Earlier this month, I was lucky to attend my first ISSOTL conference in one of my favorite places, Calgary, Alberta. The theme was “Reaching New Heights,” and while I learned about new-to-me resources, programs, and projects — captured in this Storify — I wanted to return to 2 sessions that continue to stick with me.
The first was a panel by Jessica Riddell, Lisa Dickson, and Shannon Murray on using metaphors for communication, both with students learning threshold concepts and with faculty and admin who might be averse to education jargon. We talked about discovering or crafting metaphors as groups of learners, as opposed to a top-down approach which might further confuse things with culturally and contextually opaque metaphors. Unsurprisingly, we all had stories where we failed with dated or “old” examples.
What struck me about this session in particularly was the discussion toward the end where we got together in small groups and talked about threshold concepts in our respective disciplines. One of our colleagues teaching accounting at an institution in Thailand and had never considered the threshold concepts of his field. The other 3 of us went first, sharing a couple examples from english, history, and communications and then he shared a point that always proved tricky for students: asset = liability + equity. Working together, we teased out the concepts behind the sticky point (assumption that liability is always negative and asset is simply positive) and thought through some metaphors that would help students understand the concepts. The most compelling metaphor: a dating game. (nb: we did discuss how to keep this metaphor from getting creepy) This was a great example of what an interactive session can accomplish: fostering real conversation across disciplines where people come out at the end having learned something unexpected.
The second panel by Krista Grensavitch, Ariel Beaujot, and Casey O’Brien talked about using feminist and queer theories to inform 3 different courses. Anyone who knows me knows that this was irresistible intellectual catnip. Still, I will admit I partially braced myself for slight disappointment and was happily wrong.
What I found compelling about each was the openness of each presenter to acknowledge failures, struggles, and places of sharing authority and power — which is to say, I appreciated how each paid more than lip service to the theories they invoked. See how Grensavitch talks about the local history and art installation project created by her women’s history students, and how the latter talk about connecting to their families and local communities in the process. (nb: I wish more instructors created these kinds of videos of their teaching practice and student thought and work)
Not only did I leave the session impressed by the courses presented, but I came out refreshed that it isn’t too much to ask instructors to consider and apply feminist/queer/disability/critical race theories of pedagogy to their instruction and what a difference it can make.