The future of learning and teaching

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For the past six years, University staff and students have come together to celebrate and share good learning and teaching practice and innovation in the form of an annual conference.

“It can be difficult to visualise what you can do differently and what another way of teaching could look like, and the really powerful thing for staff attending is that they get to see worked examples of different ways of teaching that you can implement,” says Professor Colm Harmon. Colm hosts the Learning and Teaching Conference, which is organised by a team in the Institute for Academic Development, currently led by Dr Jenny Scoles. Together with Colm, they select the Conference theme and keynote speakers for each year.

The popular event is taking a break in 2024, allowing the Conference organisers to redirect their time and energies to support other large-scale University Learning and Teaching initiatives, such as the Curriculum Transformation Project.

Allan Bovill Photography

A hybrid experience

The conference runs over two days and, since the pandemic, it has been a hybrid event. The first day is held in person, most recently at the Nucleus Building, Kings Buildings, showcasing this new innovative learning and teaching space. In previous years, the Conference has been hosted at McEwan Hall and John McIntyre Conference Centre. The in-person day is centred on keynote talks, panel discussions, workshops, paper presentations, exhibitor stands, poster pitches, and networking opportunities. There is also a streaming option for online delegates to join the keynote talks, paper and panel presentations, including the capacity to ask questions for Conference moderators to pass on to the speakers, cultivating the sense of being part of the in-person environment. The next day involves online paper presentations, keynote talks, workshops and panel discussions. In recent years, the Conference has been open for external delegates to attend, both in-person and online, increasing our international reach into HE teaching and learning conversations. The Conference now attracts over 800 delegates across the two days.

Colm says there are benefits to having a hybrid conference, such as being able to invite keynote speakers from all over the world: “When we were all online during the pandemic, we were able to be really global – we had keynote speakers beaming in from all over the world, and when we moved back to in-person conferences we kept some of that innovation.

“Furthermore, this model of hosting keynote talks online negates the need to fly speakers in from, say Australia, reducing our carbon footprint. Another benefit of offering online participation is the ability to offer a truly inclusive experience for delegates who, for a number of reasons, cannot attend in person. We are also able to record all the online talks easily and host them on the Conference website and this enables delegates and other colleagues to watch presentations that they could not attend at the time.”

University of Edinburgh Learning & Teaching Conference

However, Colm says there are also advantages to being in-person: “It’s great that digital has lowered the cost of interacting, but it’s also perhaps made it too cheap to interact in any meaningful way – meaningful interactions may form better in the room.”

The refreshment and lunch breaks, exhibitor stands, poster exhibitions and the drinks reception all provide networking opportunities for colleagues who often don’t get the chance to meet face-to-face. A delegate from the 2023 conference said: “Part of what I like are the spaces the conference provides to informally engage with colleagues and I got a chance to do this over lunch and in spaces between sessions.”

The conference team recognises the different preferences and needs of delegates by offering elements of both on campus and online ways of connecting. Offering online options for presenters and delegates on day two, as well as a streaming service for day one online delegates, holds much promise for an increasingly inclusive and sustainable conference experience.

Allan Bovill Photography

Looking to the future

By the time the conference returns in 2025, a number of changes will have taken place across the University, such as the new student support model being fully in place, and the University’s Curriculum Transformation programme – which continues the debate on the shape, design, and delivery of our curriculum – will have also progressed further.

Colm says: “I predict in the first half of 2024 we will be having conversations about what the final Curriculum Transformation proposal looks like. From there, we will have to look to shape ‘how’ we make it all happen, in ways that colleagues and students can embrace, with all appropriate scrutiny and interrogation of the proposals.

“I think 2025 will be an interesting time to hold a mirror up through the Conference to what we’ve being doing and planning. Another priority area that seems particularly timely for the conference to focus on is to explore how the University has been responding to the Assessment and Feedback Priorities and Principles.

Assessment and Feedback Principles and Priorities

The Conference team and colleagues look forward to another lively and stimulating conference in June 2025. Call for proposals will be released in Autumn this year; please keep an eye on the Conference website for any updates.

University of Edinburgh Learning & Teaching Conference

Allan Bovill Photography