Elon hosts international conference on teaching & learning

A four-day event organized by the university’s Center for Engaged Learning has drawn to North Carolina hundreds of scholars from around the world with an interest in the “disruptive forces” that are changing the way students learn.

A panel of experts who study ways to better teach students across a range of disciplines served Wednesday as the first speakers at an international conference hosted by Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning in North Carolina’s state capital.

More than 600 professors, college administrators and students from around the globe registered for ISSOTL 2013, an annual program of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, of which several Elon University professors are active members.

The opening plenary, moderated by a top international voice in learning and scholarship, introduced conference participants at the Raleigh Convention Center to larger themes and questions to be discussed throughout the ensuing days. Does the scholarship of teaching and learning matter? Do faculty matter? And are professors meeting students in places where those students are now learning, especially using online tools and communications?

“This is an awkward moment in the evolution of our society,” said Randy Bass, executive director of the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship at Georgetown University. “We haven’t quite figured out what the relationship is between our online reality and our physical, local reality. Maybe our kids have, but we haven’t and our institutions haven’t.”

Bass moderated a conversation on “productive disruptions” in teaching and learning that included Associate Professor Jessie Moore from Elon University, as well as Chris Anson and Jennifer Hill, both noted authorities in their respective fields.

Anson serves as the University Distinguished Professor and director of the Campus Writing and Speaking Program at North Carolina State University, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in language, composition and literacy. Hill is an associate professor of teaching and learning at the University of the West of England in the United Kingdom renowned for her advocacy of particular environments that allow students to come together to construct their own learning experiences under guidance from academic colleagues.

The panelists touched on many of the forces that are shifting the global higher education landscape. From the proliferation of online educational resources to the standardization of curriculum to what one scholar called “granular certification,” now more than ever, new research will be critical in shaping the minds of current and future college students.

And those who study teaching and learning must consider ways to collaborate across their academic fields, across institutions, and especially with students being actively engaged in the research.

“Collective inquiry allows us to benefit from the habits, values and methods our partners bring and gives us opportunities to engage more perspectives,” Moore said in her remarks. “Collective inquiry also allows us to examine the importance of context. Institutional differences do matter and we learn how much they matter when we begin partnering (together).”

The Oct. 2-5 conference focuses particularly on transitions in scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Participants will have the opportunity to explore both individual inquiry projects and also broader questions about the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning in higher education.

In addition to plenary speakers, dozens of presentations will take place during a series of concurrent sessions throughout the conference.

Additional keynote speakers at ISSOTL 2013 include Lee S. Shulman, president emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, who will address how studies of teaching and learning will soon emerge as the “gold standard” for educational scholarship as opposed to traditional research that attempts to generalize knowledge; and anthony lising antonio, associate director of the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research at Stanford University, who will discuss how higher education should be centrally concerned with students’ pursuit of knowledge pertaining to the question Tolstoy called, “the only question important for us: What shall we do and how shall we live?”

The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning was founded in 2004 to recognize and encourage scholarly work on teaching and learning in each discipline, within other scholarly societies, and across educational levels. Among other components of its mission, it advocates for support, review, recognition, and appropriate uses of the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning brings together international leaders in higher education to develop and to synthesize rigorous research on central questions about student learning. It fosters investigations of research questions related to learning; hosts multi-institutional research and practice-based initiatives, conferences, and seminars; and shares related resources for faculty and faculty developers on high-impact practices for engaged learning.

Peter Felten, executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning, and Moore, who serves as the interim associate director of the center, led planning efforts for the conference, which included a website component with videos, discussions and more in the weeks preceding the conference.

“As organizers of this conference, Jessie and Peter have provided us with a fantastic venue and a first-class program,” ISSOTL President Joëlle Fanghanel, director of the Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning at the University of West London, said in her welcoming remarks.

Visit issotl13.com for more information on the conference.