Skip to main content

Blogs

Reflections on the Learning and Teaching Forum

By Julianne Morgan

I finally did it. I watched every recording from the 2021 Learning Teaching Forum. And I have to say, I’m so glad I did. From Dr. Burnley’s moving call-to-action in his keynote to students sharing their experiences editing Dr. Karen Lovett’s multi-disciplinary book of case studies to UDRI research engineer Kevin Retz’s advocacy for strengthening critical thinking skills -- there wasn’t one session I watched where I didn’t learn something new. 

Before I dive into my reflection on some of the key takeaways from the Forum, I just have to give thanks to the Forum coordinators, the presenters, the moderators, the attendees, and anyone else who had a hand in putting this even together. It was a terrifically well-organized and representative event, and I’m delighted that the presentations could be recorded so that the thoughts and perspectives of staff, students, and faculty at UD during this unique time are preserved. 

As I watched the recordings, I took notes on words, quotes, tools, and ideas that stood out to me, and there’s no possible way I could share everything I learned in this blog post. What I will share are just a few reflections on some of the key themes I heard throughout the presentations. I’m making an effort, too, to try to think of different words to describe the themes than the usual words we’re hearing right now. I’m doing this because, to me, some of the words of this moment are . . . no longer useful. I’m not expressing this thought well, but the ubiquity of words like resilience, adaptability, fatigue, flexibility, etc. makes it hard to think of any other thoughts or ideas, and I think there are other things happening that I want to try to capture. In reality, the themes I’ll be describing are probably just synonyms and really nothing new is being said - but, this is my blog post, and I’m running with it!

Constructive

At nearly every session, folks were saying things like, “everything’s terrible, but [insert teaching strategy/tech tool/partnership] went better than expected, and I learned something new.” The stick-with-it-ness and willingness to modify or rethink an approach that didn’t work the first time is really inspiring, and in essence what education is all about. I honestly expected to watch the recordings and only hear people lamenting these terrible circumstances (which would be fully merited!), but I really didn’t hear this at all. It seems like there’s actually some new energy for teaching and learning, despite all the brain drain and fatigue. I want to be clear, though - I’m not saying I’m advocating for people to have this constructive mindset or that we should keep plowing on through the fatigue. I’m merely observing this theme that was so obvious throughout the sessions.

Disorientation

People seem lost. Maybe this was just because of the timing of the Forum when the Spring semester still had some unknowns, but I’m guessing at least some sense of disorientation persists for many - it certainly does for me. It’s hard to know where to go from here, even when there is cautious hope on the horizon for the summer and fall. What changes in teaching & learning will persist once this is over? Will the University be any different? How will our jobs change? What should we be doing now to prepare for the return to “normalcy”? Is there any energy to start making those plans? What lessons do we take away from this experience? I hypothesize that much will be the same as before once this is over, but that could just be wishful thinking. What does seem to help, though, is talking about these feelings with colleagues. I’m guessing a lot of attendees at the Forum felt some kind of “centering” afterwards, or at least I did. It helped to hear that others are feeling the same way, and while I still feel a bit directionless, I know that with time and help from colleagues, we can figure out where to go from here.

Inventiveness

My goodness, never have I witnessed so much ingenuity! I knew from the FlexTeaching listserv that instructors were finding interesting ways to use different ed tech tools, but there’s also just an inventiveness of thought. Some of the conversations and panel discussions were downright philosophical! Many shared reflections on the purpose of teaching, the goal of education, what “community” really means and looks like, etc. This is another reason I’m so glad the sessions were recorded - I’m sure many others feel this way, but I have a whole different perspective on these kinds of questions, oh, probably every other month or so! There’s so much fluidity and change that it’s hard to keep track of my opinions on these matters from month to month. These ideas are now captured so that we can refer back to them as needed.

