of our own educations and learning experiences. And if that’s nerdy, then baby I don’t wanna be right (at least the Libraries love me).
Because I love learning and pedagogy, I was excited to be able to attend this year’s Teaching and Learning Symposium (#tls14ut)… I told you I get out. The annual symposium is a chance for faculty of the university to share and explore a range of ideas and experiences, and discuss the future of teaching and learning. This year’s theme was “Planning for Change — Responding to Change”; generally, how will teaching and learning deal with the changes in technology, in our own students, in society, and in the expectations of universities. What’s that? A University that’s actually open to changing? Yep: That’s UofT for you.
I was pretty lucky to infiltrate the event (the registration for which was restricted to faculty, staff, and librarians) and made a good game of not letting my secret student identity slip, so I could get the real scoop of what instructors and staff were actually thinking. And it was pretty eye-opening.
As a student, it’s easy to feel that you don’t really exist to professors. UofT is often criticized for focusing too heavily on research and not enough on teaching. But when you go to an event like the Symposium, it’s hard to see how any of that could be true. Every session of the day was full of instructors, old and new, spending their own time to find out how to make their classrooms better, how to better serve their students and make them feel like they belong, how to engage students, and to share stories of success and failure in trying to make these things happen.
When one professor talks about their inverted classroom, it’s only seconds before another attendee asks “and how did the students like that?”. When a session talked about bringing problem-based learning into the humanities, an audience member was quick to wonder “did your students feel more engaged?”.
I heard instructors talking about how to make their classrooms of 1,300 students feel more personal, how they can keep reaching out to help students when courses move online, how to make resources cheaper or free for students, what ways best to be compassionate and understand student problems. Everything was students, students, students.
In the next blog post or two, I’ll tell you about a few of the important conversations that were had in the sessions I attended. The hope being that you might actually believe me that instructors do take students seriously and importantly, and that the university is looking to change to help you. The university does care.
Until then, your nerd, Charles.