With the shadow of COVID-19 yet to lift and a cohort of teachers, lecturers and educators all moving to digitise their practice as swiftly as possible, the 2020 edition of the University of Hull Learning and Teaching Conference took place during a time of great uncertainty.
Rather than a lecture theatre or conference room, we were invited into presenters' homes and offices with bookcases and kitchen counters replacing podiums and coveted buffets. This was my first digital conference, an experience I suspect has become far more universal in recent times. What I witnessed over three days was not only a welcome respite and reflection on the current situation, but also managed to offer a very real sense of hope and a look to the future of HE teaching and learning.
‘The soul of University teaching… is situated within an experience of partnership between teachers and students.’ – Professor Brendan Stone.
The conference opened on Monday 29th June with a day of discussions, workshops and questions. The opening keynote, delivered by Professor Brendan Stone, University of Sheffield, in conversation with Dr Jenny Louise Lawrence, Head of the University of Hull Teaching Excellent Academy, focused on the idea of partnerships, between staff and students, universities, and external organisations. The message of unity was a welcome introduction and served as a recurrent theme throughout the conference. Next up was a workshop led by Dr Deborah Pownall and Jo Ives from Liverpool John Moores University, examining effective employability strategies – a timely exploration in this period of economic uncertainty. The day concluded with a series of four discussion papers on the theme of community, collaboration and cultural diversity. These papers, by Dr Rosemary Clyne, Katie Asgari, Dr Wendy Laverick and David Littlefair, Joanne Clifford-Swan and Karen Hudson, highlighted the strength of unique voices united in an active and diverse approach.
‘How can we embed academic… and employability skills in the curriculum, so that our students have the necessary skills to succeed not only in that programme, but also beyond that when they go into the world and get their graduate jobs?’ – Dr Pauldy Otermans.
Tuesday 30th June was a day focused on transformation and diversity. The day opened with Dr Jenny Lawrence, Professor Graham Scott, Dr Lesley Morrell and John Harrison in discussion about the new competency framework for programmes at the University of Hull, a welcome look at the rationale, impact and focus of the transformed programmes initiative. This led into a reflection on assessment by Dr Mary Fitzpatrick and Dr Fiona O’Riordan from the University of Limerick, which focus on the role of student partners – not just as those who are assessed, but as active participants in the design and delivery of these assessments. The afternoon began with a series of Pecha Kuchas; from Dr Helen Fenwick discussing the transformation of programmes in History, Sue Hardman from Brunel University London, with a look at new learning communities between research-focused and teaching-focused academics, and an insight into how to overcome implicit bias through explicit diversity in STEM from Dr Dominic Henri. For the day’s final session, we were treated to a workshop run by Dr Pauldy Otermans from Brunel University London, which focused on the concept of skills – both academic and employability – which provided a strong insight into how we can help our student to develop skills through an active curriculum design/re-design that looks to embed these skills throughout. Breaking down perceived barriers between staff and students in order to enhance collaboration and fluidity of content delivery was shown to ensure that each student has the strongest possible learning environment, as well as a necessary and valuable skill set post-graduation.
‘There is an innate desire in every young person who is at university to be treated like an adult… Honesty is key, communicating with students and getting them on board.’ Simeon Orduen, HUSU President, Education
Wednesday 1st July was the final day of the conference, beginning with a keynote that highlighted Student/Staff partnerships in action, given by Colin Johnson, Chris Murphy, Nicole Steele and Ryan Ward. Three concepts stood out clearly – transparency, inclusivity and authenticity, a vital bedrock on which to build a new generation of partnership. This was followed by Adele Sewell of Bishop Burton College discussing the literature behind best practice in engaging HE students, leading excellently into a panel discussion from student partners at the University of Hull. Our next discussion paper was given, once more, in partnership between staff and students – from Dr Rob Clucas, Emma Durkin and Devon van der Westhuizen. This paper, Surviving/Thriving in Your First Year’ demonstrated the real value of how student experience can be enhanced by these partnerships – with the excellent example of the word ‘surviving’ being changed to ‘thriving’ following student advice! Finally, the conference ended with a plenary panel between Debbie McVitty, Professor Becky Huxley-Binns, Professor Graham Scott and Simeon Orduen, followed by Kathy Wright’s presentation on Celebrating Learning Community in a Time of Crisis. A fitting title, as this really captures what the 2020 Learning and Teaching Conference was about. Celebration. A reflection on the ever evolving, ever-growing joined-up community within the sector. This message of strength through diversity, energy through enterprise and positivity through partnership was welcome and I am sure I am not the only one who walked away (or, more accurately, shut down my computer) with a renewed sense of optimism and excitement for what comes next.
Dr Ed Hurst, Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Hull
Please note: Recordings from the Conference are now available online.