Last week was our fifth Learning and Teaching Conference at Harper Adams. It was a really successful day (if I do say so myself!) with some great speakers from within and outside the university. Dr Naomi Winstone kicked of the day with a focus on feedback. My key take away points were: i) Feedback is a process not a broadcast or transmission ii) feedback needs to be planned so that it has somewhere to land (i.e. somewhere it can be used) iii) students are partners in feedback and they should be supported to use that feedback iv) Feedback can be overdone – we should take care about providing too much feedback and killing students with kindness v) We already know a great deal about how to work with feedback and by working with this evidence base to create marginal gains, we can together make a big difference so that the professed value of feedback can be realised. The range of evidence used to underpin the claims was strikingly brilliant!
I then got to go to Dr. Edd Pitt’s session on the emotion of feedback. It was amazingly helpful to spend time thinking through how we react to feedback in different ways. It was wonderfully cathartic, and felt like a giant group hug. I think we had three layers of ‘take away’ messages. First was learning about our individual responses to feedback so that we as individuals might be more conscious of how we receive and use feedback. Second, by using a framework to explore our own reactions and responses to feedback we were reminded that we are all human and our words, in feedback, can land so differently on the emotions of students. This was a refresher in sensitivity. Third, we learnt how helpful it could be to explore students’ feedback emotions. For example, what if a particular student knew that they could only really use feedback after they have become irritated and got over that (they might stand back and then go back to it as a strategy perhaps)? This final point really resonated with some lessons from a few years ago (perhaps 2012) when Caitlin Walker joined us to encourage us to get students to reflect on what type of learner they are and how they can work with their dispositions and habits.
The problem with conferences is sometimes having to choose between awesome sessions and I was sad not to make Lego Serious Play or Becoming Well Read (I hope to catch Suzanne Faulkner and Angela Rhead at future events). I was also disappointed to miss Anne Stevenson’s aptly titled Teaching on the Hoof; a session sharing agile teaching based around current affairs related to the learning outcomes (Equine in this case). Feedback from one colleague said that they had a light bulb moment about relaxing their teaching style and being more led by both the evolving topic area and by the students.
I was very pleased to get to Eva Schroer-Merker’s session on student partnerships. Sharing her practical approaches and suggestions for how to engage students in their own learning through relationship building, trust and listening was incredibly useful. I saw lots of people scribbling down their ideas too. I really like the idea of student led sessions, where students tell the tutor what they want to cover and the tutor obliges. It was clear to me that this involved a pedagogic shift where the tutor isn’t afraid of not knowing everything. Another great point from this session was about the need to listen to students at the point at which a response to their feedback may make a different (these seems to have good synergy with the keynote too). The problem with this session was that we needed more time as there was so much to explore.
Finally I got to go to Wendy Garnham’s session on report writing through active methods. This showed a considered and structured approach to leading students through the process of report writing. It starts by getting them to understand that an issue can be seen from multiple perspectives, it enthuses them by allowing and facilitating choices in topics, and it draws out the key skills of critical thinking and argument building. This session offered some solutions to the age old question of how do we get students to write well? The good news is that we can help students, the bad news is that for some this may be an uncomfortable shift from focusing solely on content to thinking about the process of academic writing.
Again there were things I didn’t get to in the afternoon, we had more Lego (three sessions in all as it sold out and we had to add more!) and a session on student resilience which involved one of our amazing alumni in conjunction with a farming specific organisation called Yellow Wellies sharing his personal story to challenge the hearts and minds of teaching staff.
In a recent keynote of my own recently I talked about the pedagogy of letting go – it seems to me that there was a lot in our own conference that signals the need for tutors to facilitate students and let go of content or ‘stuff’. Just for the record I have again uploaded the Conference Programme. I would wholeheartedly recommend everyone on this programme.