But, even more astounding than philosophical musings, was the truly innovative usage of tools and engagement strategies. One group used Adobe Spark to create webpages about their community outreach their students were doing. Others found that a great way for students to engage with each other was through the process of group quizzing in Zoom breakout rooms. A whole new lib guide with interactive quizzing tools was developed through a collaboration of library staff and a history faculty member. Lab instructors developed “take-home” experiment kits and created extremely in-depth asynchronous lab activities. Career Services helped students navigate virtual career fairs. The list goes on, and I wish I had had the good sense to document each tool and its use case while I was watching, but I did not. However, I did make note of the tools and instructors using them, so some may be hearing from me in the near future to learn more about what they did!

Diversity & Inclusion

I intentionally saved this theme for last because it’s the hardest for me to write about. I wish I had more to offer on this topic, but I tend to feel like it’s not my place to say or do more -- which is part of the problem, right? I know my team cares about this topic, and many of our developmental and training goals are geared towards making online teaching and learning more inclusive. My teammates developed an online accessibility training module. We promoted flexible design all last summer so that learning could be accomplished by anyone, anywhere. I know a few of my colleagues are collaborating with MEC and other partners to redesign the UDiversity module that incoming students walkthrough as part of their orientation. I’m not trying to give a “diversity and inclusion resume” here, and I apologize if it seems like I am. I’m only trying to explain that we do know and care about this mission, but - at least for me - I’m not sure what I can/should be doing about it. And that’s what really stood out to me throughout the Teaching & Learning Forum. I need to be doing more, and it’s not good enough to just say, “it’s not my place,” or “*shrug*, not sure what to do!.” 

So here are some things I’m going to at least try to do. 

  • Read some of the books Dr. Burnley put up on the screen during his address. Here they are listed out in case that’s helpful to anyone else: 
    • Native American Postcolonial Psychology - Eduardo Duran and Bonnie Duran
    • Native American History - Judith Nies
    • A Native American Theology - Clara Kidwell
    • Strangers from a Different Shore - Ronald Takaki
    • Asian American Psychology - Nita Tewari and Alvin N. Alvarez
    • From a Liminal Place: An Asian American Theology - Sang Hyun Lee
    • Liberating Black Theology - Anthony Bradley
    • Black Psychology - Reginald L. Jones
    • The African American Odyssey - Darlene Clark Hine
    • Handbook of U.S. Latino Psychology - Francisco A. Villarruel
    • Hispanic/Latin Theology - Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz
    • Walls and Mirrors - David G. Gutierrez
    • Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - Ronald J. Burke and Mary C. Mattis
    • Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering - Londa Schiebinger
    • Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality - Robert D. Bullard
    • Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots - Robert D. Bullard
  • Continually revisit the Ten Things Faculty Can Do to Advance Inclusive Excellence and Anti-Racism in the Classroom document. I feel like each time I open this document, I come up with a few more half-baked ideas of ways that might help advance those goals. 
  • Attend more events and sessions from all groups/people working towards Diversity & Inclusion efforts
  • Actively seek out collaborators and partners to help advance ideas

This isn’t enough, but this is where I’ll start. If anyone wants to hop on a Zoom or grab a (distanced) coffee to discuss any of these thoughts with me, please let me know!


The last thing I’ll say about the Teaching & Learning Forum is this: many people I speak to, and myself included, are still fatigued and lost - even though there is hope and Spring on the horizon. When you’re feeling like this, I really do recommend going to the Forum webpage and watching one of the recordings. Pick one that doesn’t necessarily even appeal to you! I’ll bet that you’ll learn something you didn’t know before, and, you’ll get to know your UD colleagues just a bit better. And, I think you’ll find yourself lifted, even if just a little bit - and sometimes that’s enough. 

Previous Post

Common Uses of Commons in Isidore

The Commons widget on the course homepage is a great spot for students to interact with each other - but it often doesn't get used. In this post are a few examples and use cases for the Commons tool, and some suggestions on how to get students to use it. 
Read More
Next Post

Check-In: The Power of Asking How You're Doing

We know that even just the smallest acts of hands and heart can help students push through their challenges. At the end of the Fall 2020 semester, we asked students, "What is the most helpful thing instructors have done to help you learn?" The answer was pretty resounding: instructors showed that they cared. Find a way to check-in with your students this semester - it could make the difference.
Read More