by Joanna Rankin
Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies (Cummings School of Medicine), University of Calgary
Having recently attended the ISSOTL 2017 conference, I have completed the SoTL Immersion that I proposed only a year ago. Dipping my toes into the deep waters of SoTL, this journey took me to the SoTL Commons conference in Savannah Georgia, to EuroSoTL in Lund, Sweden, (which also included a stop in Toronto, Canada to present about SoTL in Disability Studies at the Canadian Disability Studies Association Conference), and back to ISSOTL17. A newcomer to SoTL, this immersion has allowed me the opportunity to experience some of the foundational and diverse practices, developments and perspectives of an international array of SoTL practitioners who have warmly welcomed me into the fold.
This journey has left me feeling embraced, invigorated and inspired as part of something larger than myself and my classrooms, faculty or university. A homecoming of sorts, something that I wanted to be a part of, without having known it.
Beyond championing why each of the conferences I attended were amazing I would like to share my key take aways from each.
Other than the fact that I loved everything about Savannah, (the people, the food, the deep-fried pound cake, the architecture and the fact that it wasn’t snowing in March), this conference armed me with a barrage of tools and innovative strategies to engage students. The generosity and eagerness of faculty to share their strategies, successes and failures was one of the most impactful features of my foray into SoTL. From very small innovations, to total overhauls, the innovative ways in which learning and materials were approached, from studying criminology through song lyrics, to using Twitter to assess statistical trends, the engaged, inventive and adaptive examples discussed exemplified the kind of teacher that I want to be.
Offering another opportunity to explore a different part of the world, to ride a bicycle, eat seafood, and wander the meandering streets of Lund, for me, this conference brought forth the foundational role of partnership and co-creation in teaching and learning. I attended presentations about projects between peers, faculty and students. The weight given to the role of student engagement and partnership was a highlight of this conference for me. The examples set by faculty challenged my interpretations of traditional boundaries between students and faculty and encouraged a sense of collaboration rather than competition between faculty. These examples have given me the confidence and inspiration to pursue more open and collaborative ways of approaching research and learning which I have since implemented in my work.
As a SoTL newcomer, I have felt shy to participate and apprehensive about the value of my contributions. The ISSOTL conference provided a multitude of purposeful opportunities and activities which allowed and encourage collegiality and mentorship and was extremely welcoming to newcomers. I attended the newcomer panel session, was introduced to my peers and was encouraged to introduce myself to more established faculty. The gathering of this group of teachers and learners, experts, novices and everyone in between, truly exemplified what I understand to be a teaching commons. The opportunity to engage with needs and wants of teachers and learners and the welcoming of voices and ideas was both inspirational and humbling as I reflect on my future practice.
I started my SoTL Immersion by asking In what ways can SoTL inform my practice in enhancing student learning and engagement in my field of Disability Studies? As I come to the conclusion of this project, I feel part of an exciting movement in teaching and learning at the post-secondary level and have an array of strategies to bring to my disciplinary home. Mentored by my peers, actively mentoring students and engaging with new SoTL based projects big and small, I now am part of the larger SoTL community.