Appreciative Inquiry, Advocacy, and a bit of Green Day: Reflections of EDC 2014

I recently attended the annual Educational Developers Caucus conference in Calgary, co-hosted by the University of Calgary and Bow Valley College.  For me, being back at the UofC was a nostalgic experience, even though I had to admit much has changed on campus over the last 20 years.  I still managed to find some oxidizing green lockers, orange study carols, and unchanged brick walls, but there were some obvious symbols of the growth and development.  Most notable was the Energy Environment Experiential Learning (EEEL) building where delegates enjoyed a custom-designed tour of this sleek, new-agey edition to the campus.  While cool jazz played in the background and we sipped the house red, we toured the building dragging our hands along craggy Rundle Rock walls and hearing how the design aligned with effective teaching and learning principles—very apropos for the likes of us. If it were all a ruse to impress me, it certainly worked.  With the University of Calgary’s Eyes High campaign, and the recent $40 million infusion into teaching and learning, the UofC is positioning itself as a highly committed player within the field of educational development.  A perfect location for this year’s conference.

On the first day of the conference, I entered Mac Hall Ballroom swimming with flashbacks to the all-ages Green Day show I attended there when I was still underage and no one knew who Green Day was.  I’d go on to see Green Day perform four times, following their rise to fame, and no other show ever compared to that night when I was 17 years old, being passed along a sea of stranger arms.  Here I was, 20 years later in the same space, sitting down with sober educational developers, sipping coffee in a most civilized way, and musing over the power and influence educational development has in higher learning.

It always excites me how at these conferences, amid a sea of stranger arms, we seek out and are found by our kindred spirits.  As usual, I gravitated toward those interested in the confluence of educational development and advocacy.   I made a comment toward the end of Joan McArthur-Blair’s Appreciate Inquiry preconference about the potential of critical appreciative inquiry in educational development that resulted in being later pulled away from my lunch table to hunker down with another participant to speak about our role in supporting faculty awareness and understanding related to diversity, inclusivity, Indigenous knowledge in the academy, gender issues, racism, intercultural communication, community-based engagement, issues of social justice….the list just went on.

I also gravitated toward the newbies.  There were a lot of us new educational developers milling about, and Lynn Taylor mentioned to our table at one point how delighted she was to see so many young educational developers, emerging from everywhere, and infusing a certain energy and enthusiasm into our community.  Perhaps related to this, was a noticeable line of discourse embedded within the sessions around the issue of mentoring and ideas around formalizing the profession through certification.  On the margins of the ballroom, conversations amongst the newly-minted began to emerge…

We were encouraged during the AGM lunch to think about action groups, and based on the previous three days, I began to wonder about creating an “emerging educational developers” action group, part of whose mandate would be to empower the emerging voices in educational development, and give us a place to weigh in on our professional trajectories, what we value in our growth, and how we would like to get there by working in collaboration with respected, seasoned educational developers.  Such an action group might also provide support within our community for emerging players to understand the profession, and also support in terms of opportunities for collaboration and research.  Perhaps such an action group could also provide support and camaraderie in terms of the day-to-day struggles emerging educational developers face in an ever-evolving profession.

I stole away at the end of the conference to revisit some special places on campus.   As I took nostalgic photos with my cell phone I resisted the urge to hum “Time of your Life.”   I reflected on my growth since last year’s EDC conference when I had only been an educational developer for one day.  But I also reflected on all that has happened since I was a crowd-surfing 17 year old.  Thank you EDC for these conversations, and for giving me a chance to reflect on my growth over the last year, and beyond.  The space that this conference provides allows for us to connect with one another, and to continue to learn and grow as a community of committed professionals.  Until next year…

